Fillip

Fillip — Folio A

Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism: Panel One

February 28, 2009

Panelists: Kristina Lee Podesva, Tom Morton, and William Wood

Moderator: John O’Brian

Kristina Lee Podesva – I’m sitting here as a representative of Fillip in a sense, but also as an artist and a writer, and perhaps to represent a divergent view from what Tom [Morton] articulated just now in his paper. Instead of being interested in these intimate relationships—these intimacies that he discussed—I’m actually really quite interested, more so, in what art and criticism can share. To me, that interest lies in the fact that both require a public audience, and their engagement with one another occurs in an actually public context. Returning to Sven Lütticken, who writes about critics who lament their instrumentalization by the “real decision-makers—the collectors, curators, and gallery owners.” [See Sven Lütticken, Secret Publicity: Essays on Contemporary Art (Rotterdam: NAi Publishers, 2005), 7.] For him, their complaints about the service role they occupy in the production of art-critical sales talk belie a failure to see how this view inhabits a rather small and inconsequential domain, delimited by what he calls “professional pride and privileges.” Instead, Lütticken offers the critic a meaningful alternative to consider “the potential of art to constitute a critical form of publicness within the contemporary spectacle.” If the artist renders certain phenomena and questions knowable or visible in public, the critic then, perhaps, makes that endeavor legible and legitimate, sometimes in alignment with the artist’s intentions, but at other times not. Still, both the artist and the critic make their cases in public and to various publics. By public, I realize that we have a term equally as elusive as criticism. Michael Warner has gone far to attempt to grasp the notion of the public in his book Publics and Counterpublics (2005), observing that publics are multiple and mutable, echoing perhaps [Michel] Foucault’s project on power. The point of Warner’s study of publics is that they “exist only by virtue of their imagining. They are a kind of fiction that has taken on a life, and very potent life at that, and that when publics are addressed there is a struggle engaged at varying levels of salience to consciousness, from calculated tactic to mute cognitive noise over the conditions that bring them together as a public.” [See Michael Warner, Publics and Counterpublics (New York: Zone Books, 2005), 8.] To identify a public, Warner recommends that we discern whom is being addressed and how. Publics are, therefore, in Warner’s study, “essentially intertextual, frameworks for understanding texts against an organized background of the circulation of other texts,” [See Warner, 15] which are, in our world, increasingly images.

And so, Warner essentially brings us to the notion that publics are highly unstable and, thus, counterpublics offered by the artist and even the critic, among others, can put into circulation new engagements through their practices, and in the best case scenario this manifests in a kind of “poetic world-making.” [See Warner, 114.]

So, in relation to art and criticism today, I’m concerned that this word “crisis” is the word to which we continually return, because I feel that if we are frustrated or even alarmed by criticism circulating as is, it means we do not like what is being said because we do not identify with the publics being addressed. Faced with this fact, I think we have two choices, either to find the publics we seek or to create them. These are questions of distribution and production. Of course, practical dilemmas arise here, the first being how do we find our publics when criticism and writing about art is de-centered, multiple, and so voluminous? We therefore need filters to wade through this vast sea of content. And, in relation to producing the publics we seek, we must consider how to do this when resources are limited. In some cases, as Tom mentioned, we have the question of time, Perhaps Fillip represents the antithesis to the art diary or the art fair or the art blog, because we’re not even published monthly, we’re not even published quarterly, we’re published three times a year, so perhaps we’re giving a bit of time to folk to consider what they are going to discuss. And then, of course, in terms of space, there’s the 750-word review typical of most magazines and, of course, at Fillip we try to make that 1500 words. So, there is this question of time and space, but how do you do [criticism] with limited resources?

One of the things that I noticed in the October round table, in the discussion packet [Supplement for Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism], is that Helen Molesworth says that good criticism is what artists read. But, faced with this multiple number of publics, I’m sort of asking this question: which artists, which critics, which publics? I’d say that one of the roles I think Fillip is really trying to take on is this notion of creating these publics, and a place to start new discussions, and to change, therefore, the number of publics that we currently see in operation, and to distribute that information as well. Those are just a couple of questions that I have that I’d like to open for discussion: producing these new publics through criticism and how to distribute the information that we create through these new publics. I think that’s one of the greatest challenges of our time: how to find them.

John O’Brian – I’m trying to draw connections between Tirdad’s talk last night, Bill’s talk on the left, Tom’s on the right—and those aren’t judgments about political positions. [laughter] I was very much struck that in Tirdad’s talk he kept coming back to dance as a metaphor. You certainly were engaged in a critical foxtrot, like Adorno, as you put it, in terms of discussing questions of negation and denegation of judgment, or what Bill calls exclusive judgment—in other words, totalizations. You were performing a pirouette that at moments seemed to go out of control and then righted itself. So the messy pluralities that you discuss were present in your talk, I thought, in terms of the elegant quotation, the refusal to totalize, and adding up to something in the end, which was the judgment that negation was something to be watched out for. The processes of denegation are ones that we need to be talking about because they indicate that—as the forum’s workbook shows—other directions are being taken. I was struck as I read through this [the workbook] last night by how much [Clement] Greenberg figures in it, though Greenberg hasn’t figured much in discussions today. The workbook makes me pleased, because when I did work as an art historian on Greenberg, I did it so we could read Greenberg whole. What we had before the collected works were Art and Culture and a couple of other canonical articles that were always trotted out. In 1980, I was sitting in Widener Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts, trying to make sense of why the canon had hardened. I thought we should have Greenberg—this is the art historian speaking—the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, that we could read whole. And it was my great disappointment in meeting artists later in Canada and the United States that they hadn’t even read Greenberg the first time around, particularly painters. They had had him in their studios and that had been the connection. It was the intimacy that counted for them, rather than the sometimes contradictory critical judgments of Greenberg. I think of Greenberg as something like the sanctified ur-modernist artist of British Columbia, Emily Carr. The sanctified ur-critic, as presented by the people writing here [in the workbook], isn’t [John] Ruskin, who is profoundly moral in his writing, nor [Charles] Baudelaire, who goes somewhere else with criticism. It is Greenberg, the sanctified and vilified ur-critic, the sort of originary critical figure in North America that comes to attention at the very moment the United States gains economic power following the Second World War (that is, a kind of exclusionary economic and military power following the Second World War). That made him read in the first place and that made it necessary for the sanctified view of him to be undone. The process of undoing that view—and here’s where, as an art historian looking back on histories of criticism, I am interested in the process—by, say, Rosalind Krauss, who was once a Greenbergian, by [Benjamin] Buchloch, by [Douglas] Crimp, indeed by others sitting in this room who have brilliantly insisted on refusing the totalizing— the magisterial, as you said, Tirdad—pronouncements of Greenberg, needs close attention. In the process of negating his judgments against the attempt now to denegate them, Greenberg got reestablished again. In other words, in the process of his work being undone it became necessary to read him all over again. You couldn’t understand what was happening in postmodernist and poststructuralist discourse in New York without re-reading Greenberg, if you were going to be serious in thinking about what Krauss, Crimp, Buchloch, and others had to say.

I was glad, Bill, that you brought up the subject of institutional critique, because that’s on the agenda here. This is absolutely central to what we are talking about. We are all within the habitus, the social field of art. That social field is a frame, perceptual and mental as much as it is physical. Institutional critique came out of the critique of institutions and is precisely the requirement for self-reflexivity about the institution that we all participate in. [John] Berger had interesting things to say about this. I think Andrea Fraser’s article from 2005 in Artforum is the best single account of it because she lays out a particular history of how that occurred from a position of parti pris. “I may have given the term institutional critique currency,” Fraser states, in this way writing herself into the history and reflecting on the kind of biases that may be involved there. Criticism as a practice is nothing if not engaged in the institution of art, within the habitus, within the frame. At its best, criticism is always going to refuse those totalizations. It’s going to recognize the messiness of projects, the range of art, the different voices that have been used, the possibility of other interpretations. Of course, what was particularly horrific about the late Greenberg were the critical exclusions. They were based, however, on theories about the social arrangements of capitalism, ones we should still pay close attention to because they are still with us, even though they have become more transnational. The refusal of the negation of judgment, the denegations that have been presented by the three of you [Tom Morton, Kristina Lee Podesva, William Wood], seems like a good place from which to continue the discussion.

Audience member: What can art criticism—in its various forms—learn from music and architectural criticism? And how does the criticism of time-based and static work differ?

William Wood – Well, it’s fundamentally questions of competence. I mean, I like music, I know what I like. When people say “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like,” I come back and say that “I don’t know much about chemistry but I know what I like.” [laughter] I spend a lot of time looking at visual art and working with the structures of visual art, so I really can’t talk that well about other forms [of art]. There are other people, such as Diedrich, here who do, who can, write about many forms well, and that’s a remarkable thing to do. Regarding time-based work: Obviously music and some forms of theater and film and so on can be seen iteratively over a longer period of time than works of art in the form of exhibitions. And that’s a limitation. That’s one of the traditional limits of art criticism—that it’s a report on an ephemeral situation and event. In terms of static and time based, I don’t think that we encounter images in those forms anymore. They are sort of mixed up in some way; static images seem to be implicated in moving and moving in static (except for how long can you stand to watch the piece and whether there are limits to your ability to do that). But there are also artists who have played very much with that. You cannot experience the whole work (Boris Groys goes into this) because you just do not have the time. And it’s constructed to be a kind of monumental thing that’s beyond comprehension. That’s my answer to the question.

Tom Morton – What I have to add in terms of static and time-based media? I absolutely agree with Bill that these distinctions aren’t so useful. But apart from, if one is writing a review in a very small number of words, accounting for the absence of a work, the evocation of it can almost be the whole review (there [might] be nothing apart from describing what’s going on in an artist’s film). So there are questions, in terms of that short form of criticism, there’s part of it that is evocation, and there are questions of balance with that, and some form of kind of thinking of the thing evoked, and possibly judgments somewhere along the way. So there is some difference, but to some degree it’s practical.

Kristina Lee Podesva – Well, I just wanted to return to this point about competencies in criticism. When I think about this, I tend to think about Marcel Broodthaers’s Interview with a Cat from 1970. Of course, that came out of the project where he, I believe, was in Düsseldorf in the basement putting on his institutional critique projects and dealing with the museum. And what he’s doing is asking a cat various esoteric questions about art, and the cat only responds by “meowing” over and over and over again. And he comes to the point where he asks, “what do you think of this, what should we do, should we close the museum?” And the cat just responds, “meow.” But I think what he’s pointing to is the context of the museum and the context of criticism often can legitimate it, and you don’t have to have any competencies. I’m not saying that’s a good thing, but I’m just saying that the context can very well legitimate all kinds of gibberish, and with the understanding that there is some kind of competency behind it. But I don’t know how much that’s always the case. That’s all I would offer.

Diedrich Diederichsen – Yes, I wanted to support Tom’s mentioning of the intimacy of judgment. But maybe it’s not so helpful to think of this idea of the intention of judgment in terms of the professional procedure of criticism, but that it is a key element of reception. It’s an element of reception of every type of audience or recipient: positioning yourself towards whatever object or project or process you are getting involved with [and] how you think of it in terms of value. And I think this has a lot to do with time and the time-based-ness of your engagement. It’s a direct comparison between what else you could do in that moment with your very precious lifetime. It’s not such a rationalized, instrumentalist procedure, but it’s something that happens intuitively and constantly, all the time—it’s getting revised all the time. But those are judgments, and they are very intimate; they are not necessarily visible or on hand in [the] critical process, but I think that without them there wouldn’t be anything happening.

I wanted to contradict Tom when he was saying that art criticism is not well paid. Of course, it could be paid better—I wouldn’t mind that—but it’s paid much better than any other form of criticism in culture. That is maybe one of the reasons why people are so reluctant to not make any judgments, because they would possibly loose the position to be able to continue receiving this kind of money.

And the third thing I wanted to say was about the end of art or the past-ness in art. Maybe that has something to do intrinsically with the idea of autonomy—that autonomy has something to do with the fact that there is no immediate connection between what you are doing in art and the outside world. You’re not immediately influencing it; you’re influencing it symbolically, or whatever. We don’t have to go into that.... But this has, of course, always, this “as if” aspect. It has to do with the fact that if it’s “as if” now, that it must have been immediately in the past. It’s taken as though its notion refers to some past model of where the “if” was located. And I think because of that, because of that “as if”-ness, that it’s always using that idea of the way we deal with things of art was once the modus operandi in daily life, that the judgment of value vis-à-vis this situation is the maybe desperate but somewhat legitimate attempt to (without any success) to reconstruct this past.

John O’Brian – Yes, “as if.” I read [Arthur] Danto and I think that someone must have hit him over the head with a Brillo box, because everything is before the Brillo box and after. He is constructing it “as if” before. There’s an immediate, huge rupture that then occurs after.

Antonia Hirsch – What I suddenly remembered while I was listening to Tom were the reviews that Donald Judd used to write for Artforum or Art in America. I remember seeing those for the first time, and they basically made me laugh out loud, they are so amazingly blunt and opinionated. He was actually nixed from that particular reviewing job because they were so opinionated. And I’m wondering if maybe he was ahead of his time and just thinking that if there has been a move away from this tendency or this function of judgment, perhaps, in the postmodern moment, and now at a time where the public sphere doesn’t seem to occur so effectively anymore in the print media. Maybe the role of the critic is to have an opinion, not to pass an authoritative judgment, but to have an opinion that will result in a discourse that happens elsewhere. And so, that’s maybe one question—is that maybe the case? And the other would be: Where does this discourse then take place? Is the reason we have had such a proliferation of these school models (like UNP, symposia, and so on) where the real criticism now takes place that we don’t actually get it in the magazines anymore?

William Wood – I would say that Judd is a figure that would be placed at exactly that area I was indicating between the judgment of objects or of works and the judgment of projects. Because, if you do read his reviews, they are blunt or full of judgment. They are very, well, funny. He sort of says, “last year so and so showed this work and this year, well, it wasn’t as good,” and that’s sort of a judgment I guess, but it’s shaky; he uses very qualitative terms. Maybe this relates back to what Diedrich was saying, too, that maybe the school models exist again in that “as if” way, ”as if” this time we can learn something, “as if” this time we can actually go back and start and rethink our positions.

Kristina Lee Podesva – I think that one of the things that you’re pointing to, Antonia, is not only a lack of public space in the print world, but I think also in the physical world. I think perhaps that is a reason why the school forms have developed—as a way to create space that people can use to confer together and to check with one another and to have a kind of exchange. But I’m also wondering about the formatting of reviews. You have a maximum word limit; you’re only given so much time and space to consider things. Perhaps also the school form is another way to get more in depth, to have a little more time to talk about these things. And also there’s in a sense no accountability. So with criticism, once you’ve published it, it goes into the public record, then there’s the accountability of other critics or artists to contest what you say. In a way, that level of speculation in discourse, and actually sitting down and talking to people, allows things to get worked out without any kind of penalty. Once you put it in print form, you could be penalized because people could disagree with you publicly, but also it could mean that you won’t get another writing job, or something like that. But in a sense there’s this level of penalty.

Antonia Hirsch – I would actually disagree with that. Because yes, there is the possibility of losing a job, but usually your public is so far away from you when you publish that you may never have that correlation of your opinion and words. Because, as we have it right now, we have a very delayed response rather than actually having to answer the criticism right away. There is actually a dialogue where things get hashed out and you have to justify why you said what you said. Whereas print media is so removed that somebody might not want to talk to you at a party, but ...

Tom Morton – I think there are certain penalties that are involved in the school model as well. There are certain pieties that, if they are not observed, become socially difficult. School models really do tend to be rather kind of formalized version of discussions that are for private view anyway. I mean, one of the things for a project like Manifesta 6 was that there wasn’t funding to bring people outside of a certain golden circle. So it became that a wide social group was taken from one part of the world to another. And while they seem sort of super open and free, these things are really a lot less accessible than a traditional review in a fairly traditional art magazine.

I’m kind of interested in this. There may be examples which I don’t know about, but perhaps the Internet is a useful space for this kind of thing. At frieze we have a comment section, which is moderated (or else you get these “LOL, yeah, screw you guys la la la la”), and that comment section has actually had some interesting discussions about criticism, from artists as well as others. I think that’s something that has actually been missing in this discussion: how artists use criticism. If you get a great review, that’s great; you get a bad review, that’s awful—or whether it’s something that informs artistic practice. It would be interesting to hear [from] any artists in the audience....

Kristina Lee Podesva – The Internet forums, are they anonymized?

Tom Morton – No, there’s no way to do that. The convention is that one uses one’s name. And if one doesn’t want to do that, I guess it is impossible to impel someone to do so.

John Luna – I’m a studio teacher, and I wanted to address some of this discussion around schooling. Kristina, I was really interested in this discussion you talked about and this disjuncture between poetics and the need to talk about an audience. Also, I think that it was really poignant what you said, Tom, about contingency and time and feeling the voice at your elbow. Because to me, the very factual consequence of dealing openly with students and I think, a sort of student consensus, which every art teacher fears, that there is judgment without analysis. You know, the dirty rumor of an art school is that there’s a lot of judgment taking place but not a lot of analysis; the apparatus hasn’t been clear. I wanted to ask myself if this could possibly be good, to see the critical faculty of judgment as being something akin to what the artist Mark Tansey referred to, borrowing from philosophy but really retooling the term as metaphoric re-description, with the idea that we’re not actually making explicit, nor in a sense negating the importance of the work, we’re supplying a supplementary fantasy. And this is a way of reading the artist critic/relationship. You know Greenberg’s artist/critic relationship, with Danto’s dependence on the Brillo box, Beuys’s dependence on Kabakov as a kind of supplemental fantasy act whose real home is in poetics. And this sort of interested me because we say to ourselves, “well, the facts can be known, but the ordering of the facts can’t be known—it can only be written.” And then we follow this line of logic to the idea that we’re more consumed with critiquing projects. It seems to me that one of the dirty rumors of project-oriented art is that art has become too much like students. But I’m interested in the notion that critics would form a sort of parasitic poetic supplementary relationship with students themselves, or with the notion of the student audience, because it’s a consequential audience, and it’s a consuming audience.

Kristina Lee Podesva – Recently Fillip hosted Julian Myers from CCA [California College of the Arts] in San Francisco. He gave a talk for a catalogue essay he’s writing for Vitamin 3D about sculptural practices, and in particular he looked at three Los Angeles artists. One of the things that he touched on at the end of his talk was this pedagogical problem, and the pedagogical problem for him is that it seems, more recently—and this was probably true during the days of the Salon and the Academy—that artists, when they come out of MFA programs, are rewarded when they reproduce the discourses of their art-star teachers. So I’m not sure if I’m exactly answering what you are trying to say, but I thought that was quite interesting in terms of the reproduction of discourse, how it functions both in the review form but also this pedagogical problem through the students, through a kind of genealogy certain art stars feel they are “owed” in a sense. So it’s a very real problem. I definitely think that instructors and professors of art, particularly those who are quite famous, do teach their students about strategies, about certain kind of styles, about certain kinds of key words that they should then reproduce in order to get the shows, the gallerists, etc. But I don’t think that’s necessarily a new problem—just new in the last forty years, not before then.

William Wood – With regard to that, I think of Howard Singerman’s book on the history of the MFA [Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University], where he makes it clear that the reason people go for graduate studies in art practice is that artists teach artists. Teachers teach students in grade school, in BFA programs artists teach students, then in MFA programs you learn how to be an artist by following those protocols, by learning exactly those protocols. And what I think is interesting—this is a point that is very much stressed in the rest of the discussions in this seminar and the State of Art Criticism book that James Elkins and Michael Newman put together—is that they’re saying criticism can’t be taught, or it hasn’t been taught. I mean, there are courses you can take on the history of criticism within art history departments, but rarely do you get someone who can teach this. So they say, “Well, what would you do?” So maybe it doesn’t have that corpus attached to it, or that ability to be slotted into, as Singerman proves how the MFA programs had to be slotted into the research and disciplinarity of the university in order to be accepted there. That criticism might not be able to do that for a number of reasons—some of that heteronomy of the relationship of writing to money—is something that is problematic to try to teach.

Tom Morton – I should probably point out that one of our speakers this afternoon actually teaches an MFA course in critical art writing. And, I wonder, is there a professional aspect to that, Maria? Do you teach them about getting writing gigs?

Maria Fusco – I should say a couple of things about the [art writing MFA] program at Goldsmiths, but I don’t want to talk too much, because I have my time this afternoon. It’s a new program, so we don’t really have a clue what we’re doing with it, which is brilliant and also terrible at the same time. My comment earlier was that Michael Newman is one of my colleagues at Goldsmiths, and he actually teaches the history of criticism and how to write it. So I was commenting on the irony of the last comment about Elkins. Something I was thinking about when we were talking about canonical duplication through students—and I was thinking about this earlier in regards to writing reviews—is that maybe it is easier to duplicate the things that are easy, and that’s how canons perhaps are built, upon easiness and simplicity (rather in the way [...] books, which are successful in that you get the soufflé at the end, often sell better). So I wonder if the stratification of simplification and duplication are all very closely aligned with each other, and if that’s why you get this replication—because the things that are easier to do are the things that get picked up. And it might be more to do with that rather than being told to replicate—it might be that the people who replicate do so because they pick the easiest points to copy.

Kristina Lee Podesva – Well, it’s also, I think, legitimated by critics who say, “I’ve seen that before. I recognize that.” And it’s much easier to, as you say, reproduce that sort of that commentary.

Maria Fusco – Sina Najafi from Cabinet magazine said something which I think is a very interesting comment and really [speaks] to this idea of distributive writing practices. He talked about how when they began Cabinet the only idea they had was that they wanted to write their readers into existence. Apart from that, they didn’t really have a particular idea [about the magazine]. And this idea of contingency, which I think I’ll touch on this afternoon so I’ll try not to talk about, is very important, and its really acanonical because you really don’t have a clue what you’re going for, you just kind of know that you want it, to a certain extent.

Dick Averns – Questions to whomever, but it was prompted by Bill mentioning relational aesthetics. I’m intrigued to hear how people might interpret the role of that in relation to Boris Groys, who’s obviously come up a lot, and his opening essay in Art Power (if I recall correctly it is called the “The Logic of Equal Aesthetic Rights”). To make a generalization—and it might be good that I make a generalization so people on the panel can more clearly define this kind of material for the broader audience—[the book] seems to distinguish between art that falls within the realm of the market and operates through the financial currency, which we’ve heard about, and then maybe autonomous art objects that are outside of that. So if I can make that kind of generalization or summation of his logic of equal aesthetic rights, how does something like relational aesthetics fit within that framework? I also want to footnote it by hearing some views perhaps on the legitimacy of Nicolas Bourriaud’s claim that relational aesthetics isn’t a corollary to earlier movements, as he attempts to make it. It seems to want to be something new, which of course people are always wanting to be, but it does seem that origins around Fluxus, conceptual art practices, Happenings, the evolution of video practices, and so forth are all important forerunners to give this legitimization to relational aesthetics. So how does relational aesthetics fit in with all that? It’s possibly a project, as Bill might say, but how do we go with this?

William Wood – I raised Relational Aesthetics in terms of its fantasy of reconnection and of immediacy and so on. I would probably describe Bourriaud’s work as Lütticken did, as “a pathetic tangle of slogans and hype.” Bourriaud would be the type of critic that Lütticken would be taking aim at in saying, “you’re bringing in a whole pile of cultural theory irresponsibly and trying to apply it.” I mean, the idea that relational aesthetics is somehow outside of a market is absolutely absurd. It’s basing itself on the idea that it looks like it’s not marketable, and then it’s immediately marketable. There’s always some sort of souvenir attached to it.

Tom Morton – I think I’m probably a bit more sympathetic towards Nicolas’s position than you.

William Wood – I’m not saying that I’m not necessarily interested in some of the projects and practices that are lumped under that. It’s the labeling and the self-promotional aspect of Bourriaud’s work.

Tom Morton – I think it’s worth remembering that Relational Aesthetics is a series of essays that appeared at different times and was squeezed together into a book. It’s worth remembering that the way its been attacked by various people, including Claire [Bishop] most prominently in October, hasn’t really taken that into account. The sort of patched-togetherness of Relational Aesthetics as a project, and Nicolas’s involvement with a particular generation of artists, and the claim for it being something new, is more about time and place than some kind of particular formal innovation. It’s also worth pointing out how interesting it is that in the absence of other terms as bandied-about as relational aesthetics, this is the one that one comes back to, even though this book was written in, like, 1996. There’s a new book by Bourriaud coming out this year. I’d be interested to see if that has the same affect as Altermodern. So I think it’s worth actually looking at the roots of these things. It’s rather been taken like something like Impressionism, you know? It’s become a kind of word like that, and it’s been rerouted for different purposes by different people.

William Wood – No, I do think that’s interesting. I think that might be symptomatic of something that we might not be able to talk about. As you say, you know we talk about audiences, we talk about creating audiences, we talk about addressing them, we talk about carrying them, and so on, but yet we know how often irresponsibly we act in taking up slogans, in taking up ...that sort of stuff such as “frieze is so frieze.” Maybe this is more how to look at it in terms of a field. Holland Cotter insists upon this in the New York Times piece that I was citing, where he says that the critics, the curators, the dealers sit down, meet together, spend time together, talk together; no wonder it is a close coterie. In a Bourdieuian sense, it makes perfect sense. Who else is going to read critics except critics, first of all? You want to know what the competition is doing so you can scoop them. You want to be able to create your usually subtle and indirect attack upon them by treaty with another artist—or maybe it’s overt, such as Claire Bishop, which is quite strong.

Tom Morton – I think that there’s something about that project as well, which was, “I want to eat at that October table, so Nicolas Bourriaud is the guy I’m going for.”

William Wood – I can see that. I guess I’m trying to describe this idea that—thinking about Bourdieu again (especially the lectures he did on television and about journalism)—there is a closed world of interest, or at least a world of influence and involvement between players in the field, that is kind of axiomatic. It’s not, like you point out, as if everyone is acting venally; they’re acting in their interests, and with their own strategies that have to be operated within that field.

Chris Gergley – I’ll try to address as many of the speakers as possible. Many of you cited Boris Groys, and I had the feeling that those of you who did were trying to wiggle around what he might be saying, in that the choice to draw attention to an artist or not, to write about them or not, is a kind of judgment. It’s a powerful and authoritative judgment.

That’s kind of all we need to constitute a certain knowledge about what’s going on in the art world. It might make us uncomfortable, because we might be saying that we have critics and we have curators, [but] we just don’t need their texts to know about the artists. All we need to know is who wrote about who and that someone got written up in frieze, someone got written about in Fillip, an artist wrote something in Fillip or they have a project in Fillip, is Greenberg in fashion or out of fashion? And that is real knowledge that we can operate with, and it might make us uncomfortable, but I don’t think it constitutes a crisis, because I think a crisis would require not having sure footing. In a way, [within] that framework, we do know whom to trust, so it’s not a true crisis in the sense that there’s not a competing paradigm to offer another model of trust. And so, is it just the lack of texts and their necessity, rather than no critics or writers?

Tom Morton – I’m rather skeptical about the notion of crisis in criticism myself, as I kind of laid out. This idea of selecting is kind of interesting. One of the put-downs that one gets from certain people in London if you work for frieze is “I only read frieze for the ads,” as though going through the ads somehow confirms a kind of judgment. Whether these are ads for arts institutions or commercial galleries, you read the ads and see who is doing well, and this perhaps tells you something. I wouldn’t necessarily agree that it’s the most useful way to read that or any other kind of publication, but it’s a way, I guess. In terms of a selection, what this rather misses out on the idea of there not being text. I mean, certainly a curator’s work is not just choosing an artist, it’s also working with an artist to realize a show. And there are kind of different degrees of involvement one has, depending on the artist and depending on oneself. So I think that’s not so much selecting someone in the way one selects the winner of an art prize. And I’d say, it’s usually the decision of curators (whether in an artist-run space or an institution), and on the other hand it’s a decision of commercial gallerists that leads critics to write. And that’s not just in reviews. Most magazines will make some aim at topicality, and that topicality’s basis is on the appearance of artists x and Biennale Y or group show Z. That kind of confirmation has already happened before the kind that critics that draw attention to ...if you pay any attention to what is going on. I mean, that’s why something like e-flux has transformed judgment and reputation enormously. Anyone who signs up for this gets ten or so e-mails a day, and you often don’t even need to open them. Often they are very interesting on the subject line; you can get some idea of which artists are doing well, which curators are accruing more power, you know?

Chris Gergley – It’s real knowledge about those artists, too ...and the judgment is real. Is that what makes us uncomfortable: what judgment is?

Tom Morton – What’s real knowledge about those?

Chris Gergley – At least hierarchical knowledge. We know something, some kind of base knowledge, which is rare enough.

Tom Morton – I mean, there’s some kind of empiricism to it: an artist’s exhibition, a kunsthalle exhibition. And I guess one question is how you understand which of those have value as a kind of interesting way into that. What is interesting about what Groys says is this kind of search engine of it, and this isn’t all you want to know. A search engine is useful—you go to it, and you use it to find out more about something.

Chris Gergley – But we want to know who to trust, I think.

Tom Morton – And how do you arrive at who you trust?

Chris Gergleyartnet. [laughter]

Kristina Lee Podesva – I don’t think any of us believe there is a crisis. I think that there isn’t necessarily a lack of text, but there might be difficulty in finding the text. I think that’s what’s happening today. And I think, as Tom pointed out, the Internet is an interesting place in terms of circulating other texts and other discourses, but the question is: How do you find them? So for me, when you do searches on the Internet, you know Google, you can pay Google or meta-tag in certain ways where you become the top search, but that question of distribution is fundamental for me for thinking about how to find the criticism you seek or how to find the publics you seek. If you don’t find it, then you need to make those outlets. So, for instance, one example is Tirdad’s project with Bad Jens. It is brilliant, because how many people are reading about feminist issues in Iranian society? You have it online, you can search it, you can seek it out. Or let’s just say if you’re interested in Tirdad’s practice as a writer or as a curator; you can search his name, and then you will also find this particular space for a different kind of writing, a different kind of criticism. I think that’s how you then circulate some of these other texts. Some people lament the fact that there aren’t enough texts. I think there are plenty of texts; it’s just a matter of finding them.

Chris Gergley – Yeah, one last comment. It’s not pure buzz, though. I think that it’s still sophisticated enough that we can piece together who’s talking about who, and who’s showing who.... It’s real in some sense, not just hits on Google. That would be a kind of cynical view, but I think it’s still sophisticated in its own system, and it seems to operate well.

Mohammad Salemy – I wanted to go back to what Tirdad was talking about yesterday—that there is no crisis in criticism. But I think the crisis is more like the modes of judgment, and, to simplify it, the crisis of bad judgment. Immediately you’re saying, okay, what is good, what is bad? It’s more like inconsequential judgment. And to give you a couple of examples: MoMA’s first show, which opened very close to the 1929 crash, was Alfred Barr’s first curated show (because the first show was actually a post-Impressionist Van Gogh show). It was called 19 American Painters of Now, or something like that, and only a couple of those people are known or recognized, and the seventeen others, we don’t even know who they are. Actually there is so little on the show on the Internet; I’ve been searching for a month, and I can’t get the list of the nineteen people, because MoMA doesn’t want to acknowledge that show, even though it was an important show, [and] it was the first curated show at MoMA.

John O’Brian – That’s not true. It’s all in the archives.

Mohammad Salemy – But it’s not accessible on the Internet. I can’t even get the name of the nineteen people.

John O’Brian – If it’s not on the Internet, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Mohammad Salemy – I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but still it’s sort of like an inconsequentiality of the people who were in that show when we look back. And now, because you disagree with me, I almost forgot my contemporary example. But basically, going back to the mode of judgment—there are a lot of judgments that are all around us, but they’re just expressed in a different way. But mostly the problem is the mode of judgment; it’s sort of like the superficiality of the judgment, actually, that’s being passed on beyond all these complicated concepts and words. My closest comparison to art criticism today is fashion criticism and the way fashion is written about in fashion magazines, but particularly around New York fashion week, when they throw those shows two seasons before, and the writers write about that. It’s very similar, but the fashion writers are honest about how superficial it is—name-dropping and all that stuff that Tom was talking about. It’s sort of like: How consequential is the judgment, the judgments that are being made right now about particular artists or particular stuff?

William Wood – I think that in this call for judgment we’re forgetting something which John alluded to (and certainly was part of my historical research on conceptual art), [and that] is how boring it was to keep reading Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried saying that Jules Olitski and Frank Stella were the greatest painters of our day when they were seen as totally irrelevant. And how boring it was to keep them and their acolytes judging the same way all the time. And part of what I was trying to get at in my paper was that you have to have a whole set of attitudes not towards what you’re saying, but towards what the object of your study is. A whole set of preconceptions and perhaps narrow views in order to maintain that idea of “we know where you stand, we can judge you.” So to make your judgment consequential might be to actually.... And here again, I think I’m borrowing from ideas that Charles Harrison says, which is that, you know, it inevitably misrepresents the object.

Mohammad Salemy – Maybe I didn’t use the right word, but what I meant by consequential is historically consequential. And I remembered my example. I don’t know if you know this or not but I recently found out that Jack Shadbolt used to write some art criticism. And actually, he saw the first drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, and he hated them. When he came back to Vancouver he wrote about them and he completely dissed the show, and he said “they look like newspapers from under the bird cage.”

William Wood – And that wasn’t on the Internet, was it, Mo?

Tom Morton – “What would consequential criticism look like?” would be my question. There is some really stupid art writing out there. One of my guilty pleasures, that maybe many of you share, is Artforum’s Scene and Herd page and Vice magazine’s Do’s and Don’ts—they teach me more about judgment and criticism now than any amount of Boris Groys. To some degree, the historically consequential, that will work itself out in time, you know? And there’s a conversation that we have, maybe about criticism and the idea that it was always the first draft of art history and whether that’s even possible at a time such as ours where there is so much information, so many artists, a proliferation of communication technology....

William Wood – But that might also relate to the question that Chris Gergley was raising about identification of critics with certain artists, right? That idea of whether it’s Fried and Stella, or Buchloh and Lawrence Weiner, who do you trust? You trust the person who has actually stuck it out, and the person who has actually paid attention and followed a career and worked almost in collaboration. Again, Buchloh with Michael Asher, working in collaboration with him on the documentation of his work. So that says, I’m sticking with this person. And presumably—and one hopes this would be the problem—if it simply repeats or spreads only just insider information ...or does it actually deepen over time? That would be the question, about whether that commitment does or doesn’t. I would also think about what Chris was thinking about, too, in remembering Willy Bongard’s statistical analysis and capital from the late sixties on that would rank the top one hundred artists in this German business magazine. He would use shows, auction prices, critical mentions, the type of institution they were in—it was a pretty sophisticated analysis. It could be more sophisticated now, but maybe we should think about reviving it now. Is it still going?

Diedrich Diederichsen – It’s still going.

Mohammad Salemy – I just want to say that the term I used, “historically consequential,” has a lot to do with the paradoxical nature of contemporary art, from modernism until now, where the art itself claims to be the art of now but it’s always projected in the future. It’s art of now, but this is the art that will be understood even better fifty years from now, or one hundred years from now. And like the project of criticism, it’s like it’s a criticism of the art of now, but it’s supposed to be relevant or important years after now as well. Like Buchloh, who presented a paper in Vancouver called “Figures of Authority,” right? Which was later on printed in Artforum and dealt a big blow to new expressionist painters.

Gabriel Saloman – I wanted to try to pick up some threads that I feel are dangling from earlier and maybe talk a little bit about artists in relationship to art criticism. I’m not sure if anyone in this room has read Jean Genet’s The Balcony, but there’s a really profound scene in that play that takes place in a brothel, and the clients of this brothel role-play as figures of importance in society (judges and army generals, etc.), and the women working often play the role of the working class or the under class, that are sort of subjected to their power structure. And there’s a scene where the judge, who is a brothel client, is condemning a thief who is played by a prostitute, and suddenly in the midst of the role-play the thief (the prostitute) refuses to acknowledge that she’s a thief, and suddenly she steps away and says “well, what if I didn’t steal anything?” The judge goes from being in this position of power to suddenly crawling on his knees, begging at her feet, “please tell me you stole something, you have to have stole something, otherwise I can’t be a judge.” He’s absolutely horrified at the possibility that this role-play won’t continue, but then because of the economic circumstances, of course, she reneges and says, “oh, no I am a thief, so that I can continue with the role-play and I can get paid for my work.” This is one potential relationship that I see. But I would like to counter that, if I may. My counter is that this may actually relate somewhat to relational aesthetics, but I want to talk more to social practices as an emerging form ([that] has been emerging for decades). I want to suggest that right now that particular practice is reaching a crisis of a lack of judgment and a lack of criticism. I think that within its pure role, there are people that have been doing this work for a while, like Ted Purves, who has actually done some important writing on it, but there is not a very clear system of judgment. Of course, part of this is [that] as a practice they’ve stepped away from making completely enclosed projects that can be perceived as souvenirs in a marketplace. Instead, it’s entered into a metaphysical realm that I think all art alludes to, but its metaphysics are its finished product, where the work is completed by the experience of those who participate, or those who witness, or even those who read about it or think about it. I feel as though it’s been used to create a comfort zone for those artists in that project and in that sphere, where they no longer need to be judged because their art is a gift—and how can you judge a gift? But I actually think, as a practitioner, that it’s a huge issue, and I disagree, and I’m really frustrated that there is such a lack of judgment and a lack of concern in creating criteria by which to understand the effectiveness, the value, or the validity, of that work. So if you want to speak to that, I’d be very grateful.

Rob Stone – There’s a question here about authorship, about becoming a writer in the framework of being an object in relationship to art practices. So you become interested in art works, certainly—the contexts of their production, certainly—but all sorts of things about dandruff and other things creep into your life that might form a set of relationships that are both a subject and a subjective relationship, and art criticism is shifting more in that direction. So if there is a criticism in art, a crisis in art criticism, and if there is a crisis that needs to be sustained and dwelled upon, it’s of that kind of order, where the things that you bring into relationship with each other reflect back on the morphologies that you are used to using and render them useless so you have to invent new ones. You might have to lie about the things you’re talking about, you might have to invent narrators who you can’t rely on or depend upon, you might have to do all sorts of things, but yet to do that you have to become a writer, and you can’t just turn out the hundred-and-fifty-pounds an article pieces to get around that problem. There’s something more political at stake in that.

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