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Thursday, September 25th, 2014

New Kid, Gloves Off

Thoughts on negative criticism, The Review Panel and his new job from our recently appointed Associate Editor.

Ara Merjian, Roberta Smith, David Cohen and Stephen Westfall at The Review Panel, October 2013.  Photo: Jill Krementz
Ara Merjian, Roberta Smith, David Cohen and Stephen Westfall at The Review Panel, October 2013. Photo: Jill Krementz

Last spring, a crowd of art critics gathered in TriBeCa to discuss the state of criticism. I was surprised at how many writers bashfully admit to shying away from bad reviews. Most of these people are much older than me and have been doing this sort of work professionally for a long time, but they have the same reticence that I think a lot of art critics do, despite our collective reputation as hatchet-wielding brutes. And, in fact, negative reviews do seem pretty rare, with many writers apparently preferring to champion the artists they like than censure those with which they feel at odds.

However, at The Review Panel, the kid gloves come off. Friday sees the first night in the tenth annual season of this popular forum, moderated by David Cohen, with Alexander Nagel, Dorothy Spears and Robert Storr. A large part of what makes these events so exciting is that panelists and audience members are encouraged to take a position, argue with one another, and, if they feel that way inclined, pan a show that doesn’t work for them. To be critical, in other words. That’s not to say the discussions lack levity, wit, mutual appreciation, or joy even. It was enormous fun last year to see the artist, critic, and curator Stephen Westfall, at his combative best with Cohen’s other guests, Roberta Smith and Ara Merjian. Or, in March, I was very excited to see artcritical’s then Associate Editor, my predecessor, Nora Griffin with Drew Lowenstein and Barry Schwabsky, none of them shrinking violets. I will find myself on the panel next spring, with Sharon Butler and John Yau.

I’m still very new to artcritical, but beginning to make my mark. Some readers may have seen the new Instagram account (@artcritical.editors) I set up. Writer Eric Sutphin recently posted some really cool stuff he’s seen during Berlin Art Week, and we’ve been posting some of the exhibitions we see around New York, as well as announcements about new and previous features and reviews. Please follow us there, on Twitter, or on Facebook for immediate notification of the latest posts at our site. And I’m encouraging writers to submit negative reviews, to take on assignments beyond their comfort zone, as this is the other face of Janus in the mission of the critic. With those, as with all that we publish, we encourage you to comment — we want to hear your voice and engage with you on the subject of art, a serious matter for us all. Come and tell us why we’re wrong or what we got right, or ask us the tough questions we know you have.

See, for instance, our recent reviews by Saul Ostrow, who wrestles with the career and turbulent psychic undertones of Jeff Koons’s work at his Whitney retrospective; Juliet Helmke’s excellent survey of the arts scene in Australia, now threatened with severe cuts to government funding; Collin Sundt’s beautiful architectural criticism of the form and function of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum; and artist, writer, and critic Peter Scott’s review of “13 Most Wanted Men: Andy Warhol and the 1964 World’s Fair” at the Queens Museum, which looks back at the politics and aesthetics of the Pop artist’s installation at the World’s Fair, 50 years ago. As well, we have a dispatch by David Carrier, writing from Manifesta 10 in St. Petersburg and David Carbone’s take on Stanley Lewis at Betty Cuningham. Plus, poet Adrian Dannatt has contributed a very tender essay on the paintings by Paul Pagk, on display in three concurrent shows in New York and Paris.

We look forward to seeing you this at Friday’s panel, or reading your comments at and our social media pages. Come join in the exchange of ideas. Quips and barbs welcome.

Flyer for September 26 with Season line-up
Flyer for September 26 with Season line-up