The Easel

27th September 2022

The Art World in an Age of Rage

A fiery essay on how fraught race relations in the US can impact art museums. (Its inclusion does not imply that The Easel endorses its views.) When museums ignore work by artists of colour or don’t hire qualified curators of colour, they are asking for trouble. Ditto for the work of female artists. What’s the solution? The writer thinks that “race-based expectations” could have a “paralyzing” effect on museums. Yes, just as does the persistent exclusion of groups of artists from museum walls.

Korean Modern art gets its long-overdue spotlight at LACMA

When Korea’s “isolationist” Joseon dynasty fell in 1905, it was the start of transformative changes – WW2, the Korean War, partition. Culturally, “things Western became equated with things modern”. Initially, the art that followed was, complains this writer, “derivative”. Perhaps, but deeper changes had begun. By the 1970’s, Korean monochrome painting (dansaekhwa) emerged to great acclaim, foreshadowing the global cultural powerhouse that is now modern Korea. More images are here.

Michael Heizer’s Empty Empire

Heizer located City, his monumental land artwork, in the Nevada desert because “there isn’t anything else there”. That perspective betrays a “baffling incuriousness” about the larger history of Native American occupation of that land. Not all Native Americans are offended by the artwork. However, it is “comically obvious” (indeed, ironic) that the “interconnection of self and land” never occurred to Heizer as he laboured for 50 years creating the work.

“An Eye at the End of My Pencil”: Bridget Riley’s Drawings

It’s easy to see why Bridget Riley admires Seurat. His pointillist paintings clustered dots of colours to create the impression of some other colour. Such explorations of perception are also at the heart of Riley’s art, both in her shimmering monochromatic lines and in her colour juxtapositions. As a Chicago show makes clear, behind these abstractions are her drawings, the “seeds” of her art, where she labours to answer the question that Seurat posed – “what is it that we are looking at”?

20th September 2022

Albert Bierstadt unveiled the epic vistas of the American West

Manifest destiny was the idea that settler expansion across the American continent was but one more step toward American greatness. A young Bierstadt saw himself as just the artist to paint this vision. His landscapes of the West were huge, immensely popular, but appear now to express a “dream of conquest”. Railroad magnates loved them, but an observant Mark Twain thought them too much – all those silvery mountains, clouds and sunlight were “considerably more beautiful than the original”.