The independent judgement we require of artists may be unrealistic as it requires a certain detachment from the social body. This arms-length paradigm can fail when artists, critics, and curators all study at and graduate from similar institutions. In fact, attendance at such institutions may require a mindset of social conformity which subtly undermines independent judgement. Of interest in the article below is the previously unspoken recognition, by critics and curators, of a diminishing interest in contemporary art by the general public through the 1980-1990's.
May 29-June 4, 1996. NYPress.13
THE INSPEAK OF THE OVERLORDS
by Stuart Servetar
There was a lively discussion over at the America Craft Museum the other evening, May 15. The Museum, along with a group called Art Table, sponsored the event; Invisible Ink: Art Criticism and the Vanishing Public. The topic was the responsibility the language of art criticism bears for the diminishing interest in contemporary art.
The panel consisted of Lynne Cooke, critic and curator from the Dia Center for the Arts, Donald Kuspit, critic and professor of art history and philosophy at SUNY Stony Brook, Peter Plagens, an artist who's also Newsweek's art critic and Robert Storr, artist, critic, author and curator in the Dept. Of Painting and Sculpture at MOMA.
Each of the panelists had seven minutes for opening remarks. Kuspit, the quintessential Art Critic, was given the first go. Kuspit's published a number of books of essays; his writing appears regularly in places like ArtForum and October. He stands for the kind of opaque, scholarly art writing that was obliquely the target of the discussion. And, as it turns out, he speaks a bit like he writes, with a tendency to go off on esoteric riffs which, if you take the time to parse them, contain bits of inspired thought that ultimately refuse to add up.
Kuspit went whole hog after "journalistic criticism" which he distinguished from the "true criticism" that necessarily derives from the academic.
Plagens, sitting on the other end of the dais, spoke in direct contradiction to Kuspit. Plagens held that the message most art critics have been sending the public for the last few decades is: "Things are a whole lot more complicated than you think. All your boundaries are wrong. Everything you know is wrong."
Kuspit apparently took this personally. When everyone had finished his or her opening remarks and the floor was opened for discussion, the first thing he did was take a shot at Plagens. Turning directly to Plagens, Kuspit averred: "You may think you're writing for the common reader, but perhaps you are merely a common writer."
Regrettably, Plagens was stung by this: his voice was impaired for the rest of the evening. (He was so wobbly he even volunteered to answer a lame, why-don't-you-date-my-daughter question from the Crafts Museum people, namely, "Why don't you review us?")
Thus with Plagens out of the game, it was left to Storr
or Cooke to come to the rescue. Cooke wasn't up to it, but Storr rose admirably
to the challenge.
Kuspit refused to give an inch. He countered with pocket critiques of Shapiro and Benjamin's theoretical approaches as if Storr had been suggesting Kuspit engage their theories rather than their level of rhetorical skill. He said -really - that he firmly believes there are such things as "metaphysical" and "unmetaphysical" people and, beyond this, that it is he who keeps the barbarians from the gates.
In the end, Kuspit wouldn't hear it from Plagens or Storr and. Probably he won't hear it from the countless harried editors who have tried to clean up his copy. But maybe, given that Kuspit can also count among his degrees a recent one in psychoanalysis, he'll listen to his own subconscious. How else to explain his ending the discussion with this anecdote?
On a recent trip to Amsterdam, Kuspit visited the Gilbert and George exhibit of Shit Paintings at the State Museum. He asked the curator what the reaction to the show had been. "Shitty," answered the curator, "People are bored of shit."
AESTHETICS ON TRIAL
BODY ART AT EXIT ART
THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES
CYCLES OF CHANGE IN ART MOVEMENTS
THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY
THIS WORK IS A POLITICAL ACT
SEX, RELIGION, IMAGE
ITS MY FAULT