The Easel

19th November 2019

The Ceaseless Innovation of Duane Michals

Some artists – just a few – seem endlessly innovative. Michals is one. He was never attracted to the photography of objective story telling, à la Life magazine. His work is almost the opposite – staged sequences, handwriting on his images, manipulated images. In so doing he has expanded what photography can be. As the curator expresses it “Duane cut photography’s umbilical cord”.

A motel room of one’s own

Hopper liked to travel. Once successful as an artist, he and his wife began taking road trips. Some hotels they stayed at ended up in his art. And why not? Empty hotel rooms have an air of loneliness, something that would have been obvious to Hopper, a loner. What better a subject for his detached, “empty” compositions, where he could lay out “the truth of a scene”. What remains elusive though, is which truth?

Curators of Culture

In a landmark moment, New York’s Met is holding an exhibition of native American art. Good news, right? Well, not according to this writer who argues that this “deeply depressing” show fails to present objects in their cultural context. Others suggest that many items, being ceremonial, are not even art. The Met protests that it consulted widely on the show but is now moving to hire a curator specialized in this area.

12th November 2019

Yayoi Kusama’s Radical Work Goes Far beyond Her Infinity Rooms

Kusama’s infinity rooms are so popular they obscure the broader career theme. Pattern repetition appears in her earliest work as a way of invoking infinity. From those 1950’s paintings and performance pieces, the first immersive infinity room (in 1965) seems not so large a jump. Don’t be misled by popularity, suggests a critic, “It would be disingenuous to say that [the infinity room] fails to encourage introspection.”

Acting out

The performance artist Pope.L is basking in a survey show at MoMA. It highlights his most provocative act – crawling city streets. One such “intervention” covered 22 miles, done over nine years. Social justice is his major focus. But why crawl? Says one curator “He’s constantly putting pressure on symbols of success and aspirational behavior”. And is it art? Says another “it’s art because it’s reimagining something.”