The Easel

30th November 2021

An architectural survey in search of America

Since the 1930’s, the Library of Congress has maintained a photographic survey of ‘historic’ buildings. A book drawn from this collection chooses mostly vernacular buildings – “urban row-houses, suburban and rural homes”. They are restrained images, “the style of no style” and “unmoored from a particular time”. Yet they “anticipate virtually all contemporary photography of the man-made environment”, conveying a uniquely American sense of emptiness [and] possibility”. Images are here.

‘Van Gogh And The Olive Groves’ Opens At Dallas Museum Of Art

Van Gogh made about 15 olive tree paintings, yet despite being from his peak period, they have never been exhibited as a group Completed while he was struggling with his mental health, these are “focused paintings, just earth, trees and a touch of azure sky”. The seasonal changes reflected in the foliage of the trees show the artist’s optimism that he too would find renewal. When viewed as a group, they are “one treasure after another [but sadly], van Gogh in his prime was only a two-year enterprise.”

23rd November 2021

Arthur Jafa

Jafa’s 2016 video essays have made him a global sensation. His new work, AGHDRA, is quiet, comprising imagery of a lumpy surface of “stuff”, with waves going out to a distant horizon. This “supreme mass” is “terribly beautiful—beautiful despite the terror, terrible despite the beauty.” Jafa calls it an attempt to “embody black experience in non-narrative terms”. The piece has no conclusion, “just endless, gut-wrenching, but still gorgeous churning.”

Annie Leibovitz: “A lot can be told in those moments in between the main moments”

Leibovitz is having a moment with multiple shows and a book. The reviews reveal a photographer of disparate parts. Her fashion images often indulge in fantasy, evoking narratives from history or literature as much as they showcase clothing. Her portraiture is about realism, perhaps reflecting her photojournalism roots at Rolling Stone. For Leibovitz, though, everything is a performance, with “both the photographer and [subjects as] contributors to cultural moments.”

Remembering Dave Hickey, brilliant art critic and renegade Texan

Hickey has been called “the philosopher king of American art criticism”. His reputation rested especially on two 1990’s books that contain “some of the best writing on art and culture that any American has ever done”. A critic described him as “a resolutely nonsystematic thinker …  a critic who constructs no rules, but instead rhapsodizes about what he loves, aiming not to convince you of its worthiness but to demonstrate that such love is possible.”