Critics take a lashing

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Post by James Rosenthal

[Editors’ note: James Rosenthal’s post is part of a thread that refers back to the previous three posts.]

Is that what critics do, simply visit shows and add to the media clamor (image, Rosenthal’s “Ivy League Hipsters Hit the Coast,” 14″ x 8″ watercolor)?

I certainly admire the enthusiasm that it takes to desire to see more and more art, but I regard it the way one does books; once you read them you put them on a shelf. Right, so I¹m not a scholar. I figure I¹m here for commentary and, yes, judgments. But one writes with an audience in mind so, what do you need to know right now?

Here’s an interesting thing: In November, Roberta, Libby and I attended a Critic’s Night graciously hosted by Becky Kerlin (of Gallery Joe). It was great to meet critic Susan Hagen and see Robin Rice and Miriam Seidel. What did we hope to achieve? Well, I was hoping to open up a dialogue to address some sticky points and possibly set up an informal, behind-the scenes initiative to help open up the ceiling over this overly conventional city. InLiquid has done this to a great degree and so has this Artblog.

The first step was to get art critics together and form some sort of consensus on Philadelphia’s publication dilemma and the audience problem. By this I mean that art reviews don¹t really pronounce judgment on art or culture, thus letting a lot of mediocre stuff into print. Don¹t get me started on the Inquirer and Art Matters. The audience problem is “laissez faire,” a sort of rot.

Galleries, no matter how well meaning, cater to the lowest common denominator often or they are blue chip. Ironically, it is about money at both ends of the spectrum; First Friday sells schlock cheaply and high end galleries (NYC) sell to a global market. Philly sees little of that. These are separate worlds.

I gotta say, as an artist, I aspire to the latter ­ even though I don¹t fit in there ­ but, perhaps stupidly, expect more from the former. For myself, I imagine it is a lack of cravenness, but for the city as a whole it is a terminal lack of ambition.

The lesson, I guess, is about negotiating a new intermediate level that produces galleries that can survive on a small scale and still travel to art fairs bringing with them some cool Philadelphia-based artists. I think this takes a little more rigorous up-scale marketeering rather than each party vying for custom in their own little corner.

Miriam suggested we need a publicist, which is a great idea. But isn’t that a job for the Greater Philadelphia Marketing Board? Now, there’s a thought. After reading a recent Sunday Times piece about the Chelsea boom and the resurgence of public art all over New York, I am again stunned by the lack of forward motion in our fair city. Unfortunately, John Street is no Michael Bloomberg.

Anyway, progress seems to all be in the hands of organizations with some other agenda. I know, for individuals, this “joining” thing is always problematic. ­Artists groups are so naff (ed. note: Brit for bogus), either incoherently advocating for art generally or carving a niche.

­But, what if there was a collective of the best art critics in town working on a publication together? We could really cut out some of the dead wood.

–James Rosenthal is an artist and art critic living in Philadelphia

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