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The Critical Edge

Post #1830 • January 22, 2019, 7:57 AM • 2 Comments

Ann Landi solicited my thoughts about how to attract the attentions of an art critic. She has published them at Vasari21 alongside those of Karen Wilkin, Jonathan Goodman, Kim Levin, David S. Rubin, and Sharon Butler. My take: before How, let's consider Why and Whether. Levin's remarks about how not to go about it are eye-popping.

Comment

1.

John Link

January 22, 2019, 12:08 PM

Sharon Butler said it best as far as getting the majority of critics to pay attention:

"But, most of all, make work that inspires discussion, opinion, argument. If you make the same boring thing year in and year out, no matter how well drawn or painted, there is nothing for critics to write about."

I agree that most critics are not affected by "how well drawn or painted" (or otherwise good looking) an object might be. Butler nailed what does affect them - and what amounts to a necessary condition for the possibility they might become interested - when she brings up the boredom that many critics suffer from, once their discussions begin to exhaust themselves. The exception to "most critics" would be you and Karen Wilkin, but preventing boredom is an important aspect of the temper of our time, and no one completely escapes their own time.

The majority of suggestions in the article are sufficient conditions. As a collection, there is a lot of good advice for those interested in being written about. You point out the "days of the influential critic are over" and that points to what has shifted, as far as the importance of being written about goes. That is, dealers, especially those who sell the most expensive art, have become the gatekeepers in charge of admitting artists to the A-list and now provide the leadership for the whole art system.

Michael Lewis has a point about the NEA Four, but I see that event as the close of a process that began in the early '60s, when the money generated by the post-war art expansion of the art audience compounded itself sufficiently to act as a carrot that could stimulate the system. And indeed it did. And who better than dealers with good PR skills and accurate market instincts to take the reins as pricey sales became possible, thanks to the larger and more affluent audience now chasing art. Nor do I feel that alienating the vulgarian-in-the-street had a negative effect on the art system's ability to sell art for higher and higher prices.

A key component in the shift from critic to dealer leadership was the fact dealers were first to recognize the new post-war audience for art, no matter how sophisticated and well educated, was turned on by representation, even the campy illustration intrinsic to Pop. They also recognized that most art lovers, including collectors, really needed to "understand" art before they would accept it. The amazing growth of the art system they fashioned caught the attention of everyone, artists and critics alike, so that the hub around which the system turned became the dealers' showrooms. For the most part, critics began to let the dealers keep the gate - they probably did not have a choice. So they wrote about artists showing at the galleries with the most expensive and therefore most prestigious art. And so, getting a high flying gallery to show your work is probably the best way to gain the attention of an "important" critic or two. Short of that, get some gallery to show your stuff. I thought this phenomenon deserved more attention that it got from the six of you.

That said, the digital age has certainly put a dent in the elitism associated with the A-list. Still, nothing beats a show at Gagosian or other A-list gallery for getting attention. I have no quarrel with this. In fact, it seems inevitable, because money is that important to the way our time functions. And, as the article points out, there are simply too many artists to deal with on a democratic basis. I just wish the keepers of the gate would do a better job at deciding who gets through, but I understand they must pay attention to what their clients are willing to consider and what they are willing to pay. "Revolution" may be the inspiration for much of the art of our time, but capitalism is the primary MO for putting it across.

2.

Franklin

January 22, 2019, 3:05 PM

And so, getting a high flying gallery to show your work is probably the best way to gain the attention of an "important" critic or two. Short of that, get some gallery to show your stuff. I thought this phenomenon deserved more attention that it got from the six of you.

This is hardly wrong, but I wanted to de-emphasize the careerist reasons for garnering a critic's attention because the chances of them panning out materially are so slim.

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