Dying for a print review

Last week was a new low in art coverage of at the Philadelphia Inquirer–just two brief (150-word each) art reviews in the Weekend section and nothing in the Sunday paper. But there’s hope that a full-time art critic will come on board–eventually.

Entertainment Editor Jeff Weinstein said the lack of Sunday coverage of art at the Inky this past week wasn’t a trend, just a result of “zero space.” The Sunday piece by former Inquirer art critic Ed Sozanski got held. “Ed has agreed to continue writing at least until the end of the season,” Weinstein said. “By then we hope to have a full-time critic on board. He [Sozanski] may continue if we don’t get the go-ahead.”

I asked about the cutback to only two reviews in the Weekend section. Freelance writer Edie Newhall will continue those for now, Weinstein said. He didn’t commit to three, although he said when pressed that there was a possibility.

“The Inquirer will not be without a full-time art critic.” He said this with plenty of gusto, and then retrenched a little with an “I hope.”

In the meanwhile, if I do the math, two to four reviews a week means a range of only 100 to 200 shows reviewed in a year there, not all of them local. But local galleries and other spaces easily hang more than 1,000 art shows a year. Of course, Roberta covers what she can at the Weekly, and there’s some coverage at the City Paper. But every loss in an underserved town is a blow.

Of course not every show deserves a review. But lots of deserving shows do that get overlooked even in the best of times. For an art scene to flourish, shows and artists need to get seen, get recognized, get criticized, get on the map, get sales.

In thinking back to the sales that Seraphin had via the internet (see post), I can’t help but think that in some cases local reviews played a role, giving out-of-town buyers some comfort level for making purchases, real-world sight unseen.

When the reviews go, the purchases go, and then the artists go to a friendlier locale.