Seattle's new Olympic Sculpture Park at dusk
It's been an interesting week up in Seattle with critic Matthew
coming under a full scale ethics probe on the Stranger's Blog (the
SLOG) for requesting artwork from artists he reviewed. I find this practice
very distasteful. I even dislike the constant use of art auctions and other
situations where artists give up work for fundraisers. It's predatory and Im
not just speaking for myself here, a lot of dealers and artists in Portland
have absolutely had it. Good cause or not it's promoting a culture of pressuring and leaching
off of artists (in a developing art economy like Portland it undermines markets unfairly).
Stranger's Jen Graves has the full story on Kangas and names names
the paper's lead story this week and it's a fascinating read, some thought it
was wrong to blog first but I think it flushed the story out. The initial
is interesting too but it is tedious to sort the usesless stuff
from the useful stuff (I read it all anyways ). As a historian it's a great
time capsule chronicling real concerns, comment trolls and rank paranoia.
Let's give this event some civic context. Many Seattle artists have contacted
me during the week wondering what this all says about Seattle as an art city?
Most seem to feel a kind of loathing about it but I think its a good thing.
Why? The city is re investing in the visual arts with huge projects.
Most importantly, SAM is about to open a huge new wing by Portland based starchitect
and the scene up there has been recovering a great deal recently
from the dot com days when artists were displaced by massive scale yuppification
(San Fran had the same problem and many artists fled to Portland).
Seattle also lost Linda
Farris (a huge blow)
but now there are more galleries in Pioneer Square
with great shows at the Frye and Henry
as well as the Western
and Wright Space. The new Olympic Sculpture Park is impressive if
a tad fussy or uninspired at the moment. The Richard Serras in a recessed space
make them look like pots for plants but Roxy Paine's tree looks great at night
and Tony Smith rocks the place with his black metal sculpture.
New art dealers like Lawrimore
might be an answer to the loss of Linda Farris but Scott's got some
big shoes to fill there. It's true they still wonder if they have a scene
(I consider Seattle the most sarcastic city in America and I love em for it).
I see the Kangas story in the context of that major art infrastructure re-jiggering.
What it says to me is that the city is re-evaluating itself and questioning
business as usual. This happened
in Portland in 2003-2005 when we got a new wing too
(still Portland is very
different from Seattle because it is artist driven down here). The big complaint
is that nothing changes in Seattle for the artists and that it's a series of
static fiefdoms (whereas Portland is more like the wild west before barbed wire,
with some definable ranchers, rustlers and sheriffs). To these eyes this Kangas
incident is one obvious change that directly benefits artists up there. Serious
scenes are somewhat self-policing (especially in smaller big cities like Seattle
and Portland) and I think Seattle's starting to take itself a little more seriously
while checking the cultural plumbing.
I wont get into a full blown discussion of ethics (it deserves its own post)
but there are different types of critics... PORT critics are a more involved,
insider types "of" the scene and our reviews carry the weight of being
informed specialists generated by the scene (like the Partisan
or Minotaur). All critics have to consider ethical concerns and we
do a great deal of it here at PORT.
For example, the Ellen George show last year didn't receive a review because
I was writing an essay for the catalog. Katherine also had to opt out because
she was involved in the publication as well. We were the only two critics available.
The rule is, if critical distance cannot be developed (often through academic
rigor) a PORT writer will take a pass, even if they may be the best qualified
writer in town to discuss the work (hence a catalog essay). The secret is to
be transparent and up front which is PORT's ethical standard.
Kangas, who is a throwback to another time, didn't do that. He failed to note
that he owned work in an exhibition he curated. I consider that a serious no
no too. Critics and curators are cultural gatekeepers or connoisseur and its
different than being a journalist which reports. A critic lives a life of detailed
comparative analysis not just
. Besides, reporting has a serious crisis of confidence amongst
the public these days... especially in the arts.
Yes, I think it's ok for some types of critics and curators to collect work
but newspaper critics can't (unless they have very very strict rules). They stand outside (sometimes in ignorance like
monks in a monastery describing sex, sometimes with useful detachment), whereas
PORT stands inside and it's why our reviews are often so involved by comparison
(which can appear like court life, provide a window an accessible window).
Still, PORT writers do a lot of ethical minefield tap dancing and rigorous
rhetorical reflection. For a more general publication this doesn't work as it
spills over into the perception of other coverage which have grave consequences
vs. the less grave consequences of Art (which gets its power from being somewhat
detached for practical issues as a means to explore). PORT only covers visual
art, our commitment is only to visual art coverage which requires details a
more generalist publication couldn't
hope to tackle
. It is interesting how the way a publisher relates to the
readership defines a publication. I trust PORT's readers to question us, rather
than transmitting information from a position of assumed but sometimes untested