Monday, January 21, 2008

Art Writing Reality Check (Time for a New Code of Ethics?)

This post is cross-posted at Art World Salon.

The recent chain of events that led the Village Voice (one of New York’s most important sources of arts criticism) to end their relationship with critic Christian Viveros-Fauné raises some questions about the practicality of applying The New York Times style code of journalistic ethics to the arts publications that can’t offer NYT-sized salaries.

Indeed, given the widely perceived diminishing influence of art criticism (due to the overwhelming power of certain collectors and the market in general in determining what art is seen as important by museums and other collectors), a question I heard repeatedly in the wake of the Voice’s decision was, is it even realistic to expect quality criticism from writers without deep interest/influence in the commercial side of the art world?

The case in point revolves around a Q&A interview by Tyler Green with Christian Viveros-Fauné (see parts one, two, and three) that culminated in Tyler asking Christian:

You’re a managing director of a commercial art fair, Volta, and an organizer of another commercial art fair, Chicago’s Next fair. At the same time you’re a writer, a journalist, you’re the art critic for the Village Voice. Why isn’t that the most basic kind of conflict of interest?

Christian responded with perhaps a too honest answer that included several of the key issues leading me to wonder just how practical (if not how adhered to) the current code of ethics really is [all emphasis mine]:

I believe you can wear a lot of hats in the art world, and one needs to because, among other things, critics can’t survive on the money that they make from writing. Very few critics can. And, not only that, but I’m interested in curating, and I firmly believe that there is no interest in the art world without a conflict of interest.

Now, that may seem counterintuitive, and it is, but I would argue that the art world is counterintuitive in the extreme. In what other industry, for example, does one of the major magazines that chronicles both the creative and the business end of the art world establish an art fair of the same name. Obviously, I’m talking about Frieze.

And that’s nothing. Examine, for second, the practice of writing catalog essays. You know and I know that there is no such thing as a negative catalog essay and the reason for that is obvious: one way critics make money is by writing promotional copy for galleries and, hopefully, artists they like or love. And then there’s the business of curators and critics slinging their asses around to universities and institutions for speaking engagements.

Shall I go on? I mean, again, what I’m arguing for here is honesty all the way around.

In light of the practicality of living on what arts writing pays and being insightful without inserting oneself deep within the commercial structure in this particular age, and given that whether there’s a more pressing conflict of interest to address is no longer relevant, perhaps attention can now be turned to the issues Christian raises. In particular, is it time for the code of ethics to specifically address critics lecturing for money at universities whose artists or exhibitions they later write about, accepting paid travel and hotel expenses in return for press (and the rules for acknowledging that), confluences of power like that represented by the Frieze art fair, writing catalog essays for pay, and the rest of it?

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66 Comments:

Blogger Molly Stevens said...

I think it sucks! Viveros-Faune was becoming my favorite read. He has real opinions and tastes, and that's what I want in a critic - even if I don't agree with them.

The ethical code seems academic. As long as he's upfront about what he's involved in, I don't think it matters, because you know where he's coming from. What matters is what he says, why he supports what he supports.

1/21/2008 10:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But others are not likely to be upfront. People are finally beginning to discuss how unregulated the art world is, how no one has been paying attention to this stuff.

This system is no different from any other types of corporate business.

If we follow this line of thinking, the only art critics who do not have a conflict of interest would be academics, contemporary art historians/critics who are paid a salary from a university to teach, do their research, and write about the artists that they think are relevant. The problem is, if they are insightful enough, they do get pulled into the lecture circuit.

1/21/2008 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous pedro velez said...

One thing is being honest and another is being honest and wrong like Viveros.

I think the Viveros scandal is a great case study for all of us.

The arts need to be regulated, its about time...

1/21/2008 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I do see Tyler Green's point, I think it's naive to expect anyone in the artworld to be completely uncompromised. Also, Tyler's worst-case scenario, where CVF would punish galleries if they didn't take part in the fair, doesn't even make sense - art fairs regularly turn applicants down (hence the large number of smaller fairs who pick up the rejects). And in the unlikely case that something like that would happen, the outcry against it would be deafening. I think we would have done better to judge CVF on his writing than having forced him to step down.

Meanwhile, the Whitney Biennial continues to be filled with friends of the curators (as it has in the past) and hardly anyone complains.

1/21/2008 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger JKF said...

Tyler Green abides by an antique definition of the critic. The contemporary art world - critics included - is all about multidisciplinary practice. Every project is just a step toward something else.

I'm so tired of hearing that no one in the art world should be making money - that when an artist makes money he sells out, and that there is some ethical code of purity. bullshit.

I fail to see who is hurt in the scheme that Green uncovered. Do you think Viveros-Faune writes negative reviews of his artist friends? Perhaps friendship is a conflict of interest. It's called networking.

1/21/2008 11:42:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CVF and the VVoice are more influential, but why wasn't there much of a fuss raised about Matthew Kangas after his conflicts of interest were exposed in The Stranger by Jen (forgot her last name - anyone?) She did a great job, but I didn't hear anything more about it after that. Art in America didn't announce that they would no longer use his reviews. Or did I miss something?

1/21/2008 11:43:00 AM  
Blogger Ethan said...

That's Jen Graves. I was also wondering about Kangas vis-a-vis the Viveros-Faune issue.

1/21/2008 11:55:00 AM  
Anonymous sharon said...

Regarding Kangas-- correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't the supposed controversy about whether or not he was coincidentally receiving "gifts" in his growing collection from artists he tended to favour? And is Viveros-Faune really the same issue?

Doesn't Viveros-Faune at least get some credit for being up front, honest, and having some dignity as a professional? I don't see anything remotely scandalous about his situation except for how much people seem to be talking about it.

1/21/2008 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

not sure about how much legal regulation there should be, but without doubt it is a good thing that these guys (all the critics, curators, editors, etc) be aware that they are being closely observed.

as an artist not affiliated with the local university, it was sickening to see nyc critic after nyc curator be paid to visit that school's art program and shortly after find the curator has placed that school's artists in nyc shows, or that the critic has published a review of a school artist/show.

they are paid to come and promote, period.

1/21/2008 12:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The arts need to be regulated, its about time...

you wrote that in response to this issue over at AFC as well, Pedro. I'm curious what form of regulation you're recommending, how it would address this particular issue, and what you see as the potential impact of such regulation in how artists work with galleries and/or museums?

Doesn't Viveros-Faune at least get some credit for being up front, honest, and having some dignity as a professional?

He does in my book, yes.

1/21/2008 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The arts need to be regulated, its about time...

Regulated by whom? I nominate me. Are you okay with that?

As an artist/critic, my approach has always been to make sure that anyone could figure out my conflicts of interest in five minutes. There's no question whether CVF has conflicting interests, but I find myself wondering whether any less scrupulous of a writer than Tyler could have pointed out the problem without the pot calling the kettle black, and then, which art writers are as scrupulous as Tyler. With rare exceptions like him, it's conflicts all the way down. Artists know this because they see how capriciously the art world operates. I'm worried that CVF is being punished here for saying what people generally don't want to admit, but is nonetheless true. The Voice is rightly trying to defend its integrity, but they're doing so regarding a field that is likely to replace CVF with someone just as conflicted, but in a more easily concealed way.

1/21/2008 12:28:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What Franklin said.

1/21/2008 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have mixed feelings both about the severity of CVF's offense and how Tyler went about bringing him down. Writing how he felt and what he believed about it was one thing, but the constant UPDATEs recording which other writers agreed with him felt a bit like a witch hunt.

anono

1/21/2008 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

It's an interesting problem. From the standpoint of journalism, what CVF did was unacceptable. From the standpoint of the art world, what CVF did was business as usual, not that that's anything to be proud of.

1/21/2008 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Ethan said...

Sharon,

Actually I mention Kangas because I wondered if he's being held to the same ethical standard as Viveros-Faune, not to imply that they've done similar things. If they're not being held to the same standard, where should the standard lie?

1/21/2008 12:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree, i think what needs to be exposed is the practice of critics and curators being paid to go into schools and then writing about those artists (see Jerry Saltz and columbia) as being totally out of line and this is something that schools need to regulate more. i know its good for the schools, but i have always found this such a huge conflict of interest. As someone who has gone into grad schools as a guest artist and going into the studios, its always ackward being hit on by grad students in some way about their careers, even when you see someone who is good, i think its better to keep away from the career stuff when going in. as an artist there is not much i can do, but i can see occasionally when someone asks me about promising grad students i tend to not say anything, and when i do, i always feel a bit funny about it nonetheless. it is worse for critics and curators in this position. I think it is something that needs to be abolished.

1/21/2008 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger Pretty Lady said...

Also what Franklin said.

It strikes me as a bit hypocritical for people to be mercilessly seeking out conflicts of interest among people who are barely getting by, financially, and blithely ignoring the GREAT BIG HUGE FREAKIN' conflicts of interest that occur when, say, Larry Gagosian pays the biggest price ever for a monumentally stupid piece of artwork produced by an artist whom he happens to represent. Thus ensuring that the other works by this artist garner huge amounts of press, critical attention, and commensurate enormous sale prices.

This is not to say that I think regulation is the way to alter the fact that Big Money trumps literally everything else as an arbiter of attention in the Art World. I merely point out that the way an oligarchy remains in power is to keep the little people bickering with each other over little things, and thinking that their next-door neighbor is the enemy.

1/21/2008 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Kangas thing: Many artists who were reviewed by him one or more times over the years said that he asked them for gifts of artworks and meals. That comes dangerously close (actually is way over the line) to asking for bribes for a good review.

I think it's true that many people in the art world wear multiple hats, as CVF said to Tyler, but what to do about it?

anono

1/21/2008 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

Life is all about conflict of interest.

You can't avoid it.

Name ONE industry on planet earth that doesn't have nepotism, cronyism, and scandal interwined.

Maybe veterinarians... oh, wait. That's right. My hometown's only two vets were married.

This is a whole lot of sillyness and pontificating which just got a fairly talented man fired.

Dumb.

If any critic ever buys a work of art, then that's a conflict of interest.

If any critic is also an artist, who has dealings with a gallery, who then reviews the gallery, it's a conflict of interest.

Whatever. Get over it.
Clement Greenberg should have been fired in his first month, if this is the standard.

Oly

1/21/2008 01:09:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

i agree, i think what needs to be exposed is the practice of critics and curators being paid to go into schools and then writing about those artists (see Jerry Saltz and columbia) as being totally out of line and this is something that schools need to regulate more.

I disagree that this is something to be "exposed." Perhaps merely disclosing it is sufficient. I see great value in critics lecturing, and of course they should be paid for it. It's unrealistic then to suggest they can't ever write about great work they encounter there.

By suggesting it might be time for a new code of ethics, I'm not at all recommending more strict guidelines. Perhaps it's enough to make disclosures about who teaches or lectures where standard. Like Molly noted, I think the code should evolve to work off the idea that "As long as he's upfront about what he's involved in, I don't think it matters, because you know where he's coming from."

This is what I'm getting at by questioning the practicality of the current code and expectations. Easy for me, though, my interest is on my sleeve.

1/21/2008 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

Ed, I like your suggestion for "disclosure."

That is what we need more of, perhaps, and not knee-jerk decisions like what the Voice just did.

I guess what's upsetting me the most about this situation is the angry mob mentality that led to CVF's firing.

I mean, why don't we just have flaming torches, huh?

Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.

Bah.

Guilty as charged.

Oly

1/21/2008 01:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Tyler going to weigh in on this? On why he rallied the torchwielders?

1/21/2008 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think Tyler was more than open about his motives. Let's not reverse the torchwiedler's here.

1/21/2008 01:43:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Torch-weilders? Give me a break. He was asking questions and sharing information.

Oly, I understand that conflict of interest is everywhere, but are you upset because it should never be noted? Or only never noted in our own field?

1/21/2008 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

What I'm saying is every single one of us has a conflict of interest.

And the guy has been fired because he was honestly answering questions that then put him under a microscope.

A man just lost his job because of this brouhaha.

That isn't cool.

I'm sure the Voice knew his of his "activities" and were fine with it.

The uproar got them realizing he was then "damaged goods" and had to be made a "lesson."

That doesn't make anyone here feel the least bit guilty for their part in it?

At least tv journos always note "Our parent company, xxx" before thei air a story.

That would more than suffice, as opposed to axing him completely off their roster.

1/21/2008 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That doesn't make anyone here feel the least bit guilty for their part in it?"

Wait a minute, did anyone here do anything to get him fired?

1/21/2008 02:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did he even get fired? Or was he given an either/or option and chose the art fair jobs?

If you think his dismissal from the VV is wrong, I feel that your anger would more justifiably directed at the management of the newspaper. Tyler Green did not fire Viveros-Faune.

1/21/2008 03:02:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

No ONE person did this, but it's a collective thing on multiple blog posts, and personal conversations, that sprung up all over, besides Tyler's initial interviews.

I also think Tyler's readership numbers play a factor in this as well.

I'm just surmising that this is final proof to the art world that people are reading and monitoring the blogosphere-- especially the Voice higher-ups.

1/21/2008 03:10:00 PM  
Anonymous sharon said...

Ethan;

I can see what you're saying, and I can't disagree that if standards are going to be enforced, then they should absolutely be across the board. In that case, Kangas should be held to the standard of full disclosure, as others have been mentioning. The difference is, he has allegedly not.

Either way, it is interesting to see this unfold (far removed as I am from it all). And I still feel that if the art world is undergoing scrutiny for conflict of interest and unethical criticism, there are far more serious issues at hand than CVF's cards, clearly set on the table from the beginning.

1/21/2008 03:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I'm just surmising that this is final proof to the art world that people are reading and monitoring the blogosphere"

Oh, Duh.

1/21/2008 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Oh, Duh.

Alright, let's dial it down just a notch, please.

The entire art world reads blogs, at least occasionally. They read Tyler's mostly, but also the rest of us, especially when Mr. Green links to us, as he generously does.

1/21/2008 03:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

The question is not whether CVF deserved what happened to him (yes) but why our expectations for integrity lie so far below that of journalists, and what we plan to do about it.

1/21/2008 03:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In addition to my training in Art, I also have a lot of training in Journalism...

I hold this Art Critic to the same ethical standard I hold all journalists... to the same standard I hold myself... When you start writing in a newspaper, you accept the ethical standards of modern journalism...

As far as the comment of not making enough money working as an Art Critic, try working as a photojournalist... Very few are paid well in this industry - that doesn't mean we are allowed to take kickbacks from those we cover - Nor are we allowed to cover stories where we have a financial or personal interest.

1/21/2008 03:56:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The question is not whether CVF deserved what happened to him (yes) but why our expectations for integrity lie so far below that of journalists, and what we plan to do about it.

I think there's a bigger, more aware question actually. András Szántó on Art World Salon phrased it best IMO:

Many believe that deep personal involvement is the best path to refined, knowledgeable art appreciation. Could the guidelines for political columnists be more appropriate for [art] critics? We know that Krugman or Kristol have deep personal ties to liberals and conservatives — it’s precisely why we read them. Ethical guidelines for critics are of relatively recent, and distinctly American, vintage. Yet, even in America, the golden age of criticism, certainly in art and classical music, coincided with the years when most “ethically conflicted” critics were active and writing.

1/21/2008 03:57:00 PM  
Blogger BAD said...

Franklin asks:
The question is not whether CVF deserved what happened to him (yes) but why our expectations for integrity lie so far below that of journalists, and what we plan to do about it.

Maybe it's because art isn't that important? Even the least scrupulous art critic is never going to do a fraction of the damage that Judy Miller did with her WMD coverage. Applying the same standards for covering, say, the oil industry to covering art seems a little silly, since art is such a small and marginal industry.

1/21/2008 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger BAD said...

I think this discussion is getting bogged down in issues of ethics in journalism and ignoring a more important issue, namely the way the art world is changing. Art fairs aspire to be (and already are) more than trade fairs; they sponsor panel discussions, non-commercial curated projects, educational programs, etc. to add some seriousness to their image. And I think this is a boon to the public. For the average Londoner, Frieze is not a place to buy art, it's a place to see a lot of art that they would otherwise never see, take a tour with a Tate curator who can explain it all to them, maybe hear a talk. It's a way to get exposed to art without jetting all over Europe or poring over dozens of art periodicals. Besides being a marketplace, a fair is a medium, like a magazine or a t.v. program, that disseminates information about art to its audience. And like any medium, a fair needs to define itself, to "brand" itself, which is why they are more and more frequently hiring critics and curators to ensure consistency and quality, to help them pick an appropriate stable of galleries. Frieze the magazine has a certain set of galleries it covers and a much larger set of galleries it will never cover, determined by the editorial board's ideas about what contemporary art is, and Frieze the fair has to do the same.

As CVF points out, he is not making any extra money from sales at his fairs; he was hired by them for his critical eye, just like at the Voice. And so I think these days a critic working for a fair is more like a critic writing a catalogue essay or curating a non-commercial show than Green and other more traditionally minded journalists would like to acknowledge.

1/21/2008 05:08:00 PM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

I would just to point out that the Village Voice can call me any time, and I have no conflicts of interest at all.

1/21/2008 05:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CVF quit the VV because he knows he will find other writing jobs soon or in the near future. The fair gigs are rare and peaking at the moment and soon will end for good. He might as well get the art fair experience, $$$ and later work for the ones that survive. The Mart people are paying well.

Art fairs are weird. They hire curators to convice galleries to exhibit.

1/21/2008 06:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Maybe it's because art isn't that important?

There's that, but there are also:

- the fact that very few people make a living in one role in the art world

- low expectations that art world insiders will conduct their business in a fair and transparent manner

- government support of contemporary art intersecting with high-stakes private support, resulting in corporatism, which is not conducive to ethical culture

I'm not suggesting that there should be parity, but there is a lot of room between journalistic ethical standards and the "we're not nuns here" approach to business. When the journalists weighed in on this, there was no confusion about whether CVF was in the wrong. Richard Lacayo called it "not even a gray area." But somehow, CVF's colleagues at Volta and Chicago Next didn't respond to his gig at the Voice by saying, "Look, Christian, this could cause us to be perceived as perpetrating a critical climate that unfairly advances our interests," which it does. Sadly, I assume that similarly compromised dealings go on between the remaining parties in the art world, the collectors, museums, the galleries, and so on, but the critics have the bad luck of being associated with a profession that prides itself on its probity.

It is in the interest of critics to not be perceived as paid shills. This is all the "regulation" I would support. Tyler said, "I expected [CVF] to say that he was in the process of separating himself from his commercial interests, or some such thing. He didn't." CVF also didn't say that he realized his role put him in a problematic position and that he was careful not to disadvantage anyone either way. Instead he said, "...I firmly believe that there is no interest in the art world without a conflict of interest. Now, that may seem counterintuitive, and it is, but I would argue that the art world is counterintuitive in the extreme." It doesn't speak well of the art world's ethical culture that this kind of thing goes on and people still give it credence.

The comparison to Krugman and Kristol is apt up to a point. We don't call them critics, but commentators, which is a slightly different role. Krugman, Kristol, et al. direct their criticism upwards at figures of greater power. (Also occasionally horizontally at each other, but this is more rare and not the stuff of a career. The exceptions are bullies like Bill-o.) Art critics direct their criticism downward at artists who have relatively less power, except to the extent that the artists are insulated by market success. Too, while the Times will go out of its way to hire a diverse range of viewpoints represented by Krugman and Kristol, the differences of taste between Kimmelman, Cotter, Smith are too slight to note.

1/21/2008 06:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did you know Tyler Green curates as well?

1/21/2008 06:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't someone at Artsalon ended up working at Art Basel? A founder of the blg actually?

1/21/2008 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Marc Spiegler is one of the three founders of Art World Salon. He stopped writing as a journalist and stopped blogging once he officially took on duties as a Director of Art Basel, much to the dismay of those of us also writing at AWS.

Sadly, I assume that similarly compromised dealings go on between the remaining parties in the art world, the collectors, museums, the galleries, and so on, but the critics have the bad luck of being associated with a profession that prides itself on its probity.

You left out artists. Critics like Kangas (reportedly) couldn't do what they do without the complicity of artists who wanted press enough to compromise their own standards.

I reject the notion that critics, per se, have power over artists, as well. There's a range, of course, as in any given segment of the art world, but many artists have far more power than certain critics.

Did you know Tyler Green curates as well?

He curated one exhibition and reports he doesn't see himself doing so again any time soon. Is there some relevance to the question I'm missing?

1/21/2008 08:01:00 PM  
OpenID deborahfisher said...

Edward,

Your post and this argument misses the point.

Of course everyone wears many hats. Artists curate and write criticism. Dealers are arbiters of taste and not mere merchants. Everyone is an independent contractor, moving from adjunct gig to guest curatorial spot to catalogue essay to critical essay.

Nobody's got a problem with that.
You accumulate cultural power as you deepen your involvement and interest--this is the way everything works. Jerry Saltz was not a cloistered nun--he was all over the place, publishing books and teaching at Columbia and doing all kinds of stuff.

Tyler Green's point was not about wielding cultural power. It was about wielding money.

CVF doesn't just curate or teach a class. He decides who gets in to two influential art fairs. As the good folks at CANADA made public during the last Armory, exclusion from art fairs can *break* even a strong gallery.

The conflict of interest in this case is fundamentally about how much direct financial power CVF holds over gallerists and indirectly artists that he is supposed to be reporting on. As a journalist in a uniquely influential post.

As a critic and as a very interested party who generally tries to get my hand into every pie I can, I sympathize with CVF. For that matter, I like his writing. But I can say that if I had that much direct financial power over a market, I would feel very weird about publishing criticism about it.

1/21/2008 08:06:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

You left out artists. Didn't mean to. By all means, and artists.

I reject the notion that critics, per se, have power over artists, as well. There's a range, of course, as in any given segment of the art world, but many artists have far more power than certain critics.

I have very little choice about whether Holland Cotter writes about my work. Mr. Cotter has quite a lot of choice about whether he writes about me. If we're going to explore this we'll need to define "power" apart from the commentator/critic comparison, but I think to the extent that critics still enjoy the ability to form reputations and thus careers, the criticism is directed downwards between tiers of reputation-forming power. (There's a separate question of whether I give a bag of beans what Cotter might think of my work, and in that sense, Cotter has no power over me at all. If that's the sort of thing you mean, then I agree with you.) In any case, Cotter writing about me is a very different kind of activity than Krugman criticizing Chimptard.

1/21/2008 08:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

eric gelber, writes for artcritical, coincidentally posted his own self-imposed rules just before this all happened -

http://ericgelber.livejournal.com/33251.html

1/21/2008 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Maybe it’s just me but I find this whole discussion rather weird. I don’t read the VV but I read Tyler’s interviews with Christian Viveros-Fauné. I liked Christian’s candidness and to my mind it is an indication he has integrity as well as an opinion.

I think the Voice is wrong, all they really needed to do was make sure there were no obvious conflicts of interest like reviewing an exhibition he curated. I like critics with an opinion, a bias, even if I disagree. What I see as being valuable to the art world is more criticism, more critical venues, not less.

It seems like the real problem is that it is very difficult for an art critic to make ends meet, it’s obviously a job which doesn’t pay very well. A potential solution might found in the internet. I am not talking about the ‘glossie’ art websites, they already serve an established market for information.

What I think could work would be advertising support for critical writers who could use the internet as a venue for publishing. Of course there are a number of unknowns and organizational problems to be surmounted but I don’t think the art world is currently using the electronic media in a very effective way.

Part of the problem lies in establishing a destination, people go to the Voice, or ArtNet, because they know where it is, and what they will find there.

I am thinking about a structure like a web or ring of hyperlinked sites, each one representing a destination to particular critic (or two, or…) where the reader could reasonably expect interesting writing. The commercial art world would support this electronic web of criticism through their advertising dollars, which would be collected in a central location and distributed among the various writers.

Ideally this could be structured more or less as a not for profit business where the administrative costs were kept minimal so the bulk of the advertising revenues were passed through to the writers. If the commercial art world wants criticism, then they should be willing to pay for it

1/21/2008 09:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Eric Gelber and I did not make the above comment. Thanks anon! I really liked CVF's reviews (how f-cking refreshing it was to read a well thought out negative review) and it is a shame that he is gone from the field. Maybe CVF will manage to publish a book someday (my favorite format and genre). The VV should look into the mirror. They are currently nothing more than an advertisement sandwich. I guess they wanted to continue the trend of removing all of their worthwhile critics. Is Hoberman still hanging in there? Also I should mention that it is easy for me to be 'ethical' because I am not being offered any notable positions within the power structure. So I say that only losers who have no chance of financial success as a curator, gallerist, academic, artist, etc., should write art criticism! I think it is terrible when a critic secretly promotes their own interests (my next review will be appearing on Feb. 7 at http://www.artinfluence.com/issue1.html)

1/21/2008 10:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Marc Spiegler is one of the three founders of Art World Salon. He stopped writing as a journalist and stopped blogging once he officially took on duties as a Director of Art Basel, much to the dismay of those of us also writing at AWS."

I don't understand your logic EW. Perhaps he saw the conflict and you don't? The same way Artnet/Mr. Robinson won't write anything bad about Basel Miami because they are partners, Mr. Spiegler correctly decided to stop writing so not to be in that position in the future. Obvious.

So Mr. Spiegler quit after but I am curious; what did he do before to make himself a candidate for such a powerful, important and complicated position in the art world? You mean to tell me Art Basel hires bloggers-critics/journalists to run it's fairs now?

In the case of CVF, he was a pioneer in Williamsburg like you, an organizer of the local gallery assoc's, and more. He was more than a dealer, more than a critic and writer then but that was a local scene. You did everything in order to survive. Now we are talking big money, big papers and big fairs, the need for ethics is higher.

What bothers me is that he went back and forth with his many hats. He said so.

Also:
When you have UBS/banking/consortiums and many big sponsors the need for ethics is important. Brands need to be protected.

Saltz was a curator too by the way.

1/22/2008 02:36:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I don't understand your logic EW. Perhaps he saw the conflict and you don't?

I was "dismayed" (a bit of hyperbole) because I enjoyed his writing (and now miss it), not because I thought he was wrong to quit.

1/22/2008 07:50:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Your post and this argument misses the point. [...] Tyler Green's point was not about wielding cultural power. It was about wielding money.

CVF doesn't just curate or teach a class. He decides who gets in to two influential art fairs.


Here again, I'm not arguing that there's no potential for a conflit of interest. I can recognize that and still regret the considerable hole in the landscape someone's no longer writing will leave. If there were a half dozen equally insightful and talented writers right behind CVF waiting to take over his position, then I don't know I'd feel as sad about his leaving. But in my opinion he is extraordinarily well-suited to offer the sort of criticism I see as most needed now...and I will most certainly miss his writing.

1/22/2008 07:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is all business:

1)Some art fairs pay "independent curators/promoters" to pick artists for special sections. The catch is the artist's gallery has to rent a booth.

2) You buy a booth/space and they give you another for a solo show.

3) Fair advisory boards (very small group) and consultants decide who gets in and who is out next year. They rule, and if they don't like you, forget about it.
a) Could they force other galleries to sell to them? Share artists?
b)For countries with a small art scene it is devastating.(Could it happen?; If someone wants one of your artists, could they exclude you often enough to get that artist for themselves.) Good artists want to be in a gallery that goes to fairs.

1/22/2008 07:58:00 AM  
Blogger Chris Rywalt said...

Hearsay has it that Jerry Saltz once said to a lecture group, "I can make your career." It'd be grandstanding if it wasn't true, and from what I've seen of Jerry, he probably said it like, "I'm as surprised as you."

Jerry has also curated. I was at the opening for one of his shows (a friend was in the show). It was a tiny show in Montclair, New Jersey. He was very gracious.

I think the journalistic standards for critics are looser than they are for other areas. Are book critics not supposed to be writers? Hell, even Roger Ebert made a movie once.

1/22/2008 08:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The recent chain of events that led the Village Voice (one of New York’s most important sources of arts criticism) to end their relationship with critic Christian Viveros-Fauné raises some questions about the practicality of applying The New York Times style code of journalistic ethics to the arts publications that can’t offer NYT-sized salaries."

So what are you saying?

Do we add water to the milk because it has become too expensive (to sell)(and to have more)?

What about nutrition?

So the Free Press and Brooklyn Rail operate under a different set of rules? I mean, Ethics? CVF said so.

1/22/2008 08:10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let me clarify my position on art world 'ethics'. CVF should have quit the VV no doubt. He is a really good writer though and I will miss his voice. Yes the pay is horrible for art critics. I hear Ken Johnson was getting paid peanuts when he left the NYT several months ago and wasn't getting health benefits. That is so progressive of the NYT isn't it? Johnson came back to work here probably because of the adjunct positions he got (on top of the art critic gig) at more than one college. Maybe they offered him benefits. What this tale tells us about the position the rest of us are in is clear. We all know this, especially those of us who write criticism regularly. I think the best way to have 'ethical', completely uncompromised art critics is to hire people who have alternate careers completely outside the art world, but who are good writers and knowledgeable about art (artists included). Maybe there will be more voices out there then. Maybe it isn't such a good thing to have all of the influential art critics (a handful mind you) do nothing but live and breathe the art world every waking moment. There would be more voices out there and they could bring interesting twists to the genre because of their backgrounds in other areas. This is certainly true of novelists (think of Nabokov's interest in chess and lepidopterology and Updike's interest in visual art).

George that is a great idea but I am a little worried about the stinginess of gallery owners. The hub of art critics you describe would have to be pulling in some serious numbers before gallerists would cough up money for the cause (no offense EW [love your blog by the way]). This is simply practical thinking on their part. I very much like the idea of artists and art writers controlling the means of production without getting screwed over by middlepeople.

Not that I think EW thinks I would be a good replacement for CVF at the VV but let me just say that even if my writing abilities were up to snuff, they would never hire me, simply because it is all about nepotism when it comes to hiring people to write for periodicals and newspapers, unless you already have established yourself in a big way and your name is common coinage among the audience you are targeting. Having written for newspapers and magazines in the past I know this for a fact. Friends bring friends on board.

Eric

1/22/2008 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Staff Brandl said...

WHile there are serious SERIOUS ethical questions here, I see it also as a one-sided attack on critics --- who, by the way, are practically lower than artists on the totem-pole of art nowadays. What about the tried and true "cross-over" so prevalent in curation and collecting and so on. Many collectors are on the museum/Kunsthalle boards where the "support" curators chosen by them, who exhibit artists in their collections, often artists sold ("represented") by their close relatives. And so on. We have been criticizing the curatorial consensus clique at Sharkforum.org regularly, and that seems far more of a problem than the fact that a critic also does other stuff in the artworld.

1/22/2008 08:18:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

So what are you saying?

Do we add water to the milk because it has become too expensive (to sell)(and to have more)?

What about nutrition?


Nutrition is exactly what I'm arguing for, actually. I've been blogging in various places about this the past few days, so I'm not sure where I posted what at this point, but essentially what I'm arguing for is a new consideration of whether for criticism (which I see as different from pure "journalism" [I know that is not a universally held opinion though, so...]) there might not be a lessening of the code of ethics such that good critics with potential conflicts of interests are merely made to disclose those potential conflicts, so anyone reading them can see where they're coming from, rather than silencing those who would continue to write criticism and do so very well.

1/22/2008 08:24:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If full disclosure (of course someone will have to make sure the disclosures are full and knowing how skeletal most newspaper crews are now I wonder if they would be willing to vet people's resumes properly) is all it would take to have someone as great as CVF continue writing for the VV then I am all for it. Why be puritanical if it means less good art writing in the world. Of course this is a fantasy because it will never happen and the myth of purity will continue into the future. Can you imagine if the 'full disclosure rule' got applied to the entire culture industry? Ha! That would be a real gas.

Eric

1/22/2008 08:39:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

"Meanwhile, the Whitney Biennial continues to be filled with friends of the curators (as it has in the past) and hardly anyone complains."

- to steal a line: "render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar's" - or in the words of the Marx bros : "I wasn't invited so I cam to see why I wasn't invited"

If you can't afford to be a real art critic, then sharpen your pencils for Esquire, Vanity Faire, Entertainment Weekly, ArtNews, Art in America, ArtForum, New York Magazine..

As they say; as goes the jet trail, so goes culture. And culture needs no paycheck. If Christian can't afford to live on an art fair director's salary, then he should fold laundry or cut hair. He'll still be able to afford the anabolic steroids and a massage once in a while.

Lester "even when i'm wrong I'm right" Bangs wouldn't stand for this kind of unethical namby-pambyism. Since when is unethical ok? If it's not unethical to play both sides against the center then what is ethics? A Milton Brothers board game? Get the *&&^^$%^%#%# snakes off the @#$%^&* plane!

I thought the last show at the Whitney was ABOUT being for members only - the divsion between BEING impacted turd and being ABOUT impacted turds. Ding und sich! That the Bianal failed to provide any meaningfull leadership to the tired masses is immaterial - leadership by non-leadership was pretty much an inside joke on a effete nihilism - a zitgeist - a bonding experience for the invisible cream filled center (beyond the ethics horizon) - and that you know, as such, it's a provocation to the delusion of an engaged audience of woodland creatures that showed up, like Charley Brown to a formal dung ball, and then quickly ran for some mouthwash to gargle parroted theory laden mating calls into the night. (Baby, we were born to run) Oh but the work follows a continuous thread! Hold your fire! One in ten is one of your own! Really! Surrender!. Or don;t but play the game because when the sun comes up, this shit loses a lot of it's glamour.

Lots of shows are calculated to hit the right note of self effacing quiet schtickism the newbie might mistake for the pinned tail on the voice of authority. Really? You know a lot of books get pulped - not because they are bad, per se, but because they were made, like government cheese, to hold the pipeline open. closed. whatever. Its a meal ready to eat. That so much of art professes to be Warholian only adds to the resonance of the absurdity of the notion of mass produced institutionalized avant guard individualism. Oh but you, you are different.

As far as needing the doough - you were warned, I know I was, 20/20 - no one says "hey, (Columbia) guarantees you a long and illustrious career after you pay (64,000) dollars for a pedicure" no, but they kind of caress your foot and tell you how great your arches are right? And when the glass shards from the shattered glasses penetrated your Bukowskiesque bunions, your falsetto wail finally cured your selective hearing. By you I mean me. And you. Roll on Columbia! Let the planter warts take root, and let me walk all over you!

Let the suckcessor to the throne be pure and white and somewhat tower shaped! Let the siege perilous be cushy, and fat, like a midsummer night, filled with tea lights and let that seat be my enemy's seat, because the enemy of my friend is worth a thousand words.

1/22/2008 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

zipthwung do you think people can follow you when you break into song? When you quote pop songs or whatever I am completely at a loss. You make sense one minute and then gleefully spew nonsense the next. Your comments are long winded and mostly silly. Humor is great but communication is even better. How about letting us in on the joke or profound insight and making sense from now on? Perhaps you are taking a stand against making sense. David Byrne did this years ago. Please do whatever the hell you want to do, but please realize that I (and maybe most other readers) entirely give up on reading your lengthy comments as soon as you go into silly mode.

1/22/2008 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

A tournament, a tournament, a tournament of lies.

Yep. SOrry, just being silly. I suffer from the agony of influence. I was looking at some of what CVF wrote - hes very erudite and his metaphors are like smack to a crack baby. Not like mine, chronicly cribbed from the land of Nonsensia. - one thing though - what's wrong with channeling David Byrne? Been done? What hasn't? What ocean did David Byrne spring forth from fully formed? Snakes and planes! Break me off a piece of that action bro!

1/22/2008 04:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I am saying zippo is that I like your thoughts when they are presented in a coherent manner. I do not want to crimp your style. I had a college roommate who worshipped David Byrne (solo stuff included) and he played him and the Talking Heads over and over and over again. Although I liked them very much before this college experience I was unable to listen to them ever again. I am afraid that if you let the silly stuff completely take you over I will just skip over your comments and I don't want that to happen. But I am sure you don't give a shit either way.

1/22/2008 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

yes I feel the same way. I was reading CVF and its written in a kind of insidery way without saying much - like most people who paint or write about art actually (jargon laden or no). He too is in love with language, though it seems to me to be somewhat unrequited.

The electricity you might feel at hearing a Byrne lyric is dissipated when you realize he's doing the same thing anybody who writes does - be it Bob Dylan, Joan Didion, Dylan Thomas, Raymond Carver or Raymond Chandler.

You can learn to write like them. Really you can.

You're taking me to task for clarity, and I would argue that the appearance of transparency in the writings of CVF and others is just as irritating in the face of the facts, which fly, again, in the face of the fantasy (art for art's sake, critiquing the critique, level playing field and so on and so forth).

But no one wants transparency right? Peotry!. Even ed, while dryly presenting the rational basis of his business operations, is not disclosing his business secrets - how does he get customers? WHere did he meet them? Who are they? What are their weaknesses? What compromises does he make with his collectors and artists? Is he always objective? Isn't running an a blog about art and politics a potential conflict of interest in a gallery that purports to make critical conceptual statements? Why should blogs be held to a different ethical standard than a newspaper? Are individuals immune from acting like Christian citizens?

So yes, more transparency less dodging the bullet.

Lets change the art world into a glass aviary for flying stones and when it comes crashing down for want of targets, we can walk free of the snow globe.

But I do mean what I say, even if I don't say what I mean. Ask anyone.

1/22/2008 05:59:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

Some of these arguments - and the bold highlights in Edward's post - are incredible.

Not being paid very much doesn't make it okay. Does that mean other rules don't apply just because I don't earn very much? Can I just take that plasma tv I can't afford?

That other people have worse conflicts doesn't make it okay. Is 'Oh yeah, he may have raped someone, but that guy murdered someone' a valid defence?

1/23/2008 06:59:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Isn't running an a blog about art and politics a potential conflict of interest in a gallery that purports to make critical conceptual statements? Why should blogs be held to a different ethical standard than a newspaper?

Because I don't accept advertising here, nor do I charge anyone to read here. The content is what it is...free and, as some would say, meandering. Seriously, though Zip...you see the difference, no?

1/23/2008 08:00:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

6. Choose a role model who may have done something you find admirable, such as raised a lot of money for charity, saved lots of lives, helped people in need or discovered the cure for a disease.

1/23/2008 09:20:00 AM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Most art "criticism" isn't really criticism at all, in the sense of passing judgement -- it merely seeks to explain the work to the uninitiated. Compare random newspaper "reviews" with the gallery's original press releases and you'll see what I mean. (BTW, this is considered a crisis issue in the art crit community.)

The VV is one of the rare review outlets that actually takes a stand on art, says what's worthy and what's hype. Such publications really do need to adhere to a higher journalistic standard.

For other publications, though, it's surely better to have someone who really knows the art well do the explaining, rather than a cub reporter who has to crib the press release to make deadline.

4/11/2008 01:18:00 PM  

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