Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism: Keynote
February 27, 2009
Tonik Wojtyra – I think it was Tobias Meyer from Sotheby’s who, at some point during the art market splendor, was asinine enough to say that good art is the most expensive art. [Tobias Meyer was quoted as saying, “The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart,” in Sarah Thornton, “Love and Money,” Artforum: Scene and Herd, May 11, 2006: http://artforum.com/diary/ id=10968.] If the art market is so smart, based on his expert opinion, then what, in your expert opinion, is the best art writing? [laughter]
Tirdad Zolghadr – It’s a good question because, as I was trying to suggest earlier, the agendas between the art writers and the artists are not the same. There are artworks that bring out the best in writers and artworks that do the opposite. There are artworks that prompt a flurry of critical karaoke and then there are artworks that push the writer to reconsider knee-jerk topographies.
Diedrich Diederichsen – What [Tobias Meyer] is saying is that there is judgment taking place, and the art market uses this kind of judgment. If there is such a narrow connection between art writing and judgment, maybe the crisis of judgment and the hope of art writing are not so closely connected. But maybe it’s not the art market that’s responsible for that. [Art writing] cannot exist without opposing the other forces that produce judgment all the time, like audiences, markets, artists....
Tirdad Zolghadr – So what you are saying is that the relationship between judgment and art writing is perhaps tenuous and that perhaps criticism offers the possibility of standing against the kind of judgment that is pursued in other fields so rigorously, such as within the art market. So that criticism is inherently opposing judgment as opposed to pursuing it.
Diedrich Diederichsen – The last thing that I would like to suggest is that maybe because all these other types of judgment are happening, art writing (although it could do other things than judging) has to become the superior judgment.
Tirdad Zolghadr – So the fact that judgment is being pursued so resolutely in these other fields is an opportunity for criticism to engage in judgment in a more subtle matter.
Diedrich Diederichsen – Not necessarily. [laughter]
Tirdad Zolghadr – I’m just paraphrasing here! [laughs]
Diedrich Diederichsen – My point would be that art writing, in its shortcomings and opportunities and so on, is not closely connected for any intrinsic reason to judgment except in a very distant echo. But [art writing] is placed—not so much in an ethical sense but in the contemporary context—in a context with other constantly judging forces. There it inherits the obligation to produce something that competes with, or argues against, these other forms of judgment that exist.
Tirdad Zolghadr – Again to paraphrase for the audience in the back: Criticism does not inherently fulfill this role of judgment except by way of a very faint reminiscence of Kant. But the way that it is placed and contextualized places it under pressure to perform judgment in some form or another.
Mohammad Salemy – You brilliantly explain the whole drama, but today the very fact that somebody writes [about] you is the judgment. You don’t even have to read the essay. It’s like you pull out the catalogue and just the fact that you were written about is the judgment. Just the fact that you were included in the show or not is the judgment. The judgment is already made pre-writing. I recently read a very opinionated piece of art criticism in the New York Times which was shockingly, completely judgmental, and I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe the critic, [Ken] Johnson, can go so deep into questioning the motives of the artist, questioning the aesthetics of the work, questioning everything about the piece!” [See Ken Johnson, “Material for a Palestinian’s Life and Death,” New York Times, February 12, 2009, http://nytimes.com/2009/02/13/arts/design/13jaci.html.] Everything seems fine until you find out that the show is Emily Jacir’s at the Guggenheim. It was basically a political judgment on the validity of the Palestinian struggle put in the form of [a review of] Emily’s work. The point is that [the] Hugo Boss [Prize] particularly picked Emily. That is a judgment, too.
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