The Easel

12th March 2024

Essay: Between machine and eye

Photography has, at times, struggled to be taken seriously as a form of high art. Point-and-click capabilities have democratised the medium – anyone can take a picture, right?  As if to make this image problem worse, the acclaimed Lee Friedlander says he doesn’t have any great ideas. Why then are his images utterly compelling?

Asking “exactly how much [an image] was an accident or not misses the point. Friedlander knows how to look when something interesting is happening. He trusts himself to point the camera and click. Why is he so much better at doing this than most of us? It’s impossible to say. The genius of Friedlander’s photography is to let the camera have its own ideas.”

A Hidden History of Europe’s Pre-Modernist Women Artists

Linda Nochlin’s famous 1971 essay queried the absence of great female artists. Since then, art history has re-discovered many of them and, in some cases, greatly elevated their status. Artemisia Gentileschi is but one example. A survey of female artists reveals plenty of “genteel amateurism”, which only speaks to the many women who, feeling thwarted, pursued various “sub-artistic” crafts. This show also reveals that whether an artist chose painting or craft, talent has a way of showing through.

5th March 2024

Catherine Opie Goes Into Her Archive to Illustrate Why Harmony Is Fraught

Opie’s images of LA’s gay community are notable because they combine the formalities of portraiture with photographic activism. Besides portraying members of her friendship circle her work includes images of LA city – “because I’ve always thought of the city as a body”.  This is Opie linking the public and the personal: “I’m trying to show all this beauty and all this love but, at the same time, remember that that beauty and that love … hits up hard a lot of the time.”

Thomas Hirschhorn

Hirschorn’s current show is described thus, “a den of mass delusion … long rows of [cardboard] workstations [surrounded by] binge paraphernalia.” One critic, more succinctly, calls it “clusterfuck aesthetics”. This is “social sculpture that gets its energy from the spontaneity of the street”, a mix of “the real and unreal”. Some find it “condescending … wilful, perhaps even undignified. Hirschorn’s art is an irritant [but] that might help us see the world more clearly”. A video of the artist (6 min) is here.

Lee Krasner’s Radical Reinventions

Art history’s gushing praise for Jackson Pollock left Krasner in the shade. That oversight is slowly being corrected, most recently in a show of her early work. Created during the turbulent Long Island years, it is a testament to her creativity. Starting with her grids of glyph-like symbols, she moved on to “brushy geometric abstractions”, then rectangular colour blocks and finally the angular abstractions of her mature style. “What courage it takes to turn heel and continuously become who you are.”