November 22, 2011 · Print This Article
Ah yes, it’s that time again! Time for another panel discussion on art criticism in Chicago. Luckily for y’all, this one is filled with great folks who really know their stuff. AND: it’s been organized in celebration of The Essential New Art Examiner, a compendium edited by our friends Kathryn Born and Terri Griffith of the best writings from the venerable Chicago-based art journal. Born and Griffith will appear on tonight’s panel, along with BAS’ fabulous pal and dapper man-about-town Abraham Ritchie (Chicago editor of ArtSlant), Lori Waxman (Tribune), Jason Foumberg (New City), Steve Ruiz (The Visualist) and Ann Wiens, former New Art Examiner editor, all of whom represent different yet equally vibrant aspects of the Chicago critical scene. The whole shebang is moderated by critic and SAIC faculty member James Yood. So there you have it! Go go go! The panel takes place tonight, Tuesday, November 22nd at 6-8 pm in the Second Floor Ballroom of the MacLean Center (112 S. Michigan Avenue). The full, official-like press release info follows below.
The panel discussion “Art Criticism in Chicago: Past, Present, Future” will occur 6-8 pm on Tuesday, November 22 in the Second Floor Ballroom of the MacLean Center (112 S. Michigan Avenue). Organized in memory of distinguished art critics Kathryn Hixson and Polly Ullrich (both SAIC faculty and alumna), this wide-ranging investigation into the challenges and triumphs in art writing in Chicago also honors the recent publication of The Essential New Art Examiner, a compendium of essays originally printed in the most significant Chicago-based art publication of its era (1973-2002). The panel will move forward from that to assess the current state of art criticism in Chicago, both print- and web-based, and analyze the rapidly changing milieu for arts conversation in Chicago.
The panelists are Kathryn Born and Terri Griffith, editors of the “The Essential New Art Examiner”, Jason Foumberg of Newcity, Abraham Ritchie from ArtSlant: Chicago, Steve Ruiz from visualist, Lori Waxman from the Chicago Tribune, Ann Wiens, former editor of the NAE, and James Yood, moderator of the panel and former editor of the NAE. (Griffith, Waxman, and Yood are members of the SAIC faculty, and Foumberg, Griffith, Ritchie, Waxman and Wiens are SAIC graduates.) The event is free and open to the public, and is supported with the assistance of Lisa Wainwright, Dean of Faculty, Paul Coffey, SAIC Vice Provost, and Candida Alvarez, Dean of Graduate Studies.
I came across an article by Martin Patrick, Restlessness and Reception: Transforming Art Criticism in the Age of the Blogosphere, that discusses at length the role of art criticism today and — unlike most pieces I read about the state of the world — ends on a seemingly hopeful note. It thought I could post something about it here because I find I’m often thinking about the web-context and what it means as a medium. I don’t especially feel like I have a handle on how best to exercise its talents, but I like chewing on the idea periodically, no doubt in hope of some Eureka! moment. “The web becomes a tool for ‘housing’ certain materials, indeed a virtual archive, or in Andre Malraux’s famous phrase a ‘museum without walls’ but then it is more important to ask how can newer arrangements, actions, conversations be created on the basis of these contextual settings” (Patrick).
I’ve seen a dramatic shift in Chicago’s critical dialogue. When I first moved here about seven years ago all anyone could talk about was the death of the New Art Examiner. Its demise added salt to the already throbbing (and ever hysterical) wound of Chicago’s second city syndrome. The Midwestern art market was not even capable of supporting a magazine that represented its interests and the rest of the country was disinterested in the activities of its midriff. While I’m likely misremembering the past (again, I’d just come to Chicago and did not yet understand its nuances), it seemed like that pang of insecurity propelled a number of other projects forward, as they insisted on creating modes of dissemination and representation. When I came here NAE had been out of commission for two years and its lament was continuous for the following four. Now, there’s an amazing vitality located largely on-line with artslant, art21, BadatSports (though I suppose B@S would resist the art criticism label standing somewhere between Vice and Cabinate) and many others. The mechanics of this phenomena are reflected in Patrick’s piece, as he points to the once-professional potential of The Critic (even in so far as it possesses archetypal potential); now much of the critical dialogue is activated and sustained by amateurs. Even those who are paid rarely expect a living wage and at best peddle together a variety of wages. “The blog—apart from the vast amount underwritten directly by corporate sponsorship—is most often an amateur/volunteer’s virtual space involving a greater probability of being generated and launched quickly, randomly, even haphazardly, and with more chance of rapidly ensuing back-and-forth discussions, responses, dialogue than a traditionally formatted journal, magazine or newspaper can generally allow.” That’s not to say the article is all positive.
This model of free labor is quite attractive to corporations. Additionally there some very real suggestions that the bite has been taken out of critical remarks (for instance, Mad Men’s ironic appropriation of the past that nevertheless collapses into a complicit reprise of old hierarchies, or how response to the Yes Mens’ NYTimes prank neutered the fake newspaper’s very serious critique message.) These aspects are also endemic to an Internet age, where we can constantly rewrite history. Then of course there’s the Internet’s shady origin story: “The origins of the Internet itself derive from the American attempt to establish a communications system in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack under the aegis of the the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) a wing of the Department of Defense, or ARPAnet[work]” (Patrick). Additionally the web facilitates a kind of sloppiness. (At this time I would like to retroactively apologize for my typos. If you want to be my editor without pay, give me a holler). But beyond slights of hand, on-line appropriation is fast, constant and cheap — it’s so easy, for instance, that images, text and ideas are borrowed, spliced, reiterated, misrepresented and so on and so forth. While on the one hand the frontier-like openness of this space, a space not yet settled and defined, is exciting; it lacks a codified rigor. It is still experimental and malleable and capable of much more. The question then remains: How to exhaust its potential as a response vehicle for cultural production? How do we embrace its shortcomings with its strengths? And does it truly challenge canonical ideas of art historicism?
“The internet offers a seemingly open public space that is simultaneously private, solipsistic, restricted. Within this reconfigured environment the digital archive acts as a kind of indirect critical mechanism and virtual repertory house for essential material to be potentially drawn upon by interested parties. That is to say, the accessibility lent to previously arcane and unusual avant-gardist phenomena goes a long way towards setting a tone for the integration of the wildly eccentric and experimental practices that are too long overlooked rather than solely the widely accepted canonical material which is in turn overexposed and despite its merits altogether lifeless. Thus the existence of new sites such as Kenneth Goldsmiths’ www.ubu.com facilitates the permissive and promiscuous notion of having experimental strands of poetry, prose, music, film and visual culture inhabit a treasure hunt/database ready to scavenged and relived via the use of mp3 files, YouTube-style streaming video, text files and so on means that Hollis Frampton, Marcel Broodthaers, Luigi Russolo and many more are incrementally closer to becoming household names” (Patrick).
This week, guest host James Yood and Duncan interview Derek Guthrie, co-founder of the New Art Examiner for an illuminating history lesson.
New Art Examiner was a Chicago-based art magazine. Founded in October 1973 by Derek Guthrie and Jane Addams Allen, its final issue was dated May-June 2002.
At the time of the New Art Examiner ‘s launch, in October 1973, Chicago was “an art backwater.” Artists who wished to be taken seriously left Chicago for New York City, and apart from a few local phenomena, such as the Hairy Who, little attention was given to Chicago art and artists.
Called in Art in America “a stalwart of the Chicago scene,” the New Art Examiner was conceived to counter this bias and was almost the only art magazine to give any attention to Chicago and midwestern artists (Dialogue magazine, which covered midwestern art exclusively, was founded in Detroit in 1978, but it has also ceased publication). Editor Jane Allen, an art historian who studied under Harold Rosenberg at the University of Chicago, was influential in developing new writers who later became significant on the New York scene and encouraged a writing style that was lively, personal, and honestly critical.
Over the next three decades Chicago’s art scene flourished, with new museums, more art dealers, and increased art festivals, galleries, and alternative spaces. Critics asserted that the New Art Examiner “ignored, opposed or belittled” Chicago’s artistic developments, that it was overly politicized, overloaded with jargon, and did not serve the Chicago or midwest arts communities.
The critics and artists who wrote for the New Art Examiner, included Fred Camper, Jan Estep, Ann Wiens, Adam Green (cartoonist), Robert Storr, Carol Diehl, Jerry Saltz, Eleanor Heartney, Carol Squiers, Janet Koplos and Mark Staff Brandl.