The Easel

22nd August 2023

The Dueling Dualities of Remedios Varo

When working alongside the macho males of surrealism in pre-war Paris, Varo’s role was that of “timid listener”. Later, in Mexico, she blossomed. Combining science and “great mysticism” she sought to portray the non-rational world that lies beyond our perceptions. Often, her images depict empowered female figures interacting with a complex “animistic world ordered by unseen forces.” Says one critic, this is a “resplendent” body of work. Images are here.

Josh Kline’s Exercise in Poverty Porn

To accompany this survey of Klein’s work, the Whitney has published an essay linking it to the “unsung struggle to maintain a middle-class existence”. But does it work as art? Some critics like its accessibility. Not all. Klein’s art is melodramatic, says a critic, subjugated to “the cause of social and political criticism”. This writer generally concurs – social justice issues are important but “the Barbie movie [is better at introducing such issues] to a broad audience”.

Federal Judge Rules A.I.-Generated Art Isn’t Copyrightable But Questions Remain

Visual artists everywhere will sleep more easily following a US court decision that AI art cannot be copyrighted. As set out in the “monkey selfie” case (no joke) copyright is only available for works of “human authorship”. Many think even more complex copyright cases are imminent. What happens when an artist jointly creates an image with AI? And can artists prevent their works being used to train an AI? For now, though, “AI will just have to find another way to world domination”.

Woman With a Film Camera

After years away, Abbott returned to New York a fan of Eugène Atget’s urban photography. Finding that “old New York” was disappearing, she embarked on a project to document its transformation. Those images show a city of tremendous dynamism and exemplify a “straight” style of photography no longer derivative of Atget. Abbott rarely featured people in her images, showing that her real ambition was to “make New York’s modernity her subject”.

Among saints & skeletons

Some place the initial impetus for the Renaissance in Flanders, rather than Italy. Its universities, trade links and entrepreneurship made it an ‘absolute powerhouse” of culture, and its ambitious merchant class wanted art that showed this. Unlike the Italians, who prioritized the human figure, Flemish artists didn’t have a hierarchy. People, flowers, scientific inventions, interiors, all were shown in exquisite detail. This was Flanders’ take on humanism – a world brimming with the fruits of human agency. Images are here.

W. Eugene Smith and the largest stories of his career

Smith’s photo-essays for Life magazine made his reputation as a great photojournalist. After Life, he focused obsessively on two huge projects. One was a photographic “poem” to Pittsburg and its “vistas of melancholy”. The other was to photograph and record illustrious jazzmen practicing in his seedy New York apartment. Both projects posthumously yielded photobooks, recently re-published. A 1978 obituary stated that he was an “obsessive, maverick genius … [who left] behind 22 tons of archive material”.

15th August 2023

Brice Marden’s Infinitesimal Hinge

Marden started out in the 1960’s when some thought painting was finished. His first works, “subtle and beautiful” blocks of colour, instead vehemently declared “the immense possibilities in this contained surface”. A later encounter with calligraphy inspired him to add rather poetic veins of squiggley, lines. These elements brought huge acclaim and the status of a “flame keeper” for painting. Marden responded that he used painting “as a sounding board for the spirit”.

Edvard Munch: Trembling Earth

In the mid 1890’s and nearing his peak, Munch’s art fully expressed his outlook on life. The Scream says it all about his bleak mindset. Yet his somewhat overlooked landscapes show that nature provided him an “emotional and philosophical wellspring”. Weather is an active element. Trees, and rocks on the seashore seem alive. And, with his “extreme high-pitched color and his painterly brushwork”, he pointed to abstraction, out on a distant horizon. Images are here.

Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy @ICP

Can you photograph love? A group photography show on the theme suggests the answer is maybe … sometimes. One critic attacks the show for its “tired tropes … comely nudes, rumpled beds, preening poses, mirrors”. That’s a bit harsh – themes about death, breakups, motherhood and violence are all addressed.  Notes another critic, despite these renowned artists trying for the same thing, “the exhibition [proves] that they’re not showing the same thing at all”.

Can a White Curator Do Justice to African Art?

A topic on which reasonable people may disagree. Can a white person curate African art? Yes, of course. Scholarship is what matters – “you cannot qualify as understanding art by virtue of your DNA”. But does this argument fully address whether Black art could be better represented in museums? Hiring more female curators seems to have helped the showing of art by female artists. Perhaps proactive hiring of Black curators may have similar benefits.