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the sholis files

Post #427 • December 9, 2004, 9:46 AM • 29 Comments

Martin Bromirski of Anaba wrote in to agree with yesterday's post, and point me to his astute observation that Artforum's Scene and Herd includes a favorable write-up of NADA by Brian Sholis, Artforum associate editor and - get this - NADA member. Martin's got the links.

Yesterday I excerpted three Artforum reviews as evidence that maybe it shouldn't use its blog to expand its art criticism after all. Sholis wrote two of them: the one with "sensoriums skeptical of an Enlightenment conception of logic" and the one that coined "archi-sculptural."

After Martin brought it up, I realized that I had used Sholis's writing as a negative example back in August. In my post about E-prime, I suggested of one excerpted passage, "Try to convert this paragraph (by Brian Sholis for ArtForum) to E-Prime and you'll see how little meaning it contains."

And while strolling through Tyler Green's blogroll for no particular reason this morning, I realized that Sholis writes the blog In Search of the Miraculous. Mostly he quotes himself, which I might be doing too if I had as much paid writing work as he has, but as you would expect, I don't think much of the content.

We have our eyes on you, Mr. Sholis. I draw no conclusions about this, except one: caveat emptor.




December 9, 2004, 6:35 PM

You keep your eye on him, Franklin, if you wish. He was irrelevant to me before, and he will continue to be. In other words, as far as I'm concerned, he does not exist. The same goes for any and all analogous types.



December 9, 2004, 7:31 PM

Hey! That's not me - that's obviously someone using my name to parody me! They should be ashamed.



December 9, 2004, 7:40 PM

But Jack, they are doing a pretty good job, whoever they are. Do you disagree with yourself?

I don't, but I read this kind of criticism with a perverse relish. In fact, the entire review needs to be read to really savor it. Get Sholis on the blog and we will make short work of him. What fun!



December 9, 2004, 7:54 PM

Server variables of Jack #1 match Jack's previous posts. Those of Jack #2 do not.

I didn't want to bring it up at the time, but comment spamming represents only one of many kinds of mayhem that blogs have to deal with. You now see another - impersonation.

Please brace yourself for comment registration.



December 9, 2004, 9:40 PM

Franklin is correct. The second "Jack" post above is bogus.



December 9, 2004, 9:53 PM

I'm sorry I missed your "try and convert this paragraph" post and thank you for helping me feel less stupid. Every time I read Sholis I have one word....Huh?? Is he serious??



December 9, 2004, 10:01 PM


Absolute non-negotiable rule numero uno: If you can read it and it doesn't make sense, you are not stupid, it is.

If it looks like shit, smells like shit and lies there like a steaming pile, well, guess what?



December 9, 2004, 10:16 PM

good point oldpro. I use to feel the same way Chris did untill I figured out alot of the crap reviews out there are full of hype and bull dung. Heh, heh, I said dung.



December 9, 2004, 10:32 PM

Chris, I take your "is he serious" question seriously. Is he writing to communicate his ideas, or to hear himself bloviate? If the former, did you understand him? If the latter, can we call it "serious"?



December 10, 2004, 5:17 AM

In my opinion writing is a lot like design in that it nornally has a purpose, that being to communicate an idea or point of view which should be comprehensible to the reader. That being said the older i get the more i find that the things i once thought were steaming piles of shit now seem less so and even at times sublime. I don't think this necessarily will apply to the writing in question, but I do think it's worth stating that just because someone doesn't get a piece of writing, all of the fault should not necessarily fall on the writer.



December 10, 2004, 6:16 AM

Michael, you're right, that would be taking it too far - people have an obligation to inform themselves and critique work in an informed manner. You'll notice, though, that obfuscatory art writing does the opposite - it assumes that all faults in comprehension lie with the reader. I've seen people try to defend postmodernist art this way; basically, I don't "get it" because of some kind of flaw in my thinking or character, and not because the art in question is ill-expressed. I would imagine Sholis saying that he wants not so much to be understood as to create a network of associations in the mind of the reader - our local Gean Moreno works this way, and the tradition seems to come out of Derrida. I find the result uninformative, dialogue-killing, pretentious and aimless. In Sholis's case, "sensoriums skeptical" is alliterative nonsense, and "archi-sculptural" is a laughably hifalutin' coinage that is inferior to its roots expressed seperately. (Plus, it sounds like snake trying to cough up peanut butter.)



December 10, 2004, 5:41 PM


I am addicted to rhetorical overstatement, I'll admit, and I can hardly take exception to your response that "just because someone doesn't get a piece of writing, all of the fault should not necessarily fall on the writer." Of course not. People misread, misinterpret and misunderstand what they read all the time. And Immanuel Kant, my favorite philosopher on art (and other things), is notoriously difficult.

However, it has been my experience that in the particular case of writing about contemporary art, obscurity is entirely without merit of any kind. I can't think of any exception. On the other hand, for example, the critic who takes the most abuse for his "elitism" and "narrowness" - Clement Greenberg - wrote simply, clearly and gracefully.

If you know of any art writing that is at once obscure and "sublime" I would very much like to know about it.



December 10, 2004, 8:19 PM

Nothing springs to mind oldpro. Like you correctly stated, I just wanted to insert into the record, what was to most of us "obvious" but went unsaid.
I also didn't mean to equate obscure with sublime. I was mainly referencing the times in my life when I didn't "get" something because I wasn't ready to, which like I said I don't think applies to a lot of art writing in general. But I do know at least for myself that there are and continue to be ideas, books, and certain art that I can't wrap my head around but that I know will make sense to me later on. Perhaps this happens less for you because you are an oldpro. I'm a younger one.


Brian Sholis

December 10, 2004, 9:12 PM

Hi. I came across your site while snooping around on the web for feedback to Artforum's new online diary. I'm happy to field any questions about my writing or affiliations, so please feel free to contact me via the e-mail address listed on my two websites and I'll try to respond promptly. Thanks for taking the time to notice and comment on my work. Best wishes, Brian.


that guy in the back row

December 11, 2004, 12:34 AM

Hey Brian, thats what we call in the real world as a total dodge. Just stand up for yourself on this blog and let yourself be counted. Quit jerking us around, this blog thrives on honest and frank discussion about art. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. There is plenty on this post that you could respond to in public and not behind the shield of your personal email address. This is the reason people are getting fed up with the art press in general. How bout it buddy?



December 11, 2004, 12:50 AM

He left the same note at Anaba. I think Martin sums it up pretty well.



December 11, 2004, 3:06 AM

Mr Sholis is at pains to let us know that he does not noodle about on the web to see who is mentioning his name, like most of us do, but only for "feedback to Artforum's new online diary." A real team guy!

He wants us to contact him on one of his "two web sites", but there are no URLs given. From what I have read it is evident he never met a piece of sillyness he didn't like, venturing forth with hummers like:

"...Matthew Greene outlines the contours of a world devoid of hierarchy and false dichotomies, populated by an idiosyncratic amalgam of mushrooms and redwoods..."

Love them big words!

This sort of thing deserves the close scrutiny of the artblog caca squad (that snake is still gagging, Franklin). Perhaps Mr. Sholis would grace us with some comments on Miami shows, for our delectation. Or perhaps alert bloggers can ferret out some choice Sholisms for us to pick over. Sounds like fun!



December 11, 2004, 3:25 AM

Sholis is too easy a target. I expect even Artforum doesn't take him seriously, even though they use him for what I assume is some sort of comic relief or "fun" frothy commentary, however worthless. But then again, I may be giving Artforum too much credit. I do not, by the way, read AF unless I happen to see it while I'm at a bookstore and I happen to be in the mood to kill some time browsing through it. Paying for it is out of the question. Even Modern Painters has gotten a little too slick for my taste.


that guy in the back row

December 11, 2004, 5:35 AM

I kind of miss that Brian character being all loveydovy with us real people. What a pussy. Hey artfourm: Fire his ass.



December 11, 2004, 6:40 AM

Mr. Sholis seems to want to get into a discussion about this only over e-mail, off of enemy turf, as it were. I believe some denigration of his manhood is in order.

Incidentally, I have no problem going into his turf and criticising him there. I just don't want to legitimize Diary with my presence. Besides, the comments they've been getting thus far are the same variety of non-sequitur trash that they get on their discussion boards.



December 11, 2004, 8:29 AM

Your attacks on Brian are very funny and incredibly flattering. NADA was started to form a union of sorts for art professionals feeling left out ignored by the larger art world. The fact that NADA and it's members are attacked for nepotism and self canonizing is in many ways pointing to NADA's true successes. Keep attacking, and I hope you all form your own group to protect yourselves and take us down. It’s how art evolves, we all did what you are doing now a few years ago. On with the Next Generation! Support your peers; and I look forward to seeing what you can do and what the next generation will do to you to push forward.



December 11, 2004, 5:38 PM

Sorry, Zach, that's not going to cut it either. Although I didn't see much I liked at NADA, I didn't attack the organization. I've mostly criticised Sholis's writing, which neither he nor you, apparently, is able to defend.

NADA members feel "left out [or] ignored by the larger art world"? Sholis is an associate editor at Artforum.

"The fact that NADA and it's members are attacked for nepotism and self canonizing is in many ways pointing to NADA's true successes"? I had no idea that NADA's intention was to emulate the most pathetic behaviors of the rest of the art world. That's good to know. (However, I don't think it's true. I talked with some of the dealers at NADA and found a portion of them to be approachable and realistic about their work.)

This "on with the next generation" angle represents serious confusion on your part about what's going on in the blogosphere between myself, Anaba,, Thinking About Art, Forward Retreat, et al. Basically, this isn't about NADA - it's about Artforum, their useless foray into art blogging, and the obvious fatuousness one of their content providers. We go for quality around here, and to whatever extent Sholis or Artforum ever sees fit to provide it, I'll be on board. There's no generational component to this, and to think otherwise is an avant-gardist Oedipal fantasy. My observations about lack of quality are exactly that, regardless of how you choose to take them.



December 11, 2004, 10:28 PM

I fixed the problem that was erroneously preventing comments on this post. Sorry, and thank you to those who let me know.


that guy in the back row

December 11, 2004, 10:33 PM

Zach posted the same message on ANABA too, can't these people defend themselves without being redundant?



December 11, 2004, 10:53 PM

Excellent response, Franklin. Pretty well covered the bases.

Such bullshit! "Hey guys, thanks for the attention which just shows we are successful like you can be too if you follow our example blah blah" - this patronizing whistling in the dark, this defensive snobbism, is nothing but a fragile shield in front of a bunch of quivering egos spewing hollow esoterica to fuel a status quo that is mainlining on hyperexpensive new clothes for the proverbial emporer. What will they do when the real world comes crashing in?

To the barricades!



December 11, 2004, 11:51 PM

Franklin, the Zach response is just an example of an old bluff; i.e., if you can't defend your position, try the jovial, like-water-off-a-duck's-back, makes-no-difference-to-me tack. It's an attempt to defuse and discourage criticism by acting as if one doesn't give a shit. Of course, maybe he feels so comfortably ensconced and "safe" in NADA-land that he really thinks he and Sholis can't be touched. After all, the Artforum people are on board, and who the hell are we, right? Reminds me of "If the people have no bread, let them eat cake." Very, very lame.



December 12, 2004, 12:34 AM

Zach is most probably Zach Feuer, of Zach Feuer Gallery (formerly LFL).



December 12, 2004, 1:17 AM

There's also a Zach Miner with no affiliation on the NADA members page. I'm guessing it's that one, if either.



December 12, 2004, 1:44 AM

you got 2 zachs
you need but one
so take the Feuer
(terrible pun!)



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