The role of art criticism today unanswered in the EXPO 2022 forum

EXPO CHICAGO 2022 Image courtesy of EXPO CHICAGO. Photo by Justin Barbin.

In “Waiting for Godot” Samuel Beckett writes: “Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.” It’s a lucid assessment of the main characters’ united state: the plight, the frustrations, the humiliations of being a human being in the world. A reader might assume there’s some comfort in sharing those pains with others to share, the knowledge that you are neither stranger nor special, but simply together in a common struggle. There was no such comfort in this year’s EXPO’s Art Critic’s forum. Nor should there be. This forum, part of the /Dialogues series the EXPO, was exactly what it presented itself as, a reflection of the system it purported to challenge.The forum’s question “What is the job of art criticism today” is an empty aesthetic gesture ultimately dictated to the whims of the market Moderated by Sarah Douglas, Editor-in-Chief of ARTnews, we began by distinguishing between the concepts of market value and intrinsic value of an artwork, the second being the critic’s duty to interpret for an audience. But what to do in the age of neoliberalism when the two are impossible to combine? None of the three critics on stage offered a satisfactory answer. But who could?

Panelists Britt Julious, Max Lakin and Jillian Steinhauer (with Mary Louise Schumacher unable to attend due to Covid) all reportedly represent different corners of the art world, with both Lakin and Steinhauer mainly freelance and Julious both freelance and the music of the Chicago Tribune Nightlife critic. In Schumacher’s absence — Schumacher, who now works freelance, was an art and architecture critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel before the pandemic layoff — Lakin, Steinhauer, and Douglas (broadly speaking) are all primarily based in New York. Julious was Chicago’s lone critical voice. While I appreciate the inclusion of Julious’ work in his exploration of the guilt of criticism towards the community, the transience and precariousness of art, it was an odd decision for Douglas to hire Julious to defend Chicago’s status as an “art city”. When the conversation between the two turned to the ideas of inter-, trans- and non-disciplinary making that came out of the 2020 protests, it made me wonder. What might happen if instead of having discussions about the complexities of writing for The New York Times and a few confident, low-key jokes about “not being treated like Roberta,” we pushed, teased, and challenged the boundaries of art criticism and art writing Smith”? In another world, a better world, could art criticism actually interpret the human value of a work of art, teach what it might be like, to connect with each other, to wait for Godot together?

While the forum encompassed such wide-ranging issues as the 2020 protests, the culture of abandonment in the arts, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the material inequalities on which the art world is built, no topic was given more than a slight, superficial gloss of knowledge. At one point reference was made to an axis postulated earlier in the EXPO, the twin trends of hyperlocalization and deglobalization. Again, the reference was intended as a nod to Julious and Schumacher’s, in absentia, recording as critical voices of the Midwest. Yet this seeming nod to the “local” community is, once again, a poorly researched euphemism. For example, in the trailer for Schumacher’s forthcoming film about art criticism, presented in the final minutes of the Forum, we get to be “mainly horny” with guest appearances by none other than Roberta Smith and her husband Jerry Saltz (the critic who makes more money from it). to be than most of us read in a month). The forum would have been better served to think through and center the issues of capital, data and prison logic associated with de/globalization through local voices such as The Blackivists, c/o Black Women and more generally the Black Metropolis Research Consortium.

Referring to an earlier conversation with Chicago critic Lori Waxman about writing and reading art criticism, a panelist asked Waxman, “Does anyone care?” That, the proverbial question of the hour, went unanswered. (Annette LePique)

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