October 2, 2016

Oooookay. More Flesh or the Existential Crisis of the Art Critic

My favourite answer to criticism, is to mimick Ms. Swan's '"Ooooookay". 

“You have to give your reader more flesh”, my friend criticised me Friday night over a glass of red wine. “People will get the impression you’re the writer of short, one-paragraph funny stories. “They’re not just funny, “ I protested, “they go beyond!” “And do you know”, I complained, “how much time it takes to write a whole review?” We were sitting in the Bergmannkiez in a dark basement bar. We had just given up trying to go to the Eigen + Art Lab exhibition opening somewhere far up north. Our friend with car had let us down and to take public transport seemed unfathomable for some reason.  “Okay,” I said, using my last argument, “I haven’t seen anything I can put my teeth in, really.” “That’s no reason,” my friend replied, “Go to the Gemäldegalerie and write about Vermeer.” “Vermeer?” I cried out. WTF, it’s not because I’m Dutch speaking that I have some inner connection to Vermeer. It’s like telling him (who's French) to go check out that new Cézanne movie.

Annabel Daou at Galerie Tanja Wagner

But maybe my friend is right: I could go see some Vermeer and take my friend, the artist Akane Kimbara. She’s a huge fan of Vermeer and travels to places just to see his work. Yet, you know, I would be more interested in why she does that then to talk about the Vermeer work itself. It seems that, lately, I’ve been leaving the art work behind to talk about everything else but the art. I like to watch the ambiance around the art work, how it gets into people’s head, how they behave around it. In the end, it’s true I’m not an art historian but a cultural historian. Maybe I should start identifying as a cultural critic. I like art criticism most when it opens up to society anyway. Yet being a "cultural critic" sounds a bit as if one is always nagging at culture, saying how bad things are going. Doesn't it sound more exiting to be a philosopher - opening up art to phenomenology? But who dares to use such a big word as "philosopher," even my favorite Susan Sontag didn’t call herself one. 

Chiharu Shiota at Blain Southern

Actually, I’d say that Susan Sontag is the reason for my lack of “substantial” reviews lately. I’ve been under her influence since teaching Against Interpretation for the Cultural Theory class at Node Center. It made me turn against interpretation , preferring feeling and experience instead of logical analysis, which is a bit of a fatal attitude for any longish art reviews in which you’re bound to go into interpretation. I guess I’m interpreting Sontag a bit wrong by getting lazy in interpretation. For instance, take my gallery hopping last Saturday. At Galerie Tanja Wagner I saw the work by Annabel Daou, and since I wasn't interested in reading the content of what was written by the artist on those many tiny papers, I took some steps back so I was able to get a beautiful black and white overview of the whole. I stayed with aesthetics, and was totally happy doing so. I didn’t even read the press text. The same at Blain Southern with Chiharu Shiota’s installation, a web of red yarn connected to boats.With Blain Southern it’s always the question if the space or the art work is the most impressive one. But I know for sure it’s an improvement that the artist left out the kitschy keys she used in her red web of last year’s Venice Biennial. 

Since I can’t help it (sorry my friend!), here a little funny anecdote about my visit to Blain Southern. During my gallery hopping I was followed by three men who were apparently on the same track. They were dressed like collectors,  if you know what I mean (striped shirt casually tugged into the Ralph Lauren pants) and they also acted like collectors (a certain air of money in their gestures). At Blain Southern one of them asked the price of Shiota’s work exhibited upstairs, which consisted of small canvases put together in an arrangement of some sort. “No,” the gallery salesperson said, “one can’t just buy one, one has to buy the whole composition.” “10.000”, I heard her mention. I climbed the stairs to see those canvases for myself. They’re creepy little things stitched with the same red yarn as used in the installation below. Smart move, collectors will probably buy those little canvases merely to talk about the big installation. Some art works just exist to refer to another one, and that’s oooookay.   

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