November 20, 2015

Open Letters: A Correspondence with Chilean Writer Ignacio Szmulewicz, 8

What do you tell people when they ask you why you became an art critic and not an artist? This question Ignacio Szmulewicz asked me last week in our ongoing series of open letters about art writing. Well, this was the first time somebody asked me this question. My answer right here below.

Wolfgang Müller's release of Valeska Gert's proto-improvisational music Baby in 2010,
of which the release was originally prevented in 1962. 

Dear Ignacio,

I like critical thinking. I love critical writing. My favorite writers are the critical thinker ones, yes, the intellectuals, like Walter Benjamin, Audre Lorde, or Susan Sontag. Critical thinking is a dangerous activity. It’s not only about having an opinion, but also to make it known, to put it out there, which is always scary. I think art criticism can be conducted on that level of critical thinking.

You asked me about being a critic or an artist. I would say also art is based on critical thinking and observation. There’re some who express this critical thinking with, for instance, the body as a medium, others who express it with words. Together with Wolfgang Müller I curated an exhibition about Valeska Gert at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Berlin in 2010. She was a (proto-)performer who worked with her body as  a material. In the 1920s, the body was practically the only medium that women were allowed to work with. She did what Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer were doing in writing, except that she used her body to do so. 

Of course, art criticism as such takes the art object as a subject. Something that has art as a subject, isn’t art itself? But writing is an art, and critics use writing as a tool to express their criticism, so... critics can be artists?

And of course, art criticism has a serving role: it tries to open up the art work to the audience. I find that to be a very important role, because I believe that art is vital to change in society and it makes me happy when I can bring art a little closer to people. The artist doesn’t have to think about the audience (isn't it only bad art that tries to “please”). So the art critic plays an intermediary role there, but does that mean that the art critic is not the artist's equal?

Gertrude Stein’s definition of art was that it’s not about complicating things, it’s about looking at things in a new way. Art criticism can shed a light on the contemporary art that is  shifting our vision in our current society and by that shifting the composition of our society - this is a very hard thing to do, because most things only become clear in 20 to 40 years time.  

Amerika Gedenkbibliothek, Berlin

By the way, I’m a little envious of that summer breeze in Chile. I’m here at the library, the Amerika Gedenkbibliothek, and just a moment ago, a little bit of blue sky and “rayons de soleil” appeared in the perpetually overcasted sky. Were you saying hello?



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