The critic Robert Hughes, who died at age 74 earlier this year.
Most artists completely misunderstand criticism and the motivations of critics... especially the ones who try their hand at criticism themselves (usually to flatter friends and potential friends). Usually, the flatterers stop somewhere between 6 months and 2 years because they begin to understand or feel the blowback. Basically, criticism is a benchmark and a vantage point for a certain type of perceived understanding. Academicians (as opposed to intellectuals) like to describe a crisis in criticism... which is a paper tiger fabrication. Criticism is crisis. It thrives on being on the edge of relevance and the inane because it helps sharpen the delineation between the two. A good critic writes negative reviews and even takes issue with aspects of shows they like.
The Huffington Post just did a list of their favorite negative lines from 2012
The HuffPo's list is ok but I much prefer this one:
Roberta Smith on the Met's Cloud City
"It can be interesting to read about Mr. Saraceno's art, especially the incredible effort involved in realizing it, but as you read quotations from his highly knowledgeable, skilled, enthusiastic collaborators, the works also assume a too-big-to-fail aspect. Too many people enjoy working on, bouncing on and navigating these things. They must be good."
How about PORT? Here's a key bit from Amy's critical review of Interior Margins
: "The direction of the reader's attention to the artists' body is a reason to give pause. How exactly do they "enact the female body?" What "swelling forms" exist within this exhibition? Perhaps Judy Cooke's graphic black shapes could be seen as "swelling," but this is a stretch. The language is almost strange, irrelevant sounding. If this was a group of male abstractionists, no such reference to the artists' bodies would have been made at all. It is almost as if the celebration of the rarity of female artists working in an abstract vernacular gives allowance to highlight the physicality of being female. The impetus for these abstractionists does not visibly have to do with being female. This is not an exhibition concerned with gender identity. These artists are dealing with ideas of material and language, existential philosophies, and meanings of process- as so many artists who make abstract work do. The fact that these artists are female is an exciting reason as any to have a show; it is simply that the show's statement seems to deflate the intellectual aspect of this experience somewhat and replace it with the body. It is misleading. The interesting aspect of the female part of it is to see the continuation and variety of the tradition of women making abstract objects and images and to gather them together to see what is happening now. This is the essence of Interior Margins. What is feminine about the show is indefinable, perhaps because femininity itself is indefinable. Yet then again, so is personhood. There is an eloquence to the show, an essence of tactility, and an utter lack of violence. There is a thoughtful measure and a graceful formal consideration that is clear and well designed." In Portland only PORT had the will to critique a somewhat polite show for what it was, interesting but missing key components of the discussion. It is completely constructive by being less than purely celebratory.
Patrick Collier definitely gave Joe Macca something to think about with his review. Here's the last paragraph of the review
, "Even so, others have wondered if Macca, being so unpolitic and self-disclosing in these small pieces, might be cutting off his nose. The man can paint, so why expose this other side? Because everything is inescapably encoded with a self-interest, and recognition of this is counter-intuitively liberating. Likewise, when we see the little manger scene on which Macca has painted his name over the name of the baby Jesus, he speaks to the pretense of humility we hide behind, to what we deny or ignore of our doubts and inadequacies in front of others, including our secret belief we are more deserving, more talented. To not trust and exclude, to fabricate meanings for our fabrications, or, to hide behind theories and rationalizations, these are our sins, and if Macca is unafraid to expose these truths, then, like Jesus, I suppose he is also prepared to die for exposing that part of our nature that is inescapably abject."
Here's a favorite neg-paragraph of mine from 2012: "Though none of this is terribly original, I do think if it wears a crown it means it is a king
is a successful show. Sure, it is full of posturing and false bravura but that's not the point... it is the ability to create an event, which judging from the crowd of land lubbers on a boat it certainly accomplished. Yes, it lacks Keith Tyson's epic levels of random art exegesis or the truly awe inspiring irreverence of the late Jason Rhoades Black Pussy extravaganzas but this was definitely the king of the boat people so far. Perhaps a king at sea is merely a pirate or a passenger... so let's see what comes next from the swaggering Fitzgerald and Robbins? The level of execution and surprise here IS much better than what you find in your typical Lower East Side Gallery show. Give credit where credit is due, this was the best alt space show in Portland for months."
...A king at sea is merely a pirate... makes it all worthwhile for me.