The Easel

1st October 2019

Vija Celmins’s surface matters

Celmins keeps a low profile and produces relatively few paintings. Yet her works “awe critics” and sell for huge prices. They focus on household objects, the sea, starry skies – the images rendered in minute detail and muted colour. Their reticence gives them “a timeless, impersonal, and rather cold beauty”. Or, as one writer says, they have “whispered power”.  More images are here.

A New Exhibit Of ‘Maximalism’ Shows How Artists Trounced Modernism And Made Art Inclusive In The 70s

The pattern and decoration movement had its heyday in the 1970’s. Its frontal attack on minimalism raised difficult issues for art theory. Dry though that debate can be, these issues are important. Is decoration bad art – or perhaps not art at all? What are the boundaries of art and who gets to decide what is in or out? The current flurry of museum shows on this subject suggests resolution is not imminent.

With a brass band blaring, artist Kehinde Wiley goes off to war with Confederate statues

Proposals to remove Richmond’s Confederacy-era statues caused a huge controversy.  Virginia’s Museum of Fine Art has a nice response – a “massive” statue of an African American man. Temporarily in New York’s Times Square, the figure wears dreadlocks and street wear and strikes a faux-heroic pose atop a horse. In December it will be installed in Richmond, a “profoundly subversive response to the city’s Civil War dilemma.”

Body Of Work, Michelangelo: Mind Of The Master

If man is God’s most perfect creation, how should the figure be drawn? Michelangelo wanted to show it as even more perfect than real life. This required him to study anatomy – like his older rival da Vinci. More important, though, was the choice of pose: “the torsion of the human body in motion … expressed the inner life of the subject, the emotion of the moment, time stopped in an instant of revelation.”

Reconsidering Ceramics Iconoclast Peter Voulkos at Burning in Water

A visit to Black Mountain College was Voulkos’ first exposure to New York abstraction. What an impact! He set about redefining ceramics, discarding many of its established practices. In particular, what some regarded as flaws he saw as “spontaneous creative accidents.” Voulkos wasn’t thinking pots anymore but rather expressionist sculpture. He was re-inventing American post-war ceramics.  A video (1 min) is here.