Thursday, July 20, 2006

Working the Critics: Open Thread

CultureGrrl Lee Rosenbaum wondered aloud about the lack of hard-hitting criticism of new architecture in a post yesterday:

Why do you rarely see strongly negative reviews about new or newly expanded cultural facilities? Cesar Pelli's (pre-Taniguchi) expansion of the Museum of Modern Art, Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Bilbao, Santiago Calatrava's new wing (with wings) for the Milwaukee Art Museum---all received generally favorable notices when they opened, only to become more controversial with the passage of time. Similar revisionism also seems to occur in reviews of the acoustics of new concert halls---Rafael Viñoly's Kimmel Center in Philadelphia comes to mind.

And now that the initial euphoria over the November 2004 reopening of the Museum of Modern Art has passed, a second wave of assessments has been considerably more critical than the first round of polite plaudits.

As one who has enjoyed her share of hardhat tours and press previews of expensive, ambitious museum construction projects, I can attest to a natural reluctance to rain on these elaborate and expensive parades. So many well-meaning, talented people have spent so much time, intellect, money and effort on these new cultural facilities that it's hard to be unkind, let alone censorious.
Clearly, the tours and private previews are designed to get critics' buy-in well ahead of time, but reading Lee's post reminded me of a passage I recently read in former Met Director, Thomas Hoving's 1993 air-kiss-n-tell memoir, Making the Mummies Dance:

But I had no idea whom to sign on as the architect for a total renovation of the museum and its expansion. I had the feeling that the current architectural firm of Brown, Lawford & Forbes wasn't the choice, and I was fearful of what Frank Rogers and the trustee Architectural Committe would come up with. [Arthur] Rosenblatt told me that there was only one firm in the world--Kevein Roche-John Dinkeloo. The names did not make much of an impression. He pointed out that they were the designers of the grand Ford Foundation building with its glass atrium, a structure not yet completed, but much talked about in the architectural press. "Kevin's Irish; John's Dutch---perfect for your stodgy trustees," Rosenblatt added.

Rosenblatt explained all of their credentials and accomplishments---as well as a few failures. One of the pluses was intelligence--the firm, Rosenblatt said, had refused to work for Parks. But the real reason Rosenblatt, a man senstive to PR, finally told me was that the architectural critic of the Times, Ada Louise Huxtable, "loved" them.
Which isn't to suggest institutions always choose their architects from among the darlings of the critics, but it does reveal that the critics are often played by such institutions. Again, from Hoving
At the press conference to announce the appointments, Ada Louise Huxtable confided to me, "Kevin and John are the prefect choices."
So given that a great review from certain critics can have monumental impact in the arts, what can one do to maximize the chances of attracting said great review? In other words, what can one do to "work" the critics? I know this topic may strike some critics as in poor taste, but consider this an opportunity to chime in, anonymously if you like, with what most definitely won't work and you'd rather never see again.

Consider this an open thread:

UPDATE: As George points out in his comment, that last paragraph as written suggested I'm encouraging folks to try and buy critics. I don't recommend that or consider it ethical. I was trying to be glib, but only ended up in being sloppy (and more than a bit dodgy). Let me try that last paragraph again:

So given that a great review from certain critics can have monumental impact in the arts, it's not suprising folks try to influence them. What have you seen/heard about folks trying to maximize their chances of attracting said great review? I know this topic may strike some critics as in poor taste, but consider this an opportunity to chime in, anonymously if you like, with what most definitely won't work and you'd rather never see again.

21 Comments:

Anonymous George said...

Ed,

I am baffled by the question. It sounds suspiciously like "how can we buy off a critic for a favorable review" That can't be what you mean? Oh, we just want to tilt the playing field a tad in our favor?

OK, sarcasm aside, isn't this the problem? Isn't tippy-toeing, skirting the issue, frosting the cake, precisely the problem being questioned in the architectural reviews? In my opinion, trying to assert influence on a critic for a favorable review is unethical, let the work speak for itself.

7/20/2006 09:30:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

In my opinion, trying to assert influence on a critic for a favorable review is unethical, let the work speak for itself.

While I agree wholeheartedly, I was thinking this would be seen a bit more lightheartedly. Clearly you can't buy a good critic, but that doesn't stop people from trying. I guess I expected some comical responses...let me try to clarify with an update to the post.

7/20/2006 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Yes, becuase Hoving is always a faithful, honest chronicler of everything. ALH confided in him ______? Maybe. Mayyyyyybe.

Roche-Dinkeloo were Eero Saarinen's guys. When he died, his firm essentially emerged as Roche-Dinkeloo.

7/20/2006 09:53:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

The one way I've heard to get a review or article written about your work is to hire a critic to write the essay for the catalog. Having done the research and thinking for that, the critic will often turn around and turn it into another source of income - an article in a magazine.

Here in LA, the LA Times has a woman who assigns the reviews to the writers. That said, if Christopher Knight wants to write about a show, I suspect he doesn't have to get permission.

I do envy the power of the NY critics. From my observations in LA, the critics have no power to make careers. Attendance may increase with a review but sales don't go up appreciably - at least that's what I've heard and observed.

7/20/2006 10:02:00 AM  
Blogger James Wolanin said...

This is an easy one, it's not payola, critics want to be loved. They don't want to be overly negative. If they were, people wouldn't like them, they would make enemies. Everyone wants to be loved.

7/20/2006 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Yes, becuase Hoving is always a faithful, honest chronicler of everything. ALH confided in him ______? Maybe. Mayyyyyybe.

I would HATE to think he's making some of this stuff up...it's all so juicy...but, alas, it does seem remarkable to the point of being improbable. ~sigh~

7/20/2006 10:26:00 AM  
Anonymous priit said...

I think that the era of global capitalism is unable to produce good architecture at all. In my small country, many architecture critics are very fine thinkers and writers; they are often critical too. But their influence to building practice is almost none.

7/20/2006 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I do envy the power of the NY critics. From my observations in LA, the critics have no power to make careers.

I think the problem is that we mainly have regional publications out here, and they don't consider art very newsworthy. The LA Times has the Celebrity (Calendar) Section, that has (maybe 5 or 6) gallery reviews on Fridays, and an occasional longer article on other days, but most of the section is about movie stars and tv stars. The LA Weekly is good, but again there isn't that much space set aside for art. There are some good art writers in LA, but they aren't given much space on the page.

In contrast, NYC has not only the New York Times but also New York ArtForum, New York Art News, and New York Art in America. I suppose these are regional publications too, in a sense, but they look really beautiful and are read by people around the world.

7/20/2006 01:10:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

the LA Times has a woman who assigns the reviews to the writers

ML, who is that person? Do you know if she assigns the Friday reviews, or is it just the feature articles?

7/20/2006 01:26:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I've been carving something of a small space for myself as a critic with my online writing. I don't consider myself a real critic, but I'm pretending to be one, and I hope I never become influential. Unless that means making money, in which case I'd probably be okay with it.

But James has the right idea, at least for how it feels for me. It's very hard to be negative towards someone you've met and gotten along with. It's a lot easier to be negative towards someone you dislike in person or have never met at all. So probably one way to influence a critic is simply to meet them and speak nicely to them.

I doubt that all the people hiring their friends do so because they're simply nepotists. They probably think their friends do good work. I like to think that my friends are the best at what they do. Why would I be friends with an idiot? But then I've hired friends for things and discovered they aren't as competent as I thought. Very sad.

So if you're friends (or friendly) with a critic, chances are they're going to be favorable towards you.

Everyone does want to be loved. I certainly do.

Also, hookers of the appropriate gender would probably help improve your reviews, too.

7/20/2006 01:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Angela Ferreira said...

Hello Edward Winkleman
Have you got a list of names, contact numbers and prices of NY Art critics? Have you got a particular one that you would recommend?
Many thanks!

7/20/2006 01:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

prices of NY Art critics

It works kind of like an auction. There's no set price, but there's a hidden reserve. Offer as much as you possibly can, and if you're lucky it will be enough.

7/20/2006 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Have you got a list of names, contact numbers and prices of NY Art critics? Have you got a particular one that you would recommend? Many thanks!

Oh yes...let me end my career right here. ;-)

I actually don't socialize with critics who can be bought. The ones I know are professionals with integrity. Honestly.

But the Hoving story's not really about being bought outright...it's about being played. Even critics with integrity are susceptible to that.

What I was hoping I'd hear here are tales of what efforts to win over a critic folks have heard about. What lengths were people willing to go to?

7/20/2006 01:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you got a list of names, contact numbers and prices of NY Art critics?

Oh yes...let me end my career right here.


EW, if you put out the list under an assumed name it would probably sell. You could make some extra money.

7/20/2006 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Angela Ferreira said...

What I was hoping I'd hear here are tales of what efforts to win over a critic folks have heard about. What lengths were people willing to go to?

So you hoping to hear from artists how much it cost them to get their front headlines?
Who did they have to sleep with, how many butt kisses took or how much they invested with critics?
If yes, good luck then! I hope the stories are as honest as your professionals critics with integrity!!!

7/20/2006 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Actually, I was hoping to hear from critics or those who know them well. What they've been subjected to by folks desperate for a review.

7/20/2006 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

It actually makes sense that the buildings are initially embraced, then criticized. A lot of "starchitecture" has a big "wow" factor when you first see it, and only later do you start noticing all the problems.

It's sort of like buying a house because of its "charm" and then realizing the foundation and wiring and roof need replacing.

7/20/2006 03:17:00 PM  
Anonymous everyone's a critic said...

Actually, I was hoping to hear from critics or those who know them well. What they've been subjected to by folks desperate for a review.

Tales of desperation are always entertaining. What's really fun is to nail an artist's foot to the floor and watch them run in circles. Or offering them a review in exchange for one of their kids.

So, how much for just the cel phone list?

7/20/2006 04:30:00 PM  
Anonymous shark soup said...

it's not payola, critics want to be loved

Yes, but how much do you have to love them before thay love you back?

7/20/2006 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, last week's newsletter from ArtInfo includes their take on the top 10 Museums Shows in the U.S. Interesting that they included the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke…Not sure I agree with their top 10. Thoughts? http://www.artinfo.com/News/Article.aspx?a=18981&c=22

7/26/2006 02:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Mark Creegan said...

This month's edition of Art on Paper magazine has an interesting section of artists critiquing their own shows. Glen Ligon includes one that is a selection of visitor's comments from a show in Canada. Art on Paper has really been impressive lately.

7/26/2006 02:09:00 PM  

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