Chicago Art Magazine’s Great Art Review Strike of 2010 has come to an end.
The review strike was always more complicated than people made it out to be. Yes, I was angry because the galleries, who desparately need media exposure, don’t support local publications. And I was frustrated by the insincerity of some gallerist, who, when backed against a wall and asked “Do you really want criticism, or do you want press?” generally conceded that all they really wanted out of reviews was free ink. And as a former publicist, I refused to be a free PR service while we slowly went bankrupt.
During that time I spouted off on Facebook that we were going to blacklist venues. But we never did. We just cut reviews all together. And it became know as the Chicago Art Magazine Review Strike of 2010.
But I repeat, it’s more complicated than that. In the crisis of art criticism, I think a huge generalization is being made – that people’s lack of interest in scholarly criticism and reviews means people simply aren’t interested in reading about art. I have always felt that the style of writing was driving the demise, and I’ve always proposed writing about art (not around art) in a new way (and I’ll get into that below).
Beyond criticism, I’ve felt the mose urgent need was for more information rather than commentary. People are quick to say that I’m not an art critic. That’s not true. Right now my hands are tied, but that doesn’t mean my head isn’t churning away, processing art behind the scenes like a quad-core microchip processor. I also know enough about the audience, and am versed enough with the problems artists face, to make another type of writing/publishing a priority: vast, yet basic information about art. We will never increase the base of local, knowledgeable art viewers without stepping back and providing a rudimentary vocabulary for the art that is being shown locally. They (I believe) need a vast, illustrated survey, from which they can at least pick a starting point. A starting point based, simply, on something that caught their eye.
In a nutshell, you can’t get people intellectualizing about art until they’ve fallen in love with their first artwork. I implore that we let the audience fall in love before we bombard them with a circular discussion about our relationship, yes?
It’s also worth mentioning, since I’m writing so much about myself already, that I didn’t get into publishing because I was a critic or a scholar. I’m just an artist (and writer) who got tossed into this art writing /publishing thing because I couldn’t even get listed when I did an exhibit. The paucity of press and absence of audience was so profound that my first thought was to take a couple years off from trying to make it as an artist in order to built a better Chicago Art World in which to show my own work upon returning to art making. Technically that’s still the plan, as I miss the shit out of making art. (I was sewing my daughter a doll and was hit by a craving – a literal craving – to physically get my hands back into my art practice. I can’t not have a practice for too much longer, artists begin to drown when the don’t make art, and I’m no exception. So although I believe I am helping “my kind” (meaning the art community) by publishing, at the end of the day, I belong on the side of the artists, and not the critics.
And that was the perspective of the magazine, not a critical look at art, but an artists’ look at art.
Anyway, this need to fix some of the local art media problems was the reason that the first thing we did was build Chicago Art Map. Again, create a visual art vocabulary. The sorting of good and bad exhibits can come later, but let’s start with a complete overview. Even if we have to close the magazine someday, I really want to keep the map going. Until someone else does it, I want for others what I wanted for myself: let me list my show without censorship and judgment. Let me put my toes on the starting line like everyone else.
That said, my artistic goals and definition of success has forever changed after what I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ll ever seek gallery representation. It used to be my goal, but now my only goal is audience. From the publishing vantage point, I see the complete ecosystem of artists, handlers, consumers, institutions, and commentators, and it’s taken a long time to come to peace with the nightmare it is – not just for artists, but for the entirety of the scene. I ultimately forgave the galleries for not advertising because I realized they weren’t the power – they’re as broke as the next guy. The museums are similarly hosed, at the mercy of donors and endowments.
So I’ll close on that happy note, the idea that visual arts in Chicago is a ghetto for one reason. The audience is too small. To think that reviews is the road out of the quagmire is moving chairs around on the titanic. As people stand by, and defend reviews, I ask everyone to consider, if only for one moment, what reviews are in the model of economics:
Art galleries are stores.
Art galleries are stores that have an inventory of product and the goal is to sell that inventory at a profit. When we “write criticism”, feeling like, in some way, we’re changing the tide away from consumerism, we are merely a part of a consumerism chain in which, like Consumer Reports, experts rate the products so that other consumers can get the best return on their investment.
In the old days at Chicago Art Magazine, we did reviews because they were cheap and easy, people would line up around the block to write $5 gallery reviews. We will not, I repeat, not go back to that. We will, instead, start with the writer who has, patiently and gently, made a more convincing argument about why we need to review important (and worthy) exhibits, and that writer is Robin Dluzen, our Managing Editor. I had argued that we can just talk about the artists and not the venue, and Robin would defend the importance of context and curatorial intention. Robin, in her own very gentle, soft-spoken way, successfully argued what no one else could convince me of: that reviews need to be done; these were special pieces of writing that were irreplaceable.
So like a wounded divorcee who tentatively re-enters the dating pool, so Chicago Art Magazine begins publishing reviews – cautiously and more carefully this time. I hope we discuss the art experience that was created within those particular white walls, and not give a nod in a direction of what to buy.
So whereas in the past reviews weren’t even read, let alone edited, before they were published (not to mention not read by the audience, either), Robin’s single monthly review will be the most discussed and edited piece of writing we do. It’s a portion of our editorial schedule designated to help re-imagine the review form, a review that assumes no previous knowledge on the part of the reader (no art speak or obscure references), puts this exhibit in the larger context of the artists work, and studies the curatorial context that is created. The curatorial fulfillment is reviewed along with the art itself.
Thus with with the arrival of 2011, we end the review strike and pray to God the tech magazine will cover our expenses. :)