<!doctype html public "-//w3c//dtd html 4.0 transitional//en">Title: "Critic as Grist" at White Box.

Author: Eleanor Heartney

Art in America  02/01/2001

(ISSN: 0004-3214), Vol. 89 No. 2 Pg. 148

"Critic as Grist" at White Box.

The title of this show, "Critic as Grist," promised a critic roast--an opportunity for artists to strike back at those who seem to inveigh against them with impunity. But that was only a small element of the show, which was curated by artist Michael Portnoy. While there was some irate critic-bashing, in many works critics appeared to have become coconspirators with the artists.

For instance, artist Paco Cao presented a contract in which he temporarily traded identities with critic Castro Florez, to unspecified ends, while Thomas Zummer displayed a letter to Jacques Derrida in which he asked the great deconstructionist to mentally bend a spoon on display in the gallery. Les Levine presented two talking-head videos. In one, Levine himself denounces group shows, declaring that they twist the truth (hardly the fault of critics). In the other, critic Thomas McEvilley gloomily intones a rather apocalyptic passage from an upcoming book in which he suggests that globalization, commodification and institutionalization are leading the art world into the void of a new "terrifying sublime."

Other artists approached the subject of criticism with mock scientific detachment. Terence Gower created a phrase-by-phrase graph of the positive and negative nuances in Ken Johnson's scathing review of a Judy Chicago show. In a similar spirit, Ryan McGinness used a pie chart to analyze the critical output of Grady T. Turner according to gender, medium and publication. Erik Parker contributed a graffiti-like diagram of themes in Dave Hickey's Air Guitar. Though mildly interesting, such works lacked the ideological passion which made the Guerrilla Girls' breakdowns of critics' subjects so potent during the 1980s.

Of course, there were some acidic displays--most notably Peter Saul's painting Art Critic Suicide, which depicts cartoonish caricatures of Hilton Kramer and Peter Schjeldahl with guns to their heads under a banner proclaiming "Too stupid to look at pictures, they think about art." In the revenge arena, the most amusing work was a video installation by Alex Bag, in which a student who had received low grades for a paper on a Bag exhibition asked the artist to comment on the teacher's criticism. The work consists of a video of the student recounting the episode and the paper in question, marked with both the teacher's comments and Bag's critique of the criticism. And in the tradition of Jasper Johns's sardonic The Critic Smiles, Dennis Oppenheim created a set of teeth out of fantasy books (How I Overcame Illiteracy by Lawrence Weiner, Critic as Failed Piano Player by Michael Kimmelman) which poke gentle fun at the art world.

There were also some works which were simply puzzling, like Schuldt's Animated Waterfall, in which texts by Benjamin Buchloh are algorithmically transformed into gibberish flowing down red, white and blue barber poles. Similarly opaque is Paul Miller's Glitch Music, in which a text by Lucy Lippard was transformed into a video-gamelike display of abstract patterns and sounds.

The overall lack of bile may suggest that the lines between critics and artists have become blurred in the postmodern era. The two disciplines are intertwined in ways that make it hard for artists to land a genuine punch. For real fireworks, as I discovered recently at a critics' symposium in Austin, Tex., it might be better to ask critics to comment on their fellow practitioners.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Brant Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group