Make American Art Great Again

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The audience gathered in the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery of the Art Students League, a midtown Manhattan art school founded in 1875, was mostly middle-aged folks and senior citizens, with a scattering of younger people who were probably students. They arrived to see and hear James Little, an abstract painter and professor, give a lunchtime talk. I was unaware of him prior to the event—I did not know if he was a critic, an artist, or some other art professional before showing up. Born in Tennessee in 1952, Little earned his BFA from the Memphis Academy of Art in 1974 and two years later received an MFA from Syracuse University. June Kelly Gallery has shown his work since the late 1980s.

Hand Washers

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“I was wondering whether anyone has anything good to say about age as an organizing principle?” someone asked during the audience Q&A for “Curators: The Younger Than Jesus Effect,” a discussion hosted by the School of Visual Arts. Jenny Jaskey, director and curator of Hunter College’s Artist’s Institute, recoiled, “No one thinks it is.” When the next audience member rephrased the query—Is there an artist under 30 that you do like?—the five curators on the panel, all based in New York, were smiling but clearly looked uncomfortable. Alaina Claire Feldman, director of exhibitions at Independent Curators International, said flat out, “I think that’s exactly what we’re here not to talk about…. I kind of refuse that question.” Then why, I scratched my head for the hundredth time, are we even here?

Flowers and a Nasty Note

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Halfway through this conversation, the New York Times art critic Roberta Smith was asked, “How do you choose what to write about?” She responded by stating that it’s the art she really likes or dislikes, no matter if the artist is super popular or under recognized. “I’m interested in the unit of a show,” she noted, yet “we’re in this post-post-post period.” Although Smith gravitates toward “rematerialized objects,” a play on Lucy R. Lippard’s famous notion, “any kind of work can be made now.” This was all good news for the crowd of fifty-plus that gathered in a crit room at the New York Academy of Art, a small graduate school known for figurative and representational work.

How the Ruling Class Stole the Idea of Contemporary Art—and How to Get It Back

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At the end of the first chapter of 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, the New York–based art critic and editor Ben Davis writes that a “theory of class might provide the missing center of the debate about art.” Indeed, the use, value, and status of art—especially in relation to politics and economics—have been the subject of a constantly flailing conversation since the Occupy moment, since the Great Recession, since the Bush years, since the rise of the biennial, since the Culture Wars, since Reagan, since Conceptual art, since Duchamp—okay, you get the point. It’s exactly this kind of exasperating, roundabout conversation that Davis wants to displace, and his new book does exactly that with resounding success.

It Chooses You

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Josephine Halvorson’s manner of speaking—straightforward and lucid with modest confidence—corresponds directly to her intimate oil paintings depicting close-cropped scenes of outmoded factory machinery, walls and doors of seemingly abandoned buildings, and interior views of simple homes, such as a few books resting on a wooden shelf or an empty fireplace.

Let’s Stall the Conversation

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“Is it possible to define a cogent code of ethics in art writing?” asked the promotional statement for this panel, presented by the MFA Art Criticism and Writing Department at the School of Visual Arts. The answered offered by the giddy, often flustered moderator, Aimee Walleston, a graduate of the program, was something like “I think, um, I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing to think about!”

Before and after Institutional Critique

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I caught Rhea Anastas’s paper, “Untitled by Andrea Fraser: A Short Reception History 2002–5,” in a 2006 CAA Annual Conference session chaired by Andrew Perchuk and Matthew Jesse Jackson called “Before and after Institutional Critique.” Rather than summarize Anastas’s enlightening talk or describing Fraser’s video from 2003—if you know it, you know it—I want to offer two thoughts, on both the audience for the work and the artist herself, that popped into my head while listening to Anastas speak.

 

IN TERMS OF

Reviews of lectures, panels, interviews, conferences, and other live speaking engagements in the visual arts.

 
Funding for In Term Of has been provided by the Arts Writers Grant Program.