On 26 May 2011 I took part in a panel discussion as part of the Art Criticism Now event at The LAB in Dublin. The following is based on the notes I took during the event, specifically during the keynote address by writer David Berridge of the London-based blog Very SmallKitchen and the public interview conducted by Irish critic and curator Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith with Irish performance artist Amanda Coogan. There is no analysis or editing here, just an account of what I recorded in my notebook during the event. For anyone who couldn’t make it along or couldn’t get a seat (it was sold out!), this might give you an idea of some of the topics discussed.
David Berridge has written a good account of proceedings for his own blog, which is worth reading. He also posted this about his preparations for the talk. It was a wide-ranging and very interesting speech. Here’s a list:
- Text as creative object
- James Elkins’ idea of art criticism as terminally ill yet flourishing
- The idea that the fact of a review existing is more important than what is actually said, and therefore the connected idea that an absence of a review is the most negative critical response.
- Art history versus art criticism
- Art practice moving towards language: text art, etc
- Poets who are also art critics, the act of translating a work of art into a poem or the act of translating a work of art into notes in a gallery and from those notes into a finished piece of writing. Short fiction as art criticism.
- David mentioned and recommended various books and writers the names of which I am not confident I will get absolutely right from my notes. You should find most of them on his website here.
- Insecurities of writing, lack of response to it, lack of outlets/distribution.
- Art as riddle, essay as puzzle, obscurity of one nods to obscurity of the other.
- Failure, irresolution, boredom, doubt.
- When is it no longer art criticism?
- Criticism as performance.
- It’s good to have public critical debate. What does a critic do? How does he do it?
- “an appropriate response” What is that? How do we define it?
- The importance of editing.
Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith interviews Irish performance artist Amanda Coogan. Some notes:
- Amanda Coogan spoke about the importance of documenting performance art, visually and through words.
- Art writing as documentation – but that’s not art criticism.
- Amanda said she was grateful for all reviews, but real critical writing has to engage with the history of the piece, where it comes from, etc.
- Art writing’s role in contributing to and refining the history of a certain genre of art. How art criticism adds to longevity, context.
- The “you had to be there” of performance and installation.
- Writing as a kind of anthropological response to performance
- Reviews v curatorial invited texts. Amanda: The difference is that the response is not expected to be critical in the second case.
- Hierarchy of responses. Reviews v more substantive essays, which are potentially more illuminating.
- “Newspaper and magazine reviews are really important for business,” said Amanda. Caoimhín asked if this is why negative reviews are bad. Amanda said, “it doesn’t really matter if they’re positive or negative. It means your work was significantly important enough to talk about.” “It’s much more about advertisement.”
- Caoimhín mentioned James Elkins and the 2001 October round table discussion about the crisis in Art Criticism “is it possible to write intelligently about art we don’t support?”
- What constitutes valid art criticism? Is academic writing art criticism? What is “art journalism”?
Apologies that I did not record more of Amanda’s responses – those are just some of the topics that came up.
I took part in a panel discussion hosted by writer and artist Fiona Fullam, with Niamh Dunphy, editor of Paper Visual Art; James Merrigan artist and art writer; Jason Oakley, VAI Publications Manager. I didn’t take any notes as I was too busy talking…