October 25, 2014

Review Panel 10/24/14

These are notes from this week's National Academy Review Panel, moderated by David Cohen, talking about four shows in NYC this month, Jenny Holzer, Peter Fend, David Hockney and John Walker.

I enjoy listening to the Review Panel, less for the specific judgements about the art in question and more to see the critics in person, to see how they think on their feet, their character and wit. David Cohen is a delight. In this panel I could appreciate how Joan Waltemath consistently and sensitively measures how much an artwork "throws one back upon oneself", of the formidable intellectual wattage of Marjorie Welish, of the strange psychedelic curmudgeon-ish-ness of Ken Johnson. Revelations, all.

Usually, the Panel takes on each show sequentially, but I think that this time it might have been better to have heard the critique take them on all at once. You have two pairs of exhibitions, each alike in interesting ways: Holzer/Fend and Hockey/Walker. I saw all four as grizzled veterans, and yet there are stark differentials in each in terms of public acclaim and perceived accomplishment. Curiously, the younger of the pairs had aged faster of the two. Of all four, questions rose to my mind of what constitutes suppleness in art and what survives the passage of time. Ken Johnson slyly disparaged the selection as a "pastorale versus agit-prop" (this characterization is the best my memory will serve of his words), but I think he missed what could have been a much more interesting critical approach.

By contrasting the (perhaps) now all-too-familiar painting versus conceptualism axis, they could have talked about how political/conceptual art stresses subject over media and whether in these cases, they succeed or not. Is the art experience topicality (conceptuality) itself, or does art have another locus entirely? (An audience member suggested this, saying that art must first make us feel before anything else.) What happens when political agendas change with the times and when is it timeless? Can the gold standard of Goya's Third of May apply to Holzer's indictment of the second Gulf War and if so, how would her show at Cheim and Read fare in comparison? Does painting endure, indeed, and if so, how does happen? When is conceptuality rich or complex enough to qualify as art material? What is the difference between subject and concept? What is the difference between artist and subject and can one manipulate the other? When is the medium, and when is it not, the message?


Posted by Dennis at October 25, 2014 1:48 PM

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