“Crisis” in Criticism: Report #1

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The New School auditorium is an antiseptic affair after the historic Great Hall at Cooper Union and the raunchy amphitheater at the School of Visual Arts, but its acoustics are much kinder to amateur speakers. If that suggests I’m reviewing these programs as entertainment, I am. Douglas Davis remarked that the panel is itself now “a generic form.” It’s also a form of entertainment with aspects of performance, social arena, soap box, forum, and lately, gathering of lost lambs. This time, though, Barbara Rose came down like the wolf on the fold: “If you publish in an art magazine … you are writing ad copy,” she said, “and if you don’t know that, you’re stupid.”

The Fever Peaks

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In April 1987, New York magazine ran a story on “Art Fever,” picturing socialite art collectors on the cover and evoking the hum of art rapidly transmuting into gold in the text. By 1989 the business press was routinely showing graphs that proved the superiority of art over stocks as long-term investments, and art-talk events across the land took on the flavor of “Cashing In”—a panel held, please note, at a business college.

Welcome to Post-Modernism

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I went to this really weird panel last night called “Post-Modernism in Art and Literature,” only it was mostly John Simon, Michael Graves, and Hilton Kramer in the same room, so the place was packed. To start off, they had a beautiful lady with long blond hair and a really great black dress who talked about something you couldn’t understand because we were still trying to find a seat in the crowded room. She must have been a doctor, though, because when she finished the moderator said, thank you Doctor Soandso.

Solo Searching

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Moderator Ronald Jones began the discussion promising that “the ’80s changed theory and the function of criticism in major ways,” but the panelists did not address the history of ’80s art criticism. Instead, each discussed his or her own criticism as a personal quest. All seemed to see their occupation as a solitary one; they did not allude to the community of artist, critic, and reader/viewer, nor discuss their position in an art world structure in which they saw all others embroiled.

Unlimited Editions

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Moderator Pat Steir is an artist and member of Printed Matter, which publishes and distributes artists’ books. The panelists are all artists who make books. They reviewed what is being done in the field and its potential value and relevance. Steir began by commenting that the genre has become increasingly attractive to artists as a vehicle, allowing them through both form and context to cover areas that traditional painting and sculpture do not.

And Then We’ll Dissolve the State

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The panelists did not all profess to be Marxists, but each addressed the question of being an artist, art worker, or cultural within a class system. The function of art and its translation from a visual object to a Marxist statement were treated from various political and art-world points of view. As with most forums of this kind, alternatives were debated, but no course of action was ratified.