Some remarks by New York Times critic Holland Cotter have been going the rounds lately. He says
“Outside auctions, the marketing mechanics buzz on. Roughly since the end of the multicultural, postmodern 1990s, we’ve watched new art being re-Modernized and domesticated, with painting the medium of choice, abstraction the mode of preference. Together they offer significant advantages. Paintings can be assembly-line produced but still carry the aura of being hand-touched. They can be tailored to small spaces, such as fair booths. Abstraction, especially if color is involved, can establish instant eye contact from afar. If, in addition, the work’s graphic impact translates well online, where stock can be moved eBay style, so much the better.”
Catching eye contact from afar, and looking good on a screen – sure, but this is the kind of reception typical of conceptual art. If that’s the way to look at art then it doesn’t matter what an abstract artist does anyway. But Cotter goes on:
“In this economy, it can appear that the critic’s job is to broadcast names and contribute to fame…Conservative art can encourage conservative criticism. We’re seeing a revival — some would say a disinterment — of a describe-the-strokes style of writing popular in the formalist 1950s and again in the 1970s: basically, glorified advertising copy. Evaluative approaches that developed in the 1980s and 1990s, based on the assumption that art inevitably comments on the social and political realities that produce it, tend to be met with disparagement now, in part because they’re often couched in academic jargon, which has become yet another form of sales-speak.”
Interesting. If art “inevitably” comments on society then there is not much to say. But what about the politics of modernism? Can’t art be political without being tendentious? Sounds like Cotter is spinning through the same old debates, at a newly increased speed. But then one can’t expect a critic to find a way out of the loop, that’s up to artists. I guess my recent post on early Rothko might be an example of what he calls “describe the stroke style” writing. Or maybe it’s just ad copy, for a product that’s actually not on the market. Well, check out my analysis of Ai Weiwei, Mr. Cotter, and see how criticism should be done. As an artist I’ll take responsibility for the future of art, but it’s a hard go when I have to set an example for criticism too. Yet so far, nothing to really get worked up about. Holland Cotter’s intentions are good. But a remark about museums set me back a bit:
“Their job as public institutions is to change our habits of thinking and seeing.”
Really? Sounds pretty conformist to me.