Saturday, February 25, 2012

Art criticism or art description?

Fortnightly, Sean O'Hagan explores photography, art, photojournalism and everything in between.

Following a round of gallery openings last Tuesday night and several rounds of cold beers last Friday with three well known and venerable painter friends I've been thinking about the business of art criticism. My painter friends and I agreed that so often these days art criticism has devolved into art description where the "critic" does nothing more than describe the work on the walls. Perhaps we've got to this point as gallerists have  become shop keepers and the art on the walls so often nothing more than expensive decoration.

This hasn't always been the case. Robert Hughes, one of my favorite critics,  told it like it was when when it came to dismissing the likes of Warhol, Schnabel, Basquiat, and Koons whom he saw as absurd charlatans. Hughes said of Schnabel, his work is to painting what Stallone's is to acting - a lurching display of oily pectorals. And David Hockney, he saw as the Cole Porter of painting.

Still mulling this over I kept running into artist friends who groaned to me about a show of photography by a young and recent Auckland art school graduate presented by a well known and reputable dealer gallery. I looked at the work on-line as was less than impressed. Then I read a "review", well description of the work and today set off to have a look in the flesh. In my view the work failed on every level. The work was overly derivative, rehashing borrowed concepts already milked dry and done better.  What's more, poorly seen, composed and constructed and the prints themselves were a technical nightmare with either over-saturated cyan or magenta. And the reviewer saw nothing, said nothing of this, but did comment on the mystery they found in the work. To my eye there was as much mystery here as in an Agatha Christie novel translated into Mandarin, with all the good bits taken out!

But relief is at hand. A regular dose of writing and observations from Sean O'Hagan,  the  guardian's photography writer is more than capable of lifting the spirits. You go can go there on this LINK.

And for a complete change of scene I always enjoy reading film reviews where the writers still are prepared to knee-cap a director for crap work. Here are a few choice examples.

BENEATH THE DARKNESS, New York Daily News, Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier, Jan 5, 2012, A dumb thriller starring Dennis Quaid as a weirdo mortician taunted by high school kids into revealing what he did with his wife and her lover years before - and look at the movies it rips off...

THE MEANS WAR, New York Post, Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick, Feb 14, 2012
Nearly totally laugh, chemistry and coherence free, this fiasco from the director of "Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle'' has a script whose sensible parts would fit on a napkin with enough room left over for the Gettysburg Address.

ONE FOR THE MONEY, Rolling Stone, Reviewed by: Peter Travers, Jan 27, 2012
Everything in One for the Money rings cringingly false, from Heigl's absurd Snooki accent to Plum's romance with Joe Morelli, an Italian cop, played by – faith and begorrah – Jason O'Mara. To dismiss Julie Anne Robinson's direction as clueless would be a kindness.

THE DARKEST HOUR, Boxoffice Magazine, Reviewed by: David Ehrlich, Dec 28, 2011
The Darkest Hour isn't just a dark horse contender for the year's biggest joke, it's the darkest.

AFTER FALL WINTER, Time Out New York, Reviewed by: Nick Schager, Jan 24, 2012
While it may make the City of Light look beautiful, ultimately, this insufferable indie auteur's navel-gazer is just another faux-kinky vanity project in which its creator's neuroses are placed on an undeserved pedestal.

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