The Easel

21st May 2019

How I. M. Pei Shaped the Modern City

The obituaries might have one think Pei’s success was inevitable. Not so – modernism was not always an easy sell. His great skill was to find an accommodation between elegant design and local context. Of his Louvre entrance – “there’s more than one way to show deference to history. Instead of competing with the surrounding buildings, the diaphanous pyramid accentuated their age and beauty.”

14th May 2019

How sex and power collude: the uncompromising art of Nancy Spero

Its easy to see why Spero got angry. The 1960’s New York art scene was ruled by male abstractionists unimpressed by female artists and hostile to figuration. Undeterred, she developed a delicate frieze-like style that has deeply influenced today’s design vernacular. Spero illuminated how the world looks from a female perspective and depicted “woman as protagonist”.

Nari Ward

In the 1990’s Ward made art using stuff found on the streets of his Harlem neighbourhood. His acclaimed work embodied “the accidental aesthetics of street life” and was, of course, political. Harlem is now gentrifying. Ward’s work is perhaps also changing, less immediately political, more aimed at where “politics and poetics find common purpose”.

Garry Winogrand and Jeff Walls: photography in two phases

Winogrand, “the all time champion of street photography” captured telling moments in real life. Wall, and others from the next generation, mostly use actors and props to create staged images. What accounts for this shift? Even though society is awash with personal data the writer thinks it is about privacy: society no longer tolerates the “impugnity” of the street photographer.

How T.C. Cannon and his contemporaries changed Native American art

The marginalizing of indigenous art is all too familiar. But sometimes an artist uses contemporary art tools to tell indigenous stories afresh. Cannon is one such case. Notably, he discarded aesthetically conservative Native imagery, instead using garish, Pop-like colours. All the better, presumably, to show the complexities of native American identity, “people getting by in the modern world”.