Hot (okay maybe only lukewarm at the moment) Topic Alert: the Crisis in Art Criticism

March 26, 2010 · Print This Article

Jenny Holzer, Television Texts, 1990. © Video Data Bank Chicago.

This week New City published an essay by its arts editor Jason Foumberg on the state of art criticism amidst the rise of blogging, online websites, and other forms of interactive media titled The State of the (Visual) Art. I didn’t read this as a piece on the status of art criticism in Chicago per se, as I think some may have, but rather as about the difficulties of defining (much less practicing) this thing called ‘criticism’ at all in online, social-media driven contexts. Foumberg’s essay is part of a larger series of articles at New City that are exploring the state of criticism in the age of Yelp!,  Amazon book reviews, and other online social feedback devices. The other pieces can be found here, here, and here (this last one is about Yolp!, a Jersey Shore parody of Yelp that’s really funny). The comments that ensue are interesting, but there aren’t a lot of them and there’s not too much back-and-forth…yet. But today Christopher sent me a link to Michael S. Thomas’ blog Stagnant Vowels, in which he’s posted a response, of a sort, to the New City article, which immediately bumped Mr. Foumberg’s piece up to “hot topic” status in my mind. (Thomas’ response might itself almost qualify as a good old-fashioned Rant, and as I’ve said before, I am to rants as a moth is to a flame….Jason, in contrast, doesn’t rant: he muses.).

In his post, Mr. Thomas, who was the director of the well-respected and now defunct Dogmatic Gallery in Chicago, calls us out over here at Bad at Sports for basically being slutty opinion mongers on a par with t.v. talk show pundits. He writes:

“The flux or crisis isn’t with experts or authority per say, its in the distribution of opinion as though it were reasoned discourse. It’s in the ongoing creation of model’s for the dissemination of hyperbole without rational checks or balances. Whether it’s Glenn Beck, or Jon Stewart, or Bad at Sports these models can do much to obfuscate legitimate dialogue if not entirely cripple its formation.”

I have to assume he’s talking about our blog in particular, as the podcast’s one-on-one interview format is pretty much the antithesis of opinion journalism. But I want to know — where is all this ‘legitimate dialogue’ (emphasis on the word ‘legitimate’) that we in particular are guilty of obfuscating? Tell me where it’s happening, and I’ll gladly get the hell out of its way!

In all seriousness, though, I don’t at all disagree with Thomas on his larger point. In fact I think most of his post hits it right on the mark, particularly in his assessment that lack of editorial oversight might be precisely what makes online art criticism so problematic (I’m paraphrasing his argument, but that’s what I took away from it). Thomas finds fault with the recently launched Chicago Art Magazine for precisely these reasons, and although I shall remain neutral on the matter of his specific target, I tend to agree with many of the larger arguments he’s making. Such as this one:

“But I would argue that without editorial oversight or a progressive long term vision for growth, an endeavor such as this one is hopelessly mired. After all criticism and opinion are not the same. Amateur criticism is little more than the ALL-CAPS and bold fonts version of a comment roll, and paying said amateur is in no way a transformation of this reality. So what makes a misinformed critic not, a knowledgeable and, or an opinionated amateur? Time, energy, condensed thoughts, research, an apishly large library surrounded by lovely black and white photographs of water fowl, and other bric-a-brac? No its constancy and persistence in the pursuit of understanding and conveying the qualities that define the arcane and metaphorical reality of objects and their surroundings.”

[Read more]

Q&A with Volume Gallery, A Roving Venue for Contemporary American Design

March 24, 2010 · Print This Article

Jonathan Nesci, THE NEW, 2010

Last weekend I checked out Volume Gallery‘s debut presentation, an exhibition of limited edition furniture pieces by designer Jonathan Nesci titled THE NEW. The show was held for three days only at Andrew Rafacz Gallery. Nesci, whose design firm Hale is based in Chicago and Scottsburg, Indiana,  finds inspiration in the idiosyncratic details of urban infrastructure: the angle of street curbs, the unobtrusive design and placement of electrical meters, the base of a street light. The limited edition pieces comprising THE NEW also reference minimalist sculpture: a day bed and side chair are named after Sol Lewitt,  a wall-mounted aluminum plate bookcase that self-consciously evokes a Donald Judd sculpture is called the Reference Shelf.

Nesci favors industrial materials like metal and concrete, coated in a matte white finish that draws in surrounding light. My favorite piece was the Standard Table: a concrete disc that appeared to float within a circular bed of powder-coated aluminum and steel. In the picture above, its pale grey tabletop appears chalky white — an example of the way that Nesci’s pieces suck up light and transform hard-edged materials into objects that appear light-weight and almost ethereal. I also loved the smart, streamlined Seattle Planter, a combination planter/umbrella stand, which ingeniously re-uses dripping rainwater to nourish the plants in its base (the piece was designed with rain-soaked regions in mind, natch).

Jonathan Nesci, Standard Table. Powder-coated spun aluminum, concrete, steel.

Jonathan Nesci. Seattle Planter. Wax-polished aluminum plate.

Appropriately, Sam Vinz and Claire Warner, the co-founders of Volume Gallery, chose a white cube-like gallery space to showcase Nesci’s editions. Future iterations of Volume will likely look very different. I asked Vinz and Warner if they could answer a few questions about their new endeavor, and they kindly agreed. Check out Volume’s website for information on the next show, an exhibition of new editions by Felicia Ferrone that will take place sometime next Fall.

CI: Tell me a little bit about both of your backgrounds. You worked at Wright Auctions for a time?

Claire Warner: I graduated with a BA in Art History from Denison University, with an emphasis in Decorative Arts, spent several years at Wright Auction in Chicago as a specialist and appraiser in 20th century and contemporary design. While at Wright, I had the opportunity to help organize exhibitions by contemporary designers such as Arik Levy and Martino Gamper. Also spent time working at Luminaire, Chicago.

Sam Vinz: I graduated with a BA in Art History from UW-Madison with an emphasis in 20th century European architecture. In 2008 I completed my MA in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute in London, and I wrote my dissertation on an analysis of the contemporary design market. I have worked at Phillips de Pury, Carpenter’s Workshop Gallery, Wright Auction, and Chase Art Companies. [Read more]

“Crescat Graffiti, Vita Excolatur”: Quinn Dombrowski Captures Library Graffiti at U of C

March 24, 2010 · Print This Article

The Chicago Tribune’s Live section has a profile today of Quinn Dombrowski, a photographer and University of Chicago grad who has a flickr site, and a self-published book, that captures the astonishing range of graffiti marking the interior of the Regenstein Library. The Trib notes that she has unearthed more than 1700 graffiti markings, some written in Arabic, Chinese, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and even dead languages.

Dombrowski’s project is amazing. I know I’m going to be thinking about it all day. Dombrowksi also has a website and a blog with additional details on the project, lots of images, and background musings on her graffiti findings, including her latest post, a really interesting analysis (including pie chart!) on the relatively low rate of homophobic graffiti appearing in the Regenstein Library. (All photographs taken by Quinn Dombrowski).

MoMA’s Live Streaming Marina-Cam Invites Everyone To Be Present

March 22, 2010 · Print This Article

Screen grab from Live-Streaming Video of "The Artist Is Present"

Does the Museum of Modern Art’s live feed of Marina Abramović’s performance “The Artist is Present” defeat the purpose of the piece, or enhance it? “The Artist is Present” is the title of both Abramović’s retrospective, which opened at MoMA on March 14th, as well as her new live performance, which takes place in MoMA’s Marron Atrium throughout the run of the exhibition.  In her performance, Abramović sits on a wooden chair in front of a wooden table. The chair across from her is occupied by different museum visitors, who are invited to take a seat across from the artist and gaze at her while she gazes at them. Visitors are allowed to sit in the chair for as long as they want. (One man stayed for seven hours).  MoMA’s exhibition website notes that the retrospective as a whole endeavors to “transmit the presence of the artist” by including “live re-performances” of Abramović’s works by other people, along with this new durational performance by the artist herself.

I couldn’t find any mention of how live streaming the performance fits into the exhibition’s overall attempts to “transmit the artist’s presence,” however. Ideally, of course, viewers will experience Abramović’s performance in a more direct fashion, either by sitting across from her or watching from the audience as other people share her gaze.  But the existence of MoMA’s live streaming “marina-cam” (my nickname, not theirs) is downright puzzling. What’s the purpose of streaming a performance–one which purportedly explores what it means to “be present” in this particular historical moment — for the benefit of anonymous internet users who can engage with it only by staring at their computer screens for a few seconds at a time?

For a work of art that necessitates ‘presence’ in all the multivalent meanings of the term, I find it curious that Abramović agreed to the livecam broadcast in the first place. [Read more]

Friday Clips 3-19-10

March 19, 2010 · Print This Article

Guillermo Srodek-Hart, Forrajeria. C-Print. At Schneider Gallery in Chicago through May 8, 2010.

****On WBEZ Chicago Public Radio this week, Eight Forty-Eight ran a report about artist Chris Drew‘s fight against Chicago’s restrictive laws concerning street art vendors. The report compares Chicago’s laws on the issue to those of San Francisco and New York City, and the results are mostly unfavorable to the Windy City. This quote from Drew’s attorney Mark Weinberg sums it up nicely: “Mayor Daley has an idea of beauty which includes sort of an orderliness, you have the black wrought-iron fences, you have beautiful buildings and you have flowers in between the streets. It’s a nice idea of beauty, but it’s a very limited idea of beauty.”

****Time Out Chicago noticed that The Art Institute seems to be instituting “rolling blackouts” in its galleries. They asked the Art Institute’s Director of Public Affairs Erin Hogan if this was indeed the case, and Hogan told them yes — it’s a cost-cutting measure. Read the story here.

****On his blog, Tyler Green criticizes The University of Chicago Press‘ recent publication Gerhard Richter: A Life in Painting for being “essentially an authorized biography, 389 pages of praise rather than examination and contextualization.” The book was written with the full cooperation of the artist himself, and with full access to Richter’s archives. Green adds that the “book rarely contextualizes Richter within broader history. It veers toward as-told-to territory. The prose is often grating, overly laudatory and almost always reads as if it was ripped from a press release.”

****Chris and Sam of the great Midwest painting blog MW Capacity have curated an exhibition titled undercrowded at University of Central Missouri Gallery of Art & Design. The exhibition dates are March 11-April 10, 2010. It features paintings and videos that depict depopulated public spaces and includes artists Joey Borovicka, Sam King, Kristin Musgnug and Stephanie Pierce.

****This special New York Times report on major museums whose gains in attendance are due to being “vibrant destinations where the exhibitions are sometimes besides the point” certainly isn’t breaking news, but it bears being reminded that “the rise of merchandised culture” is more than likely where the future of the behemoth arts institution (and those institutions who wish to join the ranks of the elephantine) lies. Another reason why Jeffrey Deitch’s move to MOCA makes perfect demonic sense.

****Art World Salon wonders if things might be looking up, just a smidge, for print-based arts reporting? The Wall Street Journal announces it is hiring additional arts reporters for its soon-to-be launched local section. The New York Observer says it will also expand its arts coverage on March 31. Good news for NYC-based arts bloggers? Will be interesting to see if expansion of newspaper arts coverage spells greater opportunities for arts bloggers, or if newspapers instead cull from reporters whose background lies exclusively in print media.

****These photographs by Estelle Hanania reminded me of Jeriah Hildwine’s Off-Topic essay about Ghillie Suits. Hanania’s performance images make me think we need an art theory of the ghillie suit, something that delves into performative acts of covering and uncovering, and the art of camouflage. Anyone? (via Nihilsentimentalgia).

****Stunning, and gut-wrenching, if you’re a fan of modern architecture: Chris Mottalini’s After You, They Took It Apart: a series of photographs of demolished homes by modern architect Paul Rudolph. (Via Culture Monster). The only building designed by Paul Rudolph in Illinois was the Christian Science Study Center at the University of Illinois, which was demolished in 1987.

****Eyeteeth: A Journal of incisive ideas is one of our favorite blogs. Paul Schmelzer is in the process of cataloging art blogs based in Minneapolis. He’s also tallying Twin Cities-based Artist’s Blogs, and Graphic Design Blogs. If you can add to his list, go on over and help him out!