Speed Reading : Zipping Through Art Exhibitions vs. Pausing for Reflection : Open Thread
Newspaper reviewing is obsessed with the first night, the opening, the new thing. Well, we are called newspapers after all, not oldspapers. But the pressure on critics to get - in the case of visual art - the first view of an exhibition can arguably be counter-productive. It means that reviewers have not had time to weigh second thoughts, and that readers have almost certainly not seen the exhibition before they read the review. The review therefore influences your own encounter. I'm not objecting to this but I do think it might be interesting sometimes to look at exhibitions later in their run, with the benefit of reflection, and in conversation with readers who have also seen it.Ask any dealer in New York where they most wish a review of their current exhibition to appear, and most will say the New York Times. Why? Because reviews in that publication will most immediately impact the numbers of people coming through to see the show. Having been lucky enough to have a few of our exhibitions reviewed in the Times, I can say that in most instances the writer not only took their time with the exhibition, but often came back for a second viewing and/or followed up with questions about the exhibition before publishing their review. Also, perhaps 85% of the time we've received a NYTimes review, it has come in the last or penultimate week of the exhibition.
For exhibitions in major museums, however, the NYT's review usually comes out before the show opens to the public. And so Jones' two concerns (enough time to weigh one's thoughts and the influence of a review on viewers' subsequent encounter) would seem to be worth considering. The second one, actually, is easy enough to dismiss in my opinion. If you prefer to see exhibitions before reading reviews you can most likely work that one out for yourself. Jones' first concern though strikes me as more important.
The New York Times has on occassion handled this with what I think is exquisite respect for both its readers and culture's importance to the city. Holland Cotter once followed up his initial review of the Met's show "The Age of Rembrandt" with a viewer's guide piece (including an interactive map) and another piece on other places in the city to view Dutch masterworks. It was a truly wonderful example of a newspaper giving ample time and space to a major exhibition. Of course, not all exhibitions are necessarily worthy of so many inches of the Arts section, but it set the standard and other papers can't argue they don't know how to do better.
Thinking about this more, though, I have to wonder how much of what gets dismissed as a one-liner in contemporary art is sold short via hurried reflection. Take Jones' own example used to illustrate his point. After some reflection on Martin Creed's "Work No. 850," currently being performed at the Tate in London ("a relay of sprinters in the long, neoclassical central hall of the Millbank museum. The runners start near the entrance of the building and run the length of the marble floor, fast') , he went from finding it "amusing and diverting" to later concluding that it is "absolutely beautiful."
The difference in what Jones readers would have taken away from an initial review, when he found the piece merely "diverting" to when he had had the time to connect the dots and see more of what Creed was drawing from (pun intended), is night and day in my opinion. Don't readers deserve a bit more of this in their art criticism? I know with arts coverage plummeting around the country that this is much less likely to happen, but then again, perhaps such approaches would make arts coverage more popular and drive in more revenue for the daily publications.
A couple of weeks [after first viewing it] I found myself contemplating Barnett Newman's painting Onement (I) (1948) in Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art. This is the first ever painting in which Newman depicted the straight vertical line or "zip" that became his graphic signature. It is a great work of art, and the ultimate source of all minimalism. Newman had the audacity to just paint a thin red line on a canvas he'd saturated dark purplish-brown. The line becomes prophetic, authoritative, the essence of rhetoric. Only humans can make a straight line: there are no straight lines in nature.
I found myself thinking of Creed's Work No. 850. I realised that, too, is essentially a drawing of a straight line: a line made by human bodies. Creed reveals something basic and essential about art, that it starts with a human body moving and a human mind imagining a line.
Consider this an open thread on the advantages and disadvantages of newspaper art criticism.
See Image of Martin Creed's Work No. 850 at artdaily.org.