A panel set in one of New York’s most important modern and contemporary art fairs, “Critical Fashions in Art Criticism” participated in the Open Forum at this year’s Armory Show. The pert conversation among Nordic and New York based art writers Erlend Hammer, Pernille Albrethsen, Claire Barliant, Blake Gopnik and Eva Diaz never reached its intended premise—the presumed focus of critical attention on contextual, thematic curatorial presentation. This thought was hardly introduced by the moderator, but the resulting dialogue covered preferred approaches to critical writing, such as fashioning pieces like primary or secondary sources, the role of the critic in translating arts experiences into communicable forms, and the significance of relativism in critical work.
The assertive Blake Gopnik, New York-based writer for Newsweek magazine, responded immediately to the initial question on context-driven discourse by outlining his chosen treatment of writing as mirroring a primary source, striving to make it authentically descriptive and interpretive rather than digested, regurgitated and prone to clichés as he deems secondary sources. While primary and secondary are illusory terms since the former applies wholly to the art itself, the notion of a spectrum containing the gray area between unmediated and mulled over responses opened a dialogue on the difficult task the art critic holds of interpreting visceral experiences into text and discourse.
Addressing this burden of translation included mentioning the critic’s ability to engage numerous audiences: the general public, academics, and art world experts. Panelists disagreed on the success of such endeavors; Brooklyn-based editor and writer Claire Barliant noted that readership for art writing has not reflected the boom attributed to museum attendance and patronage. Is this because the vast majority of criticism aims at art world insiders and is ostensibly seen as dull?
Despite disagreement on the success of engaging all audiences, there was consensus on the value added by authors of discourse around created forms. The arguments they present allow others to appreciate art. Eva Diaz, writer and Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute, highlighted that what makes prose critical is claim staking, providing an argument for how the work is perceived. Relativism remains central since good and bad art does exist. Good work taps into universal truths and contributes to our understanding of our world and ourselves. Although reached haphazardly without exercising its full potential, the discussion concluded with the idea that the job of the critic is to pinpoint this good work.