The Easel

24th December 2019

Theater of Operations

What should art about war look like? Works by Goya and Picasso come to mind – arresting imagery, abstracted from reality. The Iraq war, as seen on TV, was curated to seem easy and tidy. Few challenged this falsehood and the work of some artists seems “smoothly dutiful”. The awkward question posed by this show – “how should we look at those art objects that spring from crisis but shrink from witness?”

17th December 2019

Down through the layers: the paintings of Mark Bradford

The buzz around American artist Mark Bradford grows unabated. Once a hairdresser, he now boasts a McArthur “genius” Award, featured artist at the Venice Biennale, auction room stardom and more. Morgan Meis takes a closer look.

“[A]s a hairdresser, you’d never want to forget that, beneath the waves and shine and flow of all that hair, is an actual person. The content matters. It sure as hell matters when you are doing someone’s hair … Bradford’s paintings wiggle back and forth on that tense razor’s edge where the intense and often socially explosive nature of the paintings’ content always threatens to disrupt the aesthetic space of the canvas. Bradford’s work is powerful because these two forces are in conflict, the from-a-distance aesthetic effect versus the freighted social meaning of his raw materials.”

In Defense of Maurizio Cattelan’s Banana

You may have heard about a banana taped to the wall of a booth at Art Basel Miami. Three editions of the “work” were sold, for big money. Was it meant to be serious? Satire is always serious. Is it art? Cue Warhol’s observation – art “is what you can get away with”. The sense of art world critique is overwhelming: “Buying art now is about being seen in the right circles and acquiring the right names.”

Stretching the Canvas

Postwar US government sponsored schools had a narrow view of native American art. Baskets, ceramics, beadwork, flat narrative painting. Of course, as a big New York show illustrates, that idea didn’t last. American Indian art now reflects the stylistic profusion of modern art with its own diversity of voices. Says one, who found inspiration in de Kooning’s work, “We’re native, but we’re all these layers on top”.

Portraits for the People

JR calls himself a “wallpaper artist” … not that that tells you much. Photographing people from local communities, he pastes their huge blown up images onto building exteriors. It seems almost an extension of graffiti – ephemeral, anti-authoritarian, local. In his words “I was [doing graffiti] to say ‘I exist,’ then I started pasting pictures of people with their names to say they exist. I feel safe when I see graffiti because it shows there’s life.”