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Art criticism is not dead because it was never alive (or it is called something else)

Joan M. Minguet

The tenth symposium of the Catalan Association of Art Critics (ACCA), which is organised on that subject, has just closed its doors. But what subject? What do you think? reply the readers – it is a symposium about art criticism. And I am tempted to accept that answer despite the fact that during the event most of the speakers began by distancing themselves from the profession, the function or from whatever was, is or could be considered art criticism. “Thank you for inviting me to this symposium, although I am not in fact an art critic and I do not write criticisms of art.” they said, or they didn’t actually say it but some people must have understood that Mark Lewis was speaking as an artists and Aimar Pérez Galí as a dancer and that is what allowed them to go off on a tangent (or should that be go out on a tangent?).

The symposium coordinators, Oriol Fontdevila and Joana Hurtado, had called the event “Critical dissemination”, on the supposition that the old art criticism had spilled its essence over into other devices, other places and other discourses. But many of the speakers wanted to point out that “they were not art critics, as if those of us who were carried the plague, as I jokingly mentioned at the end of one of the sessions. And then they started to refer to the death of art criticism and those who register its decease, starting as an irrefutable excuse with Walter Benjamin. But why did they accept an invitation to speak about something which no longer exists? What were we all doing there, gathered around a corpse that has been mummified for a hundred years?

I have two answers to those questions and both of them begin with an absolute denial of the body in the crime (or from natural causes): no, art criticism is not dead and yes, its dissemination is an undeniable fact; in other words it is totally true. The first answer is perhaps touching on the absurd: the claim of those who deny being art critics falls apart when they try to continue their discourses using words, the film maker and even more the dancer, through an extraordinary display of gestures and words. My guess is that in some cases, especially those who came from university environments, it was a direct fraud. And I know what I am talking about because that kind of posturing can result in great rhetorical effect – I should know, I admit I have done it myself.

The second answer requires a thicker brushstroke, if I am able to produce it. Jacques Derrida said or came to say that visuality is silent, that painting and all kinds of visual art is mute and that his intellectual mission was to give them thought, a continual “going around interpreting” which he carried out but which is also done by the artists who attend the creation and the subjects who attend the finished work and the thinking about the work, and so on, successively. If that is true, whether you call it art criticism or not is an anachronism. Art criticism is not dead, but Diderot is. It is clear that the embers of criticism understood as judgement or opinion are still glowing; there are film magazines that still award points to films using numbers or stars. But thinking about art did not die with Diderot, among other reasons because it hadn’t been born with him. The muteness of art became interrupted by words since before the eighteenth century, but they are used now more than ever and in the most unsuspecting places.

This “going around interpreting” happens in artistic practices, both conventional and new; in curatorial projects; in works in the street such as galleries and museums; in analogue journalism which still allows the expression of critical thought on a sheet of paper and in digital journalism; in that permanent “going around interpreting” that is the internet, whether with advertising content or not; the blogs of old and new critics setting out their discourses; in platforms like the one I am writing for now; in places that not even I knew existed; obviously, in some university classrooms, those that try to rid themselves of positivism, of fraud and of pre-packaged objects of study. Also, in a symposium like this one where David G. Torres showed that “going around interpreting” means thinking from today and, if necessary, turning Greenberg himself into a dialectic mummy (yes, that).

Yes, despite the fact that it may seem naive on my part, art criticism does exist. That was shown by everyone who actively participated in the event (those that made us yawn and also those who made us sit up in our seats with their ideas); even more, those of us who listened to, saw and even smelled the sweat of thought showed it does exist. Each and every one of us “were going around interpreting”. If we don’t want to call that art criticism, don’t worry, we can find another more (post) modern way to say it.

Editorial note: This article by Joan Minguet Batllori, president of the ACCA, is published as editorial and the final part of the mini-series that A*DESK organised in collaboration with the 10th International Symposium on Art Criticism organised by the same institution. Other collaborators were:

Anna Dot, interviewing Thijs Lijster

Sonia F. Pan, interviewing Irit Rogoff together with Marina Vives

Irina Mutt, with an “incarnated” view from the symposium and

Marina Vives, with some sort of opinion-based summary

This month's topic
Joan M. Minguet


16 November 2015

Art criticism is not dead because it was never alive (or it is called something else)

"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)