The Easel

20th February 2024

He toiled in obscurity – but now Saul Leiter is recognised as a true photography pioneer

Leiter was exploring colour photography decades before William Eggleston came along. Alongside the occasional fashion assignment, the unambitious Leiter devoted decades to taking images of his New York neighbourhood, They reveal a slightly abstract and oddly tranquil view of its streets, says one writer, “less social commentary and more about the beauty of urban life”. Leiter admitted that he “aspired to be unimportant”. Says this writer “poignantly beautiful work …a great photographer”. Images are here.

Choose Your Own Adventure

It’s hard to see past Ono’s fame and mythology and look dispassionately at her decades-long work.  Prior to the “John-and-Yoko” years, she produced deceptively simple but engaging ideas. Her Cut Piece performance and 200 bottoms video are but two examples of her conceptual and ‘participation’ art that one critic says “combine poetry, whimsy, humour and razor-sharp intelligence”. Said she, “By actively inserting a useless act … into everyday life, perhaps I can delay culture.” Images are here.

13th February 2024

Frank Auerbach, The Charcoal Heads: there’s a raw, vital power behind these haunted faces

Auerbach famously paints by repeatedly scraping off each day’s efforts and starting again. Likewise, his postwar charcoal drawings were drawn and erased so often that he sometimes wore through the paper. The images are intense – “unsmiling, stoic troglodytes, with downcast eyes”. Says one writer “We carry the marks of our experience in the flesh, and that’s what’s on these sheets of ripped paper: the battered, bruised and broken signs that somehow, despite it all, we’re still here.”

Barbara Kruger Is Still Flipping the Bird

Kruger’s work was once described as a “long exercise in preaching to the choir”. Whether or not that was true, no-one is saying it about this show. Her aphorisms are as sharp as ever and the show “pummels” viewers with words and images. Says one writer, “if you could package social media into a room, this would be it”. This is twentieth century art, “over-explaining and oversharing [reflecting the] desperate urge to be understood in a clamorous, look-at-me-please world.” A backgrounder is here.

Entangled Pasts 1978-Now, Royal Academy, review: An extraordinary achievement

London’s Royal Academy carefully admits in a show that slavery is a part of its history. Unsurprisingly, not everyone is pleased. One critic calls it an “act of public self-flagellation … [showing] old paintings the RA is so clearly ashamed of”. The writer differs. The show in parts is “unexpectedly magnificent” and the “historic picture that emerges melds horror and hope. It lets the art have its own voice: this is very strong stuff” An excellent essay on power and clothing is here.