The Easel

4th May 2021

Easel Essay: Arthur Jafa’s swing

Jafa was a fringe figure in the art world when, in 2016, he made the video Love is the Message, The message is Death. Its reputation steadily grew. Last year, it was streamed simultaneously by 13 international museums. Wow! Morgan Meis considers why a seven minute video has made Jafa a major art world figure.

“We’ve been taught how swinging works in music for more than a hundred years. One way to look at Love is the message is to see it as an attempt to … make visual images swing. Swing takes it for granted that how you get from A to B matters just as much as that you get from A to B. [Jafa’s] curation and editing of a bunch of short video clips expresses a deeper aesthetic … that is completely particular and completely universal at the same time.”

The art world knew him as Eli. How Broad was friend and foe to museums

Broad gave generously of his time and money and was instrumental in making Los Angeles a major art destination. Yet his obituaries expose the ambiguities of philanthropy. Large scale philanthropy can create enduring public benefits but, from Broad, it came with a propensity to meddle. Is that any worse than the situation of public museums, blessed with deep collections but hamstrung and exhausted by limited public funding?

27th April 2021

The light fantastic

Turrell reveals previously unknown details of his 45-year project, Roden Crater, situated in a dormant volcano in the Arizona desert. It will comprise a series of tunnels and chambers each of which will “capture celestial light”. It won’t be your standard museum – “Guests will be encouraged to wake before dawn and walk to a small pool, and swim through an underwater passage to a larger pool … [where they can] watch the desert sun rise over a watery horizon.”

How One Photographer Covered the Unfolding of the Pandemic

A prominent US photographer and his editor discuss their coverage of the pandemic. The images showcase the narrative power of photography while the discussion reveals decisions about the ethics and aesthetics of portraying illness and death. “I didn’t really know what to prepare for, emotionally or visually. I always asked [doctors] What is important for the public to see? … [But] what if that were my father or my mother?”

Chaos magic

When does an art trend become a “school”? In the 1930’s, a group of American painters adopted “magic realism”, an exact representational style. Was this just surrealism by a different name? Its supporters say no – these artists were not interested in the subconscious mind but rather the “strangeness of the human condition”, in particular “a profound sensation of aloneness”. Whether this differentiates magic realism from surrealism is probably a matter of taste.

Ancient Chinese Jade, to Soothe the Soul and Restore Perspective

Appreciation for an exhibition of ancient jade at a specialist New York gallery. Jade, a hard stone, requires laborious (expensive) carving. This, plus its exceptional colouration, made it the pinnacle of Chinese decorative arts and “the foremost of imperial gems”. Some pieces were intended as burial items. Others, notably carved bi discs, were symbols of the cosmos and displayed on altars. Overall, “they pack a punch”.