The Easel

18th February 2020

On View at the Getty, 17 Ancient Gems That Are Mini Masterpieces

Last year the Getty acquired 17 engraved gems – intaglios. Now on display, these small objects are “some of the greatest and most famous of all classical gems”. Products of royal workshops of the Greek and Roman empires, their survival is itself miraculous. Some are individually famous with dazzling provenances that go back centuries. “Not simply … fab antique bling [but] tiny Rosetta stones, providing a way to “read” the past”.

“Painting Edo” — Lessons About Art and the Good Society

The Edo rulers didn’t just unify Japan. Their suspicion of external influence brought a greater focus on the country’s own art. A profusion of art styles emerged, some traditional, others (such as Hokusai and his followers) more highly decorative. European art was a muted influence. By 1868 when Edo rule collapsed, there was a modern Japan and, with it, recognizably modern Japanese art. An interesting video (3 min) is here.

11th February 2020

Desert Empires: Wonders to Behold

The southern edge of the Sahara, the Sahel, is politically turbulent. It was not always thus. For thousands of years it was a prosperous trading area, a centre of learning and the location of multiple empires. Its art was much more diverse than the tribal art many today associate with Africa. This show affirms “the integrity and complexity, past and present, of something called the Sahel … there is no “typical,” no one style, no one “Africa.”

At the ICA, rescuing an art star from the auction frenzy

Spotting a hot new artist is easy – reviews overuse the word ‘amazing’ and fascinate about auction prices. Self is one such artist, having gone from student to ‘somebody’ in about five years. Her work features ‘aspirational representations’ of Black females. Says she “For individuals who have been made to feel marginalized … images, and aesthetics become landmarks for self-identification and self-esteem.” And the auctions? “Tasteless”.

How Radical Was the Italian Design of the 20th Century?

Informative writing without being elegant. Italy’s post-war “economic miracle” created a social backlash. One expression of disaffection was Radical Design, a movement focused on new ideas about how people could live. Outlandish and unwieldy furniture is its key legacy. Amidst a welter of styles, the common theme was to prioritise an object’s ability to communicate an idea above its functionality.

The Eternal Glow of Tiffany’s Sacred Glass

As America’s nineteenth century cities grew, churches proliferated. The skyrocketing demand for stained glass windows benefitted, among others, Tiffany. Ecclesiastical windows, infused with American optimism, were the perfect vehicle for his talents – “opalescent coloured glass, glass with embedded inclusions, cut facets, beveling, pressed designs, and scrolling effects, as well as folded glass”.