Editor’s Note: It has been a while since we’ve added to our Worst.Press.Release.Ever. column. Thankfully (or is that unfortunately), Emily Colucci finds a worthy (unworthy?) addition.

Allison Hester, “Michael Lorenzo Urie 1980” (2011), pen on Arches (all photos by author)

Walking into the Marianne Boesky Gallery’s summer exhibition I Bleed Black, the first work I saw was a small drawing of actor Michael Urie, best-known for his role in the television series Ugly Betty. I knew I was in trouble.

However, the art was not even the most worrisome part of the exhibition. The bizarrely academic language in the gallery press release made me want to tear up the sheet of paper in front of the sweet-looking gallery assistant.

Maybe it’s just me but I feel like recently there has been a rash of press releases from galleries that are so academic that they are barely comprehensible. I think galleries need to reevaluate what they want visitors to get out of their press releases.

Made up of mostly Marianne Boesky employees from art handlers to registrars, I Bleed Black features a range of artistic mediums and focuses such Elizabeth Miseo’s ceramics and Nicholas Brooks’s installation of a video of a woman masturbating that is housed in a black plastic tent inside the gallery with a sign “Adults Only.”

I was at first curious about the origin of the seemingly goth title “I Bleed Black.”  Some googling led me to a song by the LA doom metal band Saint Vitus. It also led me to countless sites declaring “I Bleed Black and Gold,” which being Pittsburgh-born and-raised made me wish the show was about Pittsburgh sports fanaticism.

Ted Riederer, “The Collectors” (installation shot) (2011), oil on canvas

Even though it was not about bleeding black and gold, I’m still not sure what “bleeding black” has to do with any of the works in the show. The press release is no help, reading as one of the most confusingly academic press releases I’ve ever come across.

Originally, I was supposed to review the actual art in the I Bleed Black exhibition but being fairly unremarkable, the totally irritating press release overtook the show.

Having spent two years in an interdiscplinary Master’s program, I can recognize when the writer is using terms like “societal pressure” and “societal norms” to cover the fact that they’re not saying much of anything. The press release reads:

Emphasizing the power of the individual, I Bleed Black suggests the working artist’s struggle to overcome or transcend the outside factors inherent in society, religion and politics. The individual, steadily seeking an evolved state of being, attempts to create only for himself and deny the influences of the outside components that are inherent in the duties or responsibilities of the day to day.

Um … what?

Stating nothing about the art itself or the artists involved, the press release has paragraph after paragraph repeating the same thing about the artist’s struggle between personal expression and everyday social norms.

Having written a few press releases in various internships, I question who this is written for. The collectors? Art historians? Art critics? I have no idea.

Ethan Minsker, “Rich Boy Cries for Momma” (2010)

As shown in other articles I’ve written, I don’t particularly like when the art in the exhibit can’t back up the lofty language in the press release but this is just absurd, considering I’m not exactly sure I understand what is meant by “steered by an ambition that manifests itself in the routine of the everyday.” I’m also not sure what it has to do with Ethan Minsker’s book Rich Boy Cries for Momma.

In the end, I became so frustrated with trying to figure out the meaning of the show that I walked out of the gallery and began to explore the street art surrounding the closed Chelsea galleries.

Works by street artist RAE on 22nd Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

One work that caught my eye were these works by RAE on 22nd Street, reminding me of two-dimensional drawings of Alexander Calder’s wire sculptures of faces. More exciting and even more art historically relevant than the works in I Bleed Black, RAE’s multiple drawings did not need an unintelligible press release to promote their worth.

So to all the gallery press release writers, please stop the overly academic language that sounds like you are trying to up your word count for a college essay.

Marianne Boesky Gallery’s I Bleed Black closed on September 1, 2011. Lucky you.

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Emily Colucci

Emily Colucci is a recently graduated NYU interdisciplinary Master's student with a focus on art history and gender/sexuality studies. Her interests lie in graffiti, street art and New York-based art from...

21 replies on “Worst.Press.Release.Ever: A Plea for Sanity at Marianne Boesky”

  1. I think this article is a little bit bizarre.  In this day and age I find it really strange that in a reputable art blog the author writes something like “In the end, I became so frustrated with trying to figure out the meaning of the show that I walked out of the gallery “.
    I mean, it’s not that we’re talking about Art made by and Alien civilization from Constellation KHX345, right? 

    1. Alien or not when a show feigns depth by contradicting itself or making nonsense out of academic jargon it is pretty hard to take anything away from it. And part of being a reputable art blog is having a healthy dose of skepticism, especially if it is “sensitive to art and its discontents”

  2. One of the physically heaviest/thickest  books from the last century is entitled, Minimal Art…
    When I was in grad school,before many readers were born, we used to joke about the students who could talk a better work of art than they could actually produce. From what our brave and insightful blogger has reported, apparently not only can the new generation not make art that is sophomoric, but they also cannot even write coherently about it!
    Artspeak is hilarious and usually written by not-so-bright people who are more interested in impressing the reader with HOW they write rather than WHAT they are actually trying to say. Favorite terms: manifest, metaphor, societal, inherent, self-referential, paradigm, ideation, etc. 

  3. based on the excerpt quoted, that press release does sound shockingly bad.  i want to say, however, that “academic” language is not necessarily the same thing as plain old bad writing.  somehow other disciplines (science, for example) are allowed to have specialized vocabularies, but art writing is supposed to be utterly plainspoken.  i am mostly reacting to NancyHelen’s comment above.  all of those “favorite terms” that you list have precise meanings and cannot easily be replaced by other words.  you sound simply anti-intellectual.  i applaud Hyperallergic for calling out lazy and pretentious press-release-writers but would caution against dismissing academic writing in its entirely.  academic language can be useful, and occasionally even elegant.

  4. adlne3, I didn’t think that NancyHelen was arguing against words like manifest, paradigm, societal, ideation, etc. — of course those can be precise terms in good academic writing and general-audience writing. It’s just that publicists and artists often pull out these $3 words for their press releases or artist statements to obscure the fact that they’re not sure what they want to say.

    Clear and coherent writing doesn’t have to be dumbed down. Art writing tip: first, write down your point(s) in the simplest way possible. Then, only if it seems necessary, make the language more interesting and expansive, but not at the cost of making sense. Alternately: if you genuinely don’t know what to say, write as little as possible and just let the art seem more enigmatic.

  5. I don’t know much about press releases or artspeak but I can recognized bullshit when I see it!
    When snowed with descriptive terms that say nothing, I assume that there is nothing to say.

  6. Sounds like a hastily put together experiment in the off season made to please its staff more than anyone else. All the people to impress are on vacation, right?

  7. Art’s never been so tied up w/ theory as it is now.  Getting rid of the jargon isn’t happening soon, and I don’t think that’s the problem anyhow.  Artists nowadays often hide behind word riddled obfuscation the way the modernists hid behind not having to explain their work at all.

  8. I really appreciated this article. The convoluted press release or wall label is one of my pet peeves! What people often don’t realize is that it’s much more difficult to write clearly and unapologetically about your premise than it is to couch it in theory.  For example, why not start by explaining that obscure exhibition title and at least give the viewer a point of departure (vs. abandoning them from the get-go)? 

  9. I dunno. This subject comes up rather a lot, and I’m torn: I too get extremely irritated when people vaguely waffle with language or misuse technical terms as a quick way of inflating the intellectual content of their statements/blogs/PR/reviews etc. (two particularly annoying examples: “deconstruct” when what they mean is more like “analyze”, and “dialectical”, when what they mean is “there are two things over there”). BUT at the same time, sometimes the criticism of such is just regular-old anti-intellectualism, and there’s more than enough of that EVERYwhere else. Hurrah for intellectuals, say I! Go team Big Words! Anyway, I think there’s a deeper question at stake here: how did the intellectual economy of the artworld came to experience this hyperinflation (which I must admit exists) in the first place?  (Oh, and how come press releases are no longer for the press?)

  10. “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”

    George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (1946)http://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/intrel/orwell46.htm

  11. Great article!  An academically written press release can be good, but this one pretty much describes every artist in the universe.  It is so general, that it really describes nothing.  As an MFA student  I used to write press releases for art, and would sometimes have arguments with some artists because they wanted all this long winded vague crap.  They thought it sounded “profound”  

  12. all this makes me think of fashion people writing ‘manifestos’- yet another genre of amusing BS. 

    To be fair, there is also a possibility that such press releases are written by non-native speakers of English, who can sometimes be more determined to write grammatically or showcase their vocab, than produce a readable and coherent text. 

  13. I agree with the other commenters about the difference between academic jargon and plain old bad writing.  Not that there aren’t off-putting use of lofty terms in press releases but “societal norms” and “transcending outside forces” certainly don’t qualify.  Phrases like “the sublime,” and “Post-structuralist critique” are closer because it’s purely art-talk.  What I CAN say for the show based on the images is at LEAST it looks like the work actually required labor and technical skill (even if it was following a restrictive repetitive theme), which you hardly ever see anymore.  I got so sick of seeing thrown-together, lazy work when i go out that i get depressed.

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