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the great miami art criticism die-off

Post #239 • March 18, 2004, 9:12 AM • 8 Comments

In the newspapers, visual art is going the way of poetry.

You know how you occasionally see a poem in the paper? A book review of a new poetry collection? An author profile? Or sometimes a colorful spread about several young, up-and-coming poets in the local entertainment weekly? One day, sooner than you like, that's going to be the case for visual art. Maybe not in New York and Los Angeles, but likely here in Miami.

Since revamping its format early this year, the Miami Herald as all but run Elisa Turner out of Herald Plaza. Her articles appeared January 19, February 10, March 4, and March 16, according to the Herald website. She used to appear once or twice weekly.

Street, a Herald production, will no longer be running art criticism every week like it used to when Damarys Ocaña was a staff writer.

The New Times's pattern is becoming difficult to predict. Alfredo Triff appears every two weeks (sometimes three during the summer), except when someone else takes his spot. Lately this has been done by Vivian Marthell and Cesar Suarez de Jesus. Triff has taken up an interest in architecture, which is a welcome addition to the New Times, but when he writes about it, he causes four weeks to elapse between essays about visual art. (Unless another writer picks up the slack, as seems to have happened this week.) Capsule reviews of shows, written mostly by Suarez de Jesus with additions by Triff, have begun to appear weekly. This is positive, but as a best-of listing, it isn't criticism - it's advocacy. The overall irregularity of coverage at the New Times is bad for developing an audience.

All told, total production of art criticism is heading down below pre-2001 levels in Miami. I think we're looking at a future in which art is covered in the papers once a month, and criticism, when it appears, will be of the mildest sort. (Is someone going to come out once a month and pan something?)

We can grouse about this all we like, but the fact remains that the majority of the Herald's customer base did not go bananas when Turner stopped appearing every week in the paper. Street's readership did not fly into open revolt when Ocaña departed. The New Times has been able to function for years without insisting on an art review each week. Our impact as consumers of art criticism is negligible.

In light of this, I plan to start posting more exhibition reviews on Destiny is being delivered to my door, in a sense - the papers are rolling back their interest in art at a time when the art scene and its audience is expanding. My hit counters and comments boards tell me that reviews with pictures are my biggest draw (right after reactionary screeds that lay wide swaths of contemporary art to waste). They're the likeliest posts to be cited by other blogs as well. There's an appetite for this, and although it may be much smaller than the public appetite for sports, it's growing. I love print and will continue to produce for it, but every sign points to the real action moving online.

Update: Here's Vivian Marthell reviewing Laura Owens for this week's New Times:

Owens's inspirations are free-ranging, diverse, and humorous. She brings to the canvas American folk art, Chinese landscapes, children's illustrations, embroidery, flower-and-bird fabric motifs, and more. Nothing is off limits. She embraces the historically anonymous with the same fervor as the established. Her references include insider and outsider styles, as well as various art movements such as color-field abstraction. She is painting about painting.

Here's me, reviewing Greg Kucia and Daniel Scheimberg for the New Times last November:

There's a kind of contemporary painting that examines what it means to be making a contemporary painting. Highly recursive, it mines art history and the visual record for intense, sometimes injurious remixing. ... If [Gerhard] Richter is this style's granddad, Laura Owens is the precocious big sister. Owens was the subject of a big show at the MoCA Los Angeles earlier this year, proving that she could recombine everything from Chinese painting to faux-naif illustration into enormous paintings -- ten and twelve feet on a side -- that had no impact.

I'll chalk it up to coincidence, but I got my eye on you, Marthell.




March 18, 2004, 6:18 PM

As I'm sure you'll agree, the issue is not just frequency of arts coverage but the nature or quality thereof. Weak coverage, no matter how frequent, is of no use to me. It actually annoys me, because I'll probably read it anyway, and then feel disgusted that my time was wasted.

Clearly, the art criticism situation in Miami leaves a great deal to be desired, especially given the pretensions in some quarters that Miami is now a major art center. Basel week doesn't count--Basel doesn't live here. The scene and the coverage during the rest of the year have a long way to go.

The Herald's blatant indifference to regular arts coverage is primarily a matter of economics, but it also reflects the lack of vision of what remains a small-time outfit. Street and New Times could do better, but I'm not sure it's realistic to expect such publications to take art all that seriously. So yes, Franklin, the ball appears to be in your court; you might as well run with it.



March 19, 2004, 4:46 PM

I feel your pain.

You could rewrite this post and substitute the word Austin for Miami. Although Austin is not nearly the cosmopolitan destination that Miami is, it does pride itself on being an arts-friendly town. But when it comes to visual art, nothing could be further from the truth, and that is well reflected in the arts press.

I've come to find out that a segment of the Austin art world is paying a lot of attention to my own online critical writings, not because they're so great, but because writing of this type is so rare here.

You definitely have an opening--go for it.



March 21, 2004, 8:00 PM

ha! when i read vivian marthell's review in the paper of laura owen's show, my first thought was it sounded as if she were rewriting a MOCA press release, or a passage from the show's catalogue. (is there a catalogue?) now i see she was--possibly--rewriting you!

it's also interesting (and sad) to note that while miami gets more and more and yet more attention from the outside world (see page one of NY Times sunday arts & leisure section march 14--on miami art collectors) the local coverage of actual art exhibitions diminishes. of course it isn't unique to miami, as cinque points out. to be blunt, it's all about advertising dollars. if galleries took out ads the same way that say the film industry does, well then, you'd see several reviews each week.


Alfredo Triff

March 21, 2004, 9:40 PM

I frankly dont see much of anything in these two fragments that would justify your assumption is it a legitimate suspicion or innuendo? Then I cant believe Necee jumps in the bandwagon. Bad habit, Franklin, and it counts for the difference between blogging and journalism (though they could cohere). Why not spelling de Jesus name instead-- correctly? Its not Cesar, but Carlos. As far as the capsules go, theyre beginning we are trying to weight how they look on paper. If you read carefully you could detect the flavor of critique. Now, my style of critique or even Carlos -- is different than yours. True, people go for the stab. Its quick and emotional. Yet, I indulge the subtle and slower pulse of balance. A far as advocacy goes, you may be as guilty as anyone: you campaign your own preferences in this blog --as an artist producing work with the interest of sellingwhile at the same time evaluating other contemporary styles you find flawed. Did anyone ever brought this to your attention? People refer to it as conflict of interest. It may not be a blog issue yet; but its definitely a journalistic concern


Godless Roach

March 22, 2004, 3:13 AM

I think Sir Franklin reports and opines like regular newspapers do. I don't see him advocate his own material and he does not limit himself to citing flaws when remarking on other people's work. Sometimes he says oh my, that's nice. He uses another tone, of course.



March 22, 2004, 9:21 AM

First of all, I apologize to everyone for getting Carlos's name wrong. That was careless.

If you don't see similarities between my paragraph and Marthell's, all I can say is that I do, and so does Necee, and Necee is published regularly in the Boston Globe. Like I said, I chalk the similarities up to coincidence. Just this once.

Alfredo, are we ever going to see a negative capsule review in the New Times? We haven't thus far, and hence I feel justified in calling it advocacy rather than criticism. I'm not talking about style here. I went far out of my way to avoid talking about style. A best-of listing, even a thoughtful one, is not criticism. It can't be. And you must agree that it's not logical to conflate what I'm calling advocacy above and what you're calling the advocacy of my preferences, which I'm within my rights to do as a writer just as you're within yours to advocate your own.

If it's a conflict of interest to be trying to progress and survive as an artist while writing criticism according to the same beliefs, then much better artist/writers than myself are invalidated: Walter Darby Bannard, Robert Storr, Fairfield Porter, and Giorgio Vasari come to mind. Nevertheless, the alleged conflict is pointed out to me when a self-proclaimed wronged party responds to a negative review by trashing my art, something that has happened on several occasions.

I continue to be mystified by the idea of having an objective opinion. Instead, I'm plain about what my biases are, who my friends are, and what my art looks like. I leave it to my readers to decide whether my critical responses resemble their own often enough to trust that they might share them at least part of the time. When I blog, I have a forum available for readers to challenge what I'm saying, which has allowed me to sort out our differences in a way that I found impossible in the letters to the editor column when I have written for the New Times. (I don't mean this as a criticism - I'm saying that blogs tend to be more self-correcting than print.) I'm not a disinterested party; I'm an extremely interested party. Those interests are on the table. That gives my writing a particular flavor, and I hope its own kind of integrity.


Thelma Thomas

March 22, 2004, 1:08 PM

You are paronoid



March 22, 2004, 2:33 PM

Thanks for sharing, Thelma. I don't feel as bad about getting Carlos's name wrong now.



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