Monday, 3 June 2013

Inflated Art and Painted Words

What is art if you have no words, fitting enough, to express it?

Contemporary visual art has allowed itself to be multiplied in manifestations; there are virtually no boundaries that prescribe its existence.  To draw limits to its ever-loosening definition is doomed to be labelled as passé to the same effect that to criticize contemporary art review is risked being scorned malicious, or out-of-touch for those with grey hair like me.    For the majority of so called art critiques, due to the powerful influences of galleries and auction houses, homogenized tastes have emerged from narrowing viewpoints.

Generalized aesthetic verbiage has been developed among stakeholders and critical reviews are few and far between.  Artists are likely to be cushioned with a literacy of compliments and never quite straightened up from a quasi-philosophical obfuscation.  The public’s response to contemporary art is retreated to sensations at large.  For those who have a keen heart on the subject and a mind to match, quality writings are painfully inadequate.    If the situation persists, art will suffer like an unfettered kite, free but its existence is fortuitous.  Without resorting to Wittgenstein, I venture to confront the question posted on top.

Differing Voices

Paradoxically, we are faced with a proliferation of interests in art exemplified by a wholesale increase of art museums and art fairs; yet the quality of art commentary seems to be in a reverse ratio with the pricing of artworks.  At crisis point, the critique system is overshadowed by the powerful gallery curators, celebrity artists and plush collectors.  In recent years prominent commentators have expressed grave reservations on the quality of art writings.  Independent heavy-weights, by that I mean those recognized experts who are not related to the mercantile of art such as Benjamin Buchloh, have postulated “the withering away of criticism”¹.
Buchloh explained: “As I said in my earlier remark, the other side of this historical phenomenon entails the dismantling of competence through the market, where the public sphere of the museum is no longer calling for this third independent voice between the producer and the recipient.  It is at such a moment, when it has become more than evident that the critic has no place anymore in our cultural structures, that rhapsodic substitutes like Dave Hickey can come back in the picture, appearing as though he was resuscitating the obsolete practice of criticism by giving us something that has no social function, no discursive position, but that serves as a critical placebo.”²

Ten years after Buchloh’s remark, Dave Hickey himself announced his departure from the art scene and concluded on The Observer in October 2012: “What can I tell you? It’s nasty and it’s stupid. I am an intellectual and I don’t care if I’m not invited to the party. I quit.”³  Both commentators are not the lone voices; from the internet one can easily harvest the same thought from Christian Demand, Michael Newman, James Elkins, the late Robert Hughes among others.  To hark back to first principles if we consult the writings by John Ruskin or even Denis Diderot, it is not what critics argue as truth, but rather their diverse viewpoints that are anything but consensus opinions.

Testing Sentences

This is not an occasion of art bashing.  With more shame than bitterness, the quality of art writings today does not add up to the good art around.  The situation is a serious setback to the understanding of contemporary art and for the art community to flourish through the counterpoint of debate.  To look at the state of contemporary art writing afresh, we propose a simple test for readers below.  The listed works and their related statements have been deliberately misplaced, the reader is asked to re-arrange them in their original pairings.  For this exercise, the air-inflated installations organized by M+ and their official statements are used.  The reason of this choice?  These artworks challenges the boundaries of art in the same sense that the texts might shed more light on the health of contemporary art writing.  Through this process of re-matching, we might be able to look at the quality of the text, or the blandness of it afresh.  Ultimately, let’s engage ourselves with a questioning mind on the discourse, be it in the form of artistic statement or art criticism.

The correct pairings are shown at the bottom of this article.

The above installations from ‘Inflation’ were organized by M+, Hong Kong from 25 April – 9 June, 2013.


1 and 2. Buchloh, Benjamin, Hal Foster, Andrea Fraser, David Joselit, Rosalind Krauss, et al. “Round Table: The Present Conditions of Art Criticism.” October no. 100 (Spring 2002)

3. Helmore, Edward and Paul Gallagher. “Doyen of American Critics turns his back on the ‘nasty, stupid’ world of modern art” The Observer, 28 October, 2012.  Linkage at here:

Answers: <1> <C>; <2> <B>; <3> <F>; <4> <G>; <5> <A>; <6> <E> and <7> <D>.

Sarcastic but with true irony, the following is a skewed way to look at contemporary art writings:

藝評膨脹與文字潤飾            〈中文摘要〉






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