Have you been following the recent travails of New York Times art critic Ken Johnson? It is probably coming soon, for an unhappy non-resolution, to a public editor near you. The long and short of it is that there is a petition calling for his head, or at least an ear. In short, he’s gone in against “identity-based” art shows—exhibitions of ladies and the black folks and what have you—as an “evil whose necessity would disappear in a more equitable world.” (This is exceedingly contrary to the position held by his colleague Holland Cotter, who has often supported this sort of exhibition.) Here is a very good summary and assessment of what has gone down.
And then everyone took their complaints to Facebook, for better or worse. (“The discussions were in turn heated, articulate, rancorous, illuminating and all kinds of internet crazy pants.”) In a sense, Johnson’s point is a weird relative to Arlene Croce’s “victim art is unreviewable” argument. But less hideous: Johnson is often talking through the lens of the art market—about fame, about the canon, and about what’s expensive and valued by the hideous collector class—which doesn’t give much of a damn about identity politics, or people’s lives, and which does single out women and black and gay artists in an explicit way. I get the complaints about how a white critic is working from a white newspaper to speak to white people. But I also appreciate him addressing this stuff in his work. Still, here’s a good point: “Attempting to introduce white visitors to art they find irrelevant isn’t a flaw… but rather an inversion of the normal state of attempting to introduce black visitors to art they find irrelevant.” Unfortunately, there was less thoughtful criticism.
Like the headline “Times Critic Caught in This Week’s Witch Hunt,” which is bizarrely attached to a fairly thoughtful piece. Fortunately, this can all be resolved on Facebook, where now a really boring conference is being planned that will SETTLE EVERYTHING…
Great talk you guys. See you there! Kidding. Would actually rather be dead.
One last note: