Episode 352: Holland Cotter

May 29, 2012 · Print This Article

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This week: A PULITZER PRIZE WINNER! Holy crap. San Francisco once again brings it with an amazing guest, Holland Cotter.

Holland Cotter has been a staff art critic at The New York Times since 1998. In 2009, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism, for coverage that included articles on art in China.

Between 1992 and 1997 he was a regular freelance writer for the paper. During the 1980s he was a contributing editor at Art in America and an editorial associate at Art News. In the 1970s, he co-edited New York Arts Journal, a tabloid-format quarterly magazine publishing fiction, poetry, and criticism.

Art in New York City has been his regular weekly beat, which he has taken to include all five boroughs and most of the city’s art and culture museums. His subjects range from Italian Renaissance painting to street-based communal work by artist collectives.

For the Times, he has written widely about “non-western” art and culture. In the 1990s, he introduced readers to a broad range of Asian contemporary art as the first wave of new art from China was building and breaking. He helped bring contemporary art from India to the attention of a western audience.

Born in Connecticut in 1947, and raised in Boston, Cotter received an A.B. from Harvard College, where he studied poetry with Robert Lowell and was an editor of the Harvard Advocate. He later received an M.A. from the City University of New York in American modernism, and an M. Phil in early Indian Buddhist art from Columbia University, where he studied Sanskrit and taught Indian and Islamic art.

He has served on the board of directors of the International Association of Art Critics. He is under contract with Alfred A. Knopf for a book on New York City modernism. He is also working on a study of contemporary Indian art, and on a poetry manuscript.

Memo to the NYT: Enough with all the ‘Joy of Poverty’ Stories

June 10, 2009 · Print This Article

Fuck You

Fuck You

Hey New York Times, I still love ya, but please, just shut up with all those pseudo-uplifting “joy of poverty” stories that you’ve been shoving down our throats lately. Here’s a small sampling of what I’m talking about:

2/12/09: The Boom is Over: Long Live the Art!. This is the one where Holland Cotter told artists,

“…it’s Day Job time again in America, and that’s O.K. Artists have always had them – van Gogh the preacher, Pollock the busboy, Henry Darger the janitor – and will again. The trick is to try to make them an energy source, not a chore.”

That bit has already been roundly ridiculed on various arts blogs, so I won’t flog it any further. More recently, however, the Times published another of its attempts at an emotional pick-me-up, Tight Times Loosen Artists’ Creativity (5/19/09), in which an artist named Liz Fallon from Portland, Me. is cited as an example of how artists are learning to exult in their new-found freedoms, now that they’ve stopped selling work and can support themselves with crappy part-time tele-marketing jobs:

“As for myself, freed from the constraints of creating for a specific buyer,” Ms. Fallon wrote [in an email], “I’ve experienced my own surge in creativity and have been producing a great deal more than I used to. While it would be nice to still be getting paid for my work, the need to be more resourceful is having a beneficial effect on the arts community around me.”

In a follow-up interview Ms. Fallon said she supports herself working as a customer-service representative for a direct-marketing firm, and that the lack of commissions has enabled her to pursue new projects, like illustrations of classic children’s literature.

“Nobody wants me to do anything, so I’m just doing what I want,” she said.

Can’t offer a better retort than that already given by Susie Bright, who responded thusly during a related Facebook exchange (reproduced on the blog New Curator):


And again, on 6/9/09: Special Report: Contemporary Art: Getting Creative in a Downturn. Even the French are “getting creative” and (I love this) “rediscovering” drawing BECAUSE IT’S SO CHEAP.

“….In France, the slump has been marked by a return to traditional drawing, exhibited in a profusion of small-scale shows, often curated by art students….. Serghei Litvin Manoliu…said, “The golden boy approach to art is over.” His show, the 21st Century International Drawing Fair, was a crisis-friendly, minimalist affair, offered unframed works for around $300, displayed on tables in a bare, loft-like space in the hip Marais district of Paris.

Unlike art produced mainly as a commodity for financial speculation, Mr. Manoliu said, “drawing requires excellent skills.”

“The art world had lost every criterion of quality,” he said. “I believe this crisis is a fabulous opportunity for the arts.”

And then there are all the slide shows and video portraits of mostly fresh-faced, mostly recent art grads smiling brightly in the face of their own economic peril (unsurprisingly, all of the artists profiled are white).
The latest, and thus far most obnoxious example of what I’m talking about: The Joy of Less, from travel writer Pico Iyer, writing as part of the Times’ new “Happy Days” blog (billed “the pursuit of what matters in troubled times”). This one takes the cake. Iyer begins his article with a little epigraph that features the uplifting words of a Dutch woman interned in a concentration camp (she was murdered at Auschwitz two months later). Oh yes he does! Then he goes on to describe his own impoverished–but still joyful!–circumstances, now that he lives in a two-room flat in “nowhere Japan,” (nowhere fashionable, we presume).
I have time to read the new John le Carre, while nibbling at sweet tangerines in the sun. When a Sigur Ros album comes out, it fills my days and nights, resplendent. And then it seems that happiness, like peace or passion, comes most freely when it isn’t pursued.
The Sigur Ros reference is the best part. It’s important to be chic, even (especially!) in the midst of “troubled times.”
But seriously, of course I feel bad for Iyer, who lost his home in a fire several years ago, and much of his savings more recently, along with so many others. And I’m certainly not against the whole ‘live simply and prosper’ ethos. I just don’t want it delivered by the New York Times, purveyor of obscene “Special Design Issues” that tell me I “must have” $525 folding chairs and bare light bulbs that cost $99 bucks apiece.
Not everyone is merely a tourist in the land of lost opportunities. The Times has always been oblivious to material conditions outside of its own select, imaginary readership. And, (as Cotter would say), that’s O.K. I expect that from The Times – it’s why I and so many other people love it. I don’t mind if they pimp me chairs that no way in hell I could afford. Just don’t try to sell me on the idea that I should be happy about that.

Artists Run Chicago: In Some Ways, Better than ‘Jesus.’

May 18, 2009 · Print This Article

Artists Run Chicago, installation shot with Old Gold's Post, 2009 on right

Artists Run Chicago, installation shot with Old Gold’s Post, 2009 on right

From Holland Cotter’s New York Times review of the New Museum’s The Generational: Younger Than Jesus:

“But my point is that beyond quibbles about choices of individual works, [Younger than Jesus] raises the question of whether any mainstream museum show designed to be a running update exclusively on the work of young artists can rise above being a pre-approved market survey. Removed from a larger generational context, can such a survey ever become a story, part of a larger history? (The same question applies to museum exhibitions that leave young artists out of the picture.) I’m asking. It’s a complicated subject. I don’t know the answer.”

I have one possible answer to Cotter’s question: look to exhibitions like Artists Run Chicago, which opened a little over a week ago at Hyde Park Art Center. Artists Run Chicago situates its 100+ works of art within a larger history, one that is as messy and complicated and compelling as any of the many terrific individual works that are on display.

Although the Hyde Park Art Center is definitely not a “mainstream museum,” nor is Artists Run Chicago a generational exhibition, the show does survey a generation of sorts: ten years in the life of Chicago’s alternative art scene as manifested in the countless exhibitions that have taken place in apartments, houses, and cheap storefronts and loft spaces across the city.

The minimum criteria for selection in “Younger than Jesus” was that an artist be under the age of 33. Britton Bertran and Allison Peters Quinn, the curators of Artists Run Chicago, looked not at the age or even the production history of individual artists but focused instead on the (recent) history of a particular kind of exhibition-making that Chicago artists arguably do better than anyone, anywhere, else.

Following a few self-imposed guidelines–in order to be invited to participate in the exhibition, for example, a space had to have been run by artists, to exist in the Chicagoland area, and it needed an exhibition track record of at least eight months between 1999 and 2009–Bertran and Quinn put together an exhibition that reflects the conditions of production within Chicago’s alternative art scene. That scene is itself an ad hoc, energetic, ever-shifting space of possibility and, let’s face it, struggle. It isn’t easy to run a space, even (and maybe especially) if it’s out of your own home and totally on your dime.

After viewing Artists Run Chicago, it’s hard not to start questioning some of the founding principles upon which sprawling group shows of emerging artists like Younger than Jesus are founded, starting with their tendency to frame artistic practice exclusively in terms of individualistic endeavor.

In this and other ways, Artists Run Chicago undermines simplistic notions of what constitutes a ‘generation.’ Is being part of a generation defined only by the year of your birth, or could it be alternatively circumscribed by who you hung out with and when, who your influences were? How long does a generation last? A decade? Or is as little as eight months enough–whatever time span is required for a group of people to make something that in turn spawns other things: namely, art. Sometimes the lifespan of a space is necessarily short, other times it lives long enough to become something of an elder statesman. Often, a space dies but germinates elsewhere in slightly different form.

Right now, Artists Run Chicago is blissfully short on documentation, which allows for treasure hunt-like wandering about the exhibition and sense of fresh discovery among viewers. For many people, a trip through the show is likely to provoke fond memories and personal anecdotes; for me, it was all new, and yet not once did I feel like an outsider, like someone peering through a window onto a scene that was purposefully cryptic or hipper-than-thou.

A show like this does need some explication, of course; I’m told an exhibition catalogue produced by Threewalls and Green Lantern Press is due in September will be published by Proximity magazine as a broadsheet with a map and timeline. It will include an essay by Dan Gunn along with interviews of the show’s participants. I’m looking forward to connecting what I’ve already seen ‘on the ground’ to everyone else’s stories, and to that larger history.

Ben Wolf (at Normal Projects), Commandering, 2009, found wood and mixed media

Ben Wolf (at Normal Projects), Commandering, 2009, found wood and mixed media

Nathan Mason's Margin Gallery, works from "Butter" exhibition, Jan/Feb. 1999

Nathan Mason’s Margin Gallery, works from “Butter” exhibition, Jan/Feb. 1999

Foreground: Mindy Rose Schwartz at Joymore, Ghost, 2002, resin; background: Nick Black at Joymore, Untitled, 2000 (melted toys)

Foreground: Mindy Rose Schwartz at Joymore, Ghost, 2002, resin; background: Nick Black at Joymore, Untitled, 2000 (melted toys)

Swimming Pool Project Space, "If I record this now, I won't forget you in the future".

Swimming Pool Project Space, “If I record this now, I won’t forget you in the future”.

Sebastian Alvarez at Antena, What if the Earth, 2009, single-channel video

Sebastian Alvarez at Antena, What if the Earth, 2009, single-channel video

Artists Run Chicago at Hyde Park Art Center

Artists Run Chicago at Hyde Park Art Center

VONZWECK, "Curtain which separated VONZWECK from the rest of my apartment, designed by me, fabricated by Brian Taylor

VONZWECK, “Curtain which separated VONZWECK from the rest of my apartment, designed by me, fabricated by Brian Taylor”

Julius Caesar, Audio Tour, 5 disc players and encumbrances.

Julius Caesar, Audio Tour for Artists Run Chicago, 5 disc players and encumbrances.

Old Gold, Post, 2009 (detail), wood, stain, pencil and permanent marker

Old Gold, Post, 2009 (detail), wood, stain, pencil and permanent marker

Holland Cotter Wins Pulitzer Prize

April 20, 2009 · Print This Article

The NYT’s Holland Cotter beats out Inga Saffron of The Philadelphia Inquirer and Sebastian Smee of The Boston Globe for the Pulitzah Prize (and its $10,000 award) for “distinguished criticism, in print or online, or both.” Only 10 grand?? I always imagined an award like that would score you more.

Read more about it directly from The Pulizer Prize website and also at the New York Times.

Updated: whoops, rushing to get this post out pronto and misspelled Cotter’s last name! My bad!

Update #2: My snark about paltry prize money aside, this is a big deal for Cotter and for newspaper art critics in general. As the L.A. Times’ art critic Christopher Knight points out, Cotter is the first art critic to win a Pulitzer in 35 years, “since the late Emily Genauer of Newsday won in 1974.” So bravo to Cotter. Newspaper art criticism may well be in its death throes, but at least not before one of the best of them has received this kind of recognition.