The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 12-JAN 13

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DEC 12-JAN 13 Issue

Re: Art Criticism Today

1. What should art criticism be doing?

Was it Man Ray or Marshall McLuhan who said art is anything an artist can get away with? What art criticism should be doing is providing the rationale for whatever it is that artists seem to be getting away with: contextualizing the art in terms of time and place, in terms of cultural, sociological, psychological, political, and/or historical contexts—including the history of forms and ideas or anything else that is most relevant to the particular work.

2. What are the issues or polemics, if any, for art criticism?

The issues are constantly changing, as are the polemics and the context. Example: One artist friend, working with feminist materials in the mid-’80s, scorned another who was making art about the AIDS crisis, because “he isn’t dealing with The Issues.” Her issues were already outdated; his were yet to happen. 

3. Is there a crisis in criticism?

The ever-changing technologies have become our greatest friend, our addiction, and our bitter enemy. If there’s a crisis, it’s not a crisis of criticism but of our velocity.

4. Has art criticism been marginalized in the art world consensus? Is it influential in terms of what readers think and do?

Relevance has its perils, too. In the Byzantine era, iconoclasts slit the throats of images of saints with slashes of black paint while iconophiles defended the worship of images. More recently, Jesse Helms and Rudolph Giuliani took critical action against what they mistakenly perceived as sacrilege or obscenity and no one—not the news reporters, not the politicians—ever sought the opinions of art critics. Our current century has witnessed the Taliban’s destruction of huge ancient statues of Buddha and also the American military permitting the looting of precious ancient works in the Baghdad museum. As long as there’s art there will be criticism, not always by critics. Remember and beware: “Stuff happens.” 

5. Who and what is an art critic?

Someone who is willing to sort out the clues within art like an archaeologist or a detective, sifting through the evidence to figure out the whys and whats, seeking answers wherever they may be found, revealing what may not be apparent. Not for the purpose of making a judgment but to steer readers towards their own decisions. Besides translating art for the present, critics also provide primary sources to the future, provided there is a future and art remains part of it.

6. How would you define yourself as a critic? Reviewer? Essayist? Theorist? Artist-critic? Blogger?

I wouldn’t. But if I had to, I would define myself as a critic who is drawn to art that goes to extremes.

7. For what audience do you write?

I have written for various audiences in different parts of the world. How I write depends on the audience: Certain things can go unsaid for an art audience but the public requires more explanation. I believe it is possible to express the most complex ideas in simple language. Jargon isn’t necessary to prove oneself. My current least favorite words: “de-skilled” and “agency.”

8. Both.

Has the Internet been good or bad for art criticism? Does it raise the issue of elitism versus populism?

9. How do you deal with the proliferating mediums in the art world today?

I am always astonished and excited by the fact that art can be anything and that anything can become art. But then, I have a soft spot for enfants terribles. Lately I have become obsessed with the use of trash. Where modern artists used trash as a material, 21st-century artists are dealing with trash as subject matter. I have been investigating this shift.

10. How has globalization of art and the art world changed art criticism?

It has made some of us aware of the specifically local characteristics of art as well as of what has been called “export art,” a mostly spurious new international style, currently exemplified by much Chinese art. Think of the art world as a small village, spread out across our planet. Wherever I have been, we all speak the same dialect and are concerned with similar issues. Back in 1991, I was asked to be one of three jurors (representing Russia, Western Europe, and the United States) for the first exhibition of new art from the newly freed Soviet satellite states, which was to take place in Poland. Jan Hoet opted out, leaving me and a critic from Moscow to choose the works. To my surprise, our selections proved unanimous: Russian theories of “post-catastrophism” and our theories of postmodernism came from opposite directions, but at that crossroads they collided in a perfect match. 

11. How has the enormous growth of the art world changed art criticism?

12. How do art magazine policies affect art criticism?

The answers to questions 11 and 12 are depressingly obvious.

13. Are gender-based and political issues still viable in art criticism today?

14. Is it a function of art criticism to analyze art world institutions?

The answers to questions 13 and 14 are obviously Yes.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 12-JAN 13

All Issues