Friday, January 07, 2011

How Soon a Review? Open Thread

News that Lindsay Pollock has been named the new editor of Art in America was the main topic of gossip in Chelsea yesterday. The news has been gobbling up bytes of internet chatter as well. In this harrowing publish-instantly-or-perish world we live in, I shudder to think I'd be the last blogger to comment...but then again...hold that thought.

First, credit to where it's due: I first heard about the appointment via Artworld Salon's András Szántó, who I think blogged about it first, but certainly who wins the prize for the most charming headline on the story (it's a pun on Lindsay's fabulous biography of early American dealer Edith Halpert, The Girl With the Gallery).

The best (and as always, the bitchiest and funniest) behind-the-scenes report of the news comes from our Charlie Finch, of course:
Peter Brant may think, andropausally, that he has hired Jackson Pollock's daughter, and Lindsay will have fun dealing with Brant's vibrant and idea-filled adult children, but, oddly, Lindsay is the perfect choice to carry on Art in America's staid and solid legacy, unchanged. She will go to any show, however obscure. She loves road trips to museums. And, Lindsay has the best attitude towards art-on-the-walls, childlike amazement.
But let me back up.

This is not the first time
I've thought about Lindsay's particular set of gifts. She has always stood out to me as the arts writer who best connected the digital dots in a seemingly effortless way. And I've assumed that this knack was in part what attracted the powers that be at AiA to hire her for the job.

But then, came this brilliant comment by painter and artists champion
Lisa Ruyter on Artworld Salon that got me thinking:
Regarding the speed of publishing, I am not so sure that it is a good idea to remove reviews from the print version of the magazine. I appreciate the desire to read about something in real time, and certainly there is a commercial benefit to positive public opinion to a still-open and available exhibition, but isn’t there something strong and very different about an opinion/review that will be published a bit more out of context, and in print? It is one thing to have an opinion about current events and entirely another to write or read about something that happened three to six months before. A different type of self-consciousness and even intelligence perhaps comes from occasionally NOT having the discussion in the moment. Also, let’s not forget that the bulk of Art in America’s audience, and its strength, are people who do not live in geographical vicinity of these open exhibitions, and it could be a disservice to lose sight of that beyond the immediate situation in art capitols. However, I do like the idea to circulate these reviews online, AFTER they appear in the print version.
As a dealer, I of course love reviews that come out during an exhibition. They do increase awareness and traffic (and, yes, often sue me), but they also crank up the dialog on a particular body of work at the point when we're entirely focused on it. It's exhilarating.

But I have to agree with Lisa that "A different type of self-consciousness and even intelligence perhaps comes from occasionally NOT having the discussion in the moment." They're not as frenetic, but the conversations we'll have about shows that happened years ago are often the richest.

Following up on the sentiments I tried to express in
Tuesday's post, such later conversations benefit from having had the time to process the immediate feedback, circle back round through other experiences, and see how it holds up after some time. I can imagine that for a critic writing about a show, an incubation period can greatly increase the depth of one's response as well.

But the most salient point that Lisa makes (and I think publication editors need to keep in mind) is that "the bulk of [their] audience...are people who do not live in geographical vicinity of these open exhibitions" and, hence, for whom an immediate response is arguably not as valuable. If what we lose by getting the reviews while the shows are still up (which mostly profits those who might go see them [and, again, those hardworking, virtually tireless slaves to art...we the dealers :-P]) is the depth that a little more reflection might provide, perhaps demographic calculations on the circulation should influence a balance here. By that I mean, if 90% of your readers live where they're not likely to see a show while it's up, perhaps it's ok if only 10% of your reviews come out during the actual exhibition, and the other later reviews are chosen because they'll benefit from more reflection. (I'm sure I've totally f***'d up the calculus there, but you get the idea.)

Consider this an open thread on the issues surrounding timeliness of art criticism.

Labels: art criticism, Art in America, Lindsay Pollock


Blogger Saskia said...

I'm thinking of certain periodicals that are more about scholarship than about news, such as the Harvard Business Review or various medical journals-- that's probably a good way of thinking about Art in America or perhaps a way to re-think it upon this important transitional moment rather than thinking of it just as a magazine. Then it becomes clear makes it different than news you find on blogs or newspaper reviews & why both are relevant & important in their own unique ways.

1/07/2011 01:12:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

My congratulations to Lindsay Pollock. Yay!

I don't think 'timeliness' is an either-or question. It matters if you are trying to catch the bus before it leaves for Akron but the artworks don't change over time, peoples perceptions change over time.

While we all have our quick reactions, decent art criticism takes time to formulate. This is especially true with works of advanced art which frequently challenge the reviewers expectations. One has only to look back at the old published reviews, in both newspapers and magazines, at the start of a new movement or style to see how far off base some critics can be.

The print media has established an historical record going back a ways in time, it adds to the reputability of what is written, or at least puts it into some known context. While everything may end up being digitized it doesn't change anything.

1/07/2011 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...

a response in 2 parts:

I never thought I'd see the day when I'd want to preserve the way AiA reviews come out so so long after the exhibitions! Lately, I get it though. We've learned, mostly over the last decade, to privilege instantaneity over all else, and this has become problematic. It seems to me, as a webby, early adapting, crackberry addicted twitterer, that this *instantaneity* thing -- the currency of the web itself -- has been greatly over-valued. Its ubiquity has passed into the realm of necessity -- instantaneity is almost required, and to the detriment of so much else, it seems. Are we becoming enslaved to it?

From Ed, above:

"I can imagine that for a critic writing about a show, an incubation period can greatly increase the depth of one's response as well."

and from Lisa:

"A different type of self-consciousness and even intelligence perhaps comes from occasionally NOT having the discussion in the moment. "

Yes and yes.

I've always been awed by the capacity of [so few] art critics to see [so many] shows, and then quickly absorb, reflect upon and churn out well-written [for the most part], well-considered reviews, repeatedly, and in the twinkling of an eye - this is an acquired skill, an art in and of itself. Clearly, the demand for on-the-spot reviews [web], or reviewing a show for dailies or weeklies during its run [NYTimes, The New Yorker, TimeOut, Village Voice, etc], have long privileged 'immediacy', to some degree, over a deeper, longer response - after all, they are 'only reviews', not longer articles that would require deeper thought, something that would necessarily develop over a period of gestation. Hmm.


1/07/2011 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger joy said...


In any case, the mainstream populist medium of our moment (web 2.0, etc) is making it increasingly harder - less convenient and more expensive - to communicate otherwise. Harder to justify maintaining those other platforms [generally, 'old media'] that tend to privilege non-instantaneous thinking and writing.

Another thought: in the world of the interblogz, writers write without the benefit of what some would consider a basic necessity: a copy editor - or an actual editor - to proof and tweak their stuff before it goes live. Instead, it's all on the writer. Texts go up online 'instantaneously', warts and all. One under-discussed problem with this is the loss of the valuable process one goes through, as a writer working with an editor. For many, myself included, working with an editor is an invaluable part of learning to write, of, hopefully, learning to write well.

Some would even say that the uber-arching privileging of instantaneity and its attendant 'interactivity' has morphed into 'inter- reactivity', with all the poor reading habits, sloppy thinking, and inevitably, bad writing that that idea evokes. In other words: 'reflection' 'gestation' 'incubation' 'thoughtfulness' occupy an embattled space. As an artist who hopes, like all artists, for thoughtful, considered, well-written reviews that challenge the reader, this development does not bode well!

1/07/2011 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

I thought Marcia did a pretty good job and I'm not impressed with Pollock's views.

But another advantage to the delayed review is that it removes the pressure on critics and magazine to support or censure current shows - to be so directly linked to the business. As Ed admits, the publicity angle affects attendances and sometimes sales. A review some months later at least allows for a little critical distance, allows the work or show to be viewed on broader terms than commerce.

1/08/2011 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

maybe the quandary could be posed otherwise: what if one was to consider art criticism as a stationary versus ongoing writing. In print it's static, on a digital platform it could be in flux . The critics perceptions could evolve and shift overtime. Need the commentary be un-editable? Could upon further reflection and "dialogue" the critic be revised?

I know my paintings visibly shift over time (they actually look different) and so the longer one views the works, or returns to the works, the more ones conception of their depth can expand. So a one time viewing can't contain all the critiques possible. Hence, that an art critique has the possibility to evolve over time would in this case be a good thing.

If a face can have a thousand appearances, and yet remain yours; could not an art crticism be in flux and yet remain sincere on the part of the critic?

1/08/2011 11:12:00 AM  
Anonymous JP said...

In no real order: criticism is not a monolith, just as painterly doesn't just mean abstract.

Thought and time are inseparable. No question. The ability to honestly reflect in a coherent manner is a learned skill for sure.

I think magazines could, and should, separate themselves from the blogs like news needs to separate itself from rumortainment (my new word). We don't need more meme based soundbites and thoughtlessness, we need insight with abiding belief.

In no way is criticism the same as art history. I don't expect the ephemeral sloppiness of the present to be shoe-horned into a theoretical construct so easily. The hedonistic layering of experience is anchored to criticism, and depth and insight is anchored to histories. They are not exclusive relationships though

It would be beneficial to revisit old reviews from time-to-time. I mean, video games magazines do that, but art doesn't?

1/10/2011 06:38:00 PM  
Blogger CAP said...

Actually art criticism and art history both revise old judgements all the time, ponder for example the place and merit of a Nicholas Krushenick say, or an Alberto Burri (to use a convenient example from December's AiA).

In as much as privileged investments may be at stake, Pollock can be expected to briefly pay attention, but honestly, apart from dealers and collectors, who reads her blog? You won't find too much criticism or connoisseurship there. The woman has the soul of an accountant.

1/11/2011 12:13:00 AM  

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