The Easel

28th February 2023

Jeff Koons Goes to the Moon

I don’t think I am being entirely mischievous by including this piece. Admittedly, there is humour to be had from just reading what Koons says about himself. One critic called him “the truest believer in a cult of his own invention”. But, like it or not, Koons is more – “perhaps the only person alive with enough money, know-how, and conviction to produce an eight-foot sculpture out of pink Portuguese marble [12 years in the making] that might stand one day beside its 400-year-old [Renaissance] cousins.”

The Photographers Who Showed the Whimsy and Eros of Ukraine before the War

The ambition of any photographer is to create images that resonate. In the mid-1990’s  Chekmenev started taking passport photos of Ukraine’s elderly, an impoverished generation “untouched by the promise of their burgeoning democratic nation”. With the advent of war, his images and those of other photographers have a very specific resonance – they are “reintegrating the past into the present for the preservation of socio-political memory.” More images are here.

Enter the mesmerising, AI-driven world of artist Refik Anadol

Perhaps wanting to refresh its cutting-edge credentials, New York’s MoMA commissioned Anadol, a data artist(?) to create an AI artwork using images from its own collection.  This review of the resulting work has lots of “gee whizz” techno-speak but conspicuously little about its aesthetics. ChatGPT, when tasked by a magazine to review the piece, came back with eerily similar techno-speak. Yawns one critic, it’s “only a screensaver”. A video of Anadol’s installation is here.

The Art of the Shadow: How Painters Have Gotten It Wrong for Centuries

Technical but interesting. Artists want to paint shadows because they communicate pictorial depth. Sadly, painting shadows accurately can be very difficult. The good news, though, is that our brains have a high tolerance for “implausible” shadows that break the laws of physics. So, when a shadow doesn’t naturally climb up a set of stairs, or a figure doesn’t cast a shadow on the figures behind them, our brains may not rebel. But then this puzzle: should an angel cast a shadow?

The Problem With All-Women Exhibitions

A show of female abstract artists is justified by the gallery as being “tactically necessary” to correct a art historical narrative that is biased toward men. It usefully reminds us of unfairly overlooked artists. But, protests the writer, “I simply do not buy the claim that we need more lists of women artists. [We need] to shake out where these artists fall … in the context of art history. How does their work broaden, disrupt, fit into, or question existing narratives of art history?”

The deliberately difficult art of Pierre Dunoyer

Dunoyer is influential in his native France, but little known elsewhere. Perhaps that’s not a surprise. His works may be Instagrammable but not easily explained. He intends his careful abstractions to be “pure objects”, objects that are capable of “turning seeing into thinking”. What Dunoyer means is to deny “above all, that painting has any storytelling capacities”. From there, you are on your own.

21st February 2023

How Donatello shaped the Renaissance

This Donatello show is attracting comments like ‘greatest ever sculptor’. Wow! Stand out works include his “schiacciato’, incredibly fine sculptural reliefs carved on thin sheets of white marble. Another stand out is his David, the first standing male nude since antiquity. And then there’s Attis-Amorino, a bronze cherub with falling down trousers, perhaps high on opium. By creating the sculptural aesthetic of the Renaissance, Donatello deserves to be its fourth great name.

Mike Nelson: Extinction Beckons at the Hayward Gallery review, one of the best surveys I’ve seen

Nelson’s acclaimed installations are hugely ambitious and huge – a labyrinth of “dingy rooms, full of grubby decorations”, salvaged industrial machinery, a woodshed partially buried under sand. Many are “speculative fictions” that feel “uncanny”, tempting the viewer to construct an explanatory narrative. “It’s like walking through a novel, each room a chapter deepening the intrigue, only the protagonists are nearly entirely conjured in our heads … one of the most original shows I have seen.”

‘The Language of Beauty in African Art’ at the Art Institute is ambitious — though far from perfect

An exhibition of African artworks tries to explain how they were appreciated by the communities that made them. Beauty, for example, meant symmetry and balance and (like ugliness) had moral connotations. A worthy effort, says the reviewer, but not entirely successful. Our incomplete knowledge of African culture and the limits of written descriptions mean that only so much can be conveyed to Western viewers. The “decolonization” of art history has “barely begun”. Images are here.

Olivia Laing, Hilton Als and More on the “Unapologetic” Art of Alice Neel

Neel’s self-portrait at age 80 is acclaimed because it “tells it as it is”. That about sums up her career in portraiture. Taking people from her neighborhood or her artistic network, she revealed “what the world had done to them and their retaliation”. Of her portrait of Warhol – “Alice saw straight through [the mask he made for himself]. You can feel how much he longs to be beautiful. She’s done him out in the most flattering, girlish pastel shades but she’s also stripped him bare.”

Is this Yayoi Kusama’s final evolution?

Do we judge artists who achieve great commercial success as somehow compromised? Kusama has, for decades, built her name with her art and a flair for publicity. Now, thanks to Instagram, she is known globally and her art/fashion collaboration with the luxury brand Louis Vuitton is wideranging. Asks the writer “Is she a master huckster or simply too big to be confined? [She has become] infinitely shared and memeable … a hashtag that exists everywhere and nowhere, forever regenerating.”

Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism

As a professor at London’s Royal Academy, Fuseli was a figure of propriety. In private, though, he churned out erotic drawings. The museum claims that these works illuminate 18th century anxieties about polite appearances.  However, Fuseli intended them as private works, undercutting claims that they are a commentary on Enlightenment society.  So, where is the compelling rationale for this show? Private fetishes may be “timeless”, but that doesn’t make them of general interest.