“Something in this painting seemed to change over the course of 2020.”
Two weeks ago, when critic Ken Johnson reviewed Michelle Grabner’s current solo exhibition in the New York Times, he fell into a trap. Johnson didn’t like Grabner’s work, which is fine, but rather than breaking it down to understand why he didn’t like it, he resorted to half-baked biographical stereotyping.
There are so many fault lines between art and politics, navigating them can feel dizzying and often futile. Conversations about identity politics, economics, heritage, corrective curating, and the broader issues of inclusion and exclusion are important but can be a drag on art itself, to the point where it can seem like the work vanishes behind real or imagined social mores. Such was the case with Ken Johnson’s review last fall in the New York Times of MoMA PS1’s Now Dig this! Art & Black Los Angeles 1960–1980 and the debate it engendered. The review spurned a lot of groaning about uninformed opinions and who constitute the “gatekeepers” of the art canon. A petition for the Times to reconcile this “editorial lapse” with its normally higher standard of writing was started as angry voices accumulated, gaining over 1,600 signatures.
Is it just me, or has art writing hit a little bit of a rough patch lately? Some verbal missteps by New York Times art critic Ken Johnson have triggered accusations of buried racism and sexism.
At one point, Arts & Labor member Blithe Riley, who was in the audience at the round table, made a comment about “freaking out a little.” This highlighted the disconnect between the political and social aspirations of Arts & Labor and the general role of art critics for me.
Last Thursday night at Housing Works Bookstore, Occupy Wall Street affinity group Arts & Labor organized a panel of New York art writers to discuss the labor of art criticism. Village Voice and New York Times critic Martha Schwendener opened the round table with the question, “What is the labor of writing?” Schwendener and Arts and Labor proposed a discussion about the working conditions of art criticism in an effort to dispel some prevailing myths, which she framed as power, authority, and allure. She then started things off with an open question to the panel about how they became art critics.
This week’s Required Reading has Serra at the Met, pole dancing’s relationship to art, tech’s relationship to whiteness, mud stenciling, sound art, ruminations on the art world by a bigwig at Christie’s and the art of getting high.
Entering Japanese artist/composer Ryoji Ikeda’s new installation “the transfinite,” which is currently showing at the Park Avenue Armory, feels like sitting inside of a computer.