Thursday, May 17, 2007

Arts Coverage

Tyler Green brought up an issue in a post yesterday that I've heard galleries grumbling about lately: a precipitous drop in the amount of arts coverage in the printed press. He pointed to a story about Minnesota's largest newspaper, the Star Tribune:
The Star Tribune says its readers will see less coverage of architecture and arts -- and more of suburban Bloomington -- as part of a newsroom reorganization.
I don't know enough about the newsworthy events happening in suburban Blommington to comment on the wisdom of that decision, but it's a trend we're more likely to see elsewhere as print publications attempt to deal with, as they call it at the Star Tribune, "declining readership and advertising revenue." The fact that the arts are the first to be led to the chopping block is a bit too reminiscent of the obscene belt-tightening priorities we see in local school districts across the nation when money gets scarce, but that's a debate for another thread.

What I've heard grumbling about specifically, being where I am, is the sudden and very noticeable drop in the number of gallery reviews in The New York Times lately. Last Friday, for example, during the height of the art season in New York, there were three reviews in the
"Art in Review" section. Comparing the same week a year ago, there were more than twice as many.

Added to this drop (and it's not just this past week; the Friday before, there were only four reviews and the Friday before that, only 5 [at this rate there won't be any by June 1]), is the fact that the Times used to have a good deal more gallery listings than they currently do as well. With (
at last count) more than 330 galleries in Chelsea alone, and growing, this shift seems odd. There are of course other factors (besides dropping readership or revenue) that might explain this decrease. Ken Johnson leaving the Times for the Globe and Michael Kimmelman's (pending?) hiatus abroad have both contributed to less stability than the Times' fine art team had a year ago, but having brought a slew of bright new writers into the mix (including Andrea K. Scott, Martha Schwendener, and Benjamin Genocchio [yes, I have to make sure I get a good dose of sucking up in there]...), I had actually expected the gallery coverage to expand.

Perhaps it's just a momentary lull or perhaps there's a systemic change going on (I've noticed what seems to be more in-depth reviews during the week, so perhaps that's the shift), but for the artists with exhibitions up at the moment (and their galleries), this decrease is depressing. The odds of getting a Times review are already incredibly stacked against them.



Blogger Joerg Colberg said...

Don't be depressed, Ed! I think to an increasing extent discussions of art are moving from newspapers - many of which have long replaced news with shallow entertainment or "soft" pseudo news - onto the internet.

5/17/2007 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I've noticed in the increase in Internet discussion (and it's more of a discussion, with the advent of the blogs), but there's a prestige to the Times that artists still seek. Maybe we'll just have to wait a while longer until the Internet publications have the same prestige, but for the moment, they don't yet.

Don't get me wrong, I'm on record as saying to me press is press and artists should definitely list Internet press in their bibliography, but even within the Internet some sources of press are more prestigious than others, and for the most prestigious to drop the volume of its reviews is alarming.

5/17/2007 09:06:00 AM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

Think maybe it's a reflection of the troubled times print media is experiencing lately? (Although I seem to recall that the NYTimes wasn't feeling it as badly...???)

In other areas of life where budgets count, such as public schools, the arts are the first limb they hack off, even before sports.

5/17/2007 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

the troubled times print media is experiencing lately

Absolutely. Even the Times is feeling the pinch, I understand.

Personally, I do my part, buying the Times at full price each morning from my local newsvendor (more to have an excuse to say hello to him...he's really something...about 90 years old, very thing, always shivering...always on the verge of being blown away I assume).

Obviously, the Times is not a charity case, so I needn't worry, but I feel by paying full price, I'm fully entitled to critique it as well.

5/17/2007 09:41:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mainstream press has always focused on mainstream. Blogs are a very uneven source for art news and even more an uneven source for anywhere like a distanced critical review. Though when a mainstream runs something that a blog has covered also and the blog is more elucidating this reflects badly on the mainstream press.

5/17/2007 09:54:00 AM  
Anonymous ml said...

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is suspending all arts coverage. No reviews of art shows, musical performances, theatre, book reviews. Part of this is cost cutting. Still it's very sad that culture is the first thing to go. Guess specialization is the future. This reminds me of going to the library when you could roam the stacks - I'd always end up reading a book which was not on my list. If you had to hand the list over to staff who would then pull the books, you never had the chance to discover something else. Equally, a picture or catchy title for a review could pull someone into a new experience. And the art world movement toward fairs and away from art galleries has the same impact - only those who already know are invited.

Slightly incoherent - need more caffeine.

5/17/2007 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Joerg Colberg said...

Ed wrote: "there's a prestige to the Times that artists still seek. Maybe we'll just have to wait a while longer until the Internet publications have the same prestige, but for the moment, they don't yet."

Then let's make sure art sites on the internet are getting there! I see it as one of the most important things about the internet that it enables people to break apart old hierarchies - and now that it seems that places like the NY Times are even cutting back on what they were valued for I'd almost argue that it is an obligation to create something that can supplement it (and even replace it if needed - if the Times decides to follow the Atlanta Journal Constitution).

5/17/2007 10:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the only people who read exhibit reviews are the artist being reviewed and the gallerist. much of the art writing that i see (even online, see reads like a press release with no critical engagement. Or, something like Time Out's reviews: they are so pun-driven and barely scratch the surface. Truth is, no one reads. we are an image-driven culture. Art writing is unnecessary. Which is sad for me to say because I am an art writer!!

5/17/2007 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Joerg Colberg said...

"the only people who read exhibit reviews are the artist being reviewed and the gallerist."

That's really not true. Just the other day, Edward linked to a review of the latest Gursky show, which had created some discussion online.

But, of course, there's more than just a grain of truth to "much of the art writing that i see reads like a press release with no critical engagement". You can either bemoan this or work on changing it - with the internet, it's quite easy to do. So go for it!

5/17/2007 11:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Hollywood studios have managed to largely push movie criticism out of the mainstream, substituting box office grosses as markers of value. Art fairs seem to be critic-resistant, targeting consumers rather than collectors. Follow the money.

5/17/2007 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Well, I am with you all in bemoaning the the ever-shrinking arts coverage. As an artist, I do read other reviews, and of course I hope to see my own work reviewed as well. But take a look at the Times's arts sections. The most lines of copy are devoted to the topic that brings in the most revenue: movies. There's a generic quid pro quo. More ads = more reviews. How can a small gallery ever compete with that kind of advertising (and I'm guessing that even the big galleries are "small" in the face of multimillion-dollar opening weeks for blockbuster movies.

By the way, Thursday's New York Sun has excellent art reviews coverage by excellent writers:

5/17/2007 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

ML said:

"Guess specialization is the future."

You're right...and that's terrible.

A week or two back, Leonard Lopate interviewed a few folks about the state of book reviews in national newspapers. Of course, they're being cut, too. Much of that conversation - which you can download here - is applicable to the art review situation, including the unfortunate success of the AP-style review that merely riffs on the gallery's press release.

5/17/2007 05:32:00 PM  

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