A writer’s toughest critic is her or himself. Even though this adage is often repeated, an understanding of its character is usually reduced to a sequence of private conjectures in the individual writer: have I covered all the details accurately; why this word, or form, and not another; have I made an argument, and if not, why not, and most fundamentally, why am I writing this at all? In order to give a public voice to these questions and to question how value systems and related criteria must be constructed and communicated in order to answer them, Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art (Rotterdam) and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam co-host the symposiumI AM FOR AN ART CRITICISM THAT… On two successive afternoons and evenings—one at each site respectively—an international roster of art writers are brought together – with a focus on the Dutch context and how it translates to an international one. The symposium is organized on the occasion of the 2012 Prijs voor de Jonge Kunstkritiek (Young Art Critic’s Prize), an initiative of de Appel Arts Centre, the Mondriaan Fund and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art. The prize is meant to stimulate young art critics and increase the media attention for art criticism and journalism of high qualitative standards. In 2012, the biannual prize is awarded for the third time. The year’s winners are announced during a ceremony at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam on Thursday 29 November 2012, from7.30 to 9 pm, following the second day of the symposium taking place from 4 to 7 pm.
Where criticism is concerned, symposia organized in the field of the visual arts tend to focus on essayistic and academic style. Yet, little attention is given to the wider field of journalism, its relationship with art, and its general influence on shaping public perspective. As a point of comparison, ‘art criticism’ and ‘art journalism’ are by no means homogenous or definitive terms—and yet the two implied practices can be seen to be merging into a singular field where the reporting style is increasingly prioritizing ‘catchy headlines’ over relevant content. Expanding out from this pole, long form arts coverage itself is being reduced to “editor’s picks”, coded rating systems, and short summary reviews, with little space in which to substantiate their claims. And while blogs, user-generated content, and citizen journalism have carved out new “independent” forums, their very nature forces each to live or die by tweets, re-tweets, likes, and faves.
As more and more debates are being framed by these formats, and are shaped by these social pressures in turn, now is the time to ask if quick reviews allow opinion to be given without evidence, and if social affirmation can lead to the promotion of posturing over thought. Likewise, when it comes to the cultural sphere, should objective neutrality be secured and maintained to counter the forces of publicity? Similarly to journalism, also known as the “fourth estate” – most commonly referring to news media or the press at large – should the arts have its own “estate” to hold conflicting interests at bay—be they social or commercial—and if so, what would its standards be? In any case, the issues at stake are larger than they may seem at first.
Considering that artistic creation —and any form of analyses—requires the development of a strong critical facility, how can these activities advance without a healthy exchange of frequent and well-formed feedback? That is, how are the tools of critical reflection necessary, and how are they taught to us all so as to not only accurately describe a knowledge of things as such, but perhaps more importantly, to cultivate alternative formations of what could be?
This symposium’s title takes inspiration from artist Claes Oldenburg’s 1961 manifesto “I Am for an Art” and similarly to an art manifesto, a statement intended to shock, inspire or offend, I AM FOR AN ART CRITICISM THAT…, is a symposium that stages various live discussions with the aim to cover, and uncover, the fertile ground between the arts and journalism.
This symposium is conceived by Defne Ayas (Director, Witte de With) and Adam Kleinman (Chief Editor, WDWReview) and organized by Associate Curator Amira Gad with assistance from Renée Staal (Curatorial Intern), and is presented in collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in the context of the Prijs voor de Jonge Kunstkritiek 2012 which is an initiative of de Appel Arts Centre (Amsterdam), the Mondriaan Fund and Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art.
Ali Akay (Curator and Critic, Istanbul); Ahu Antmen (Critic, Istanbul); Defne Ayas (Director, Witte de With, Rotterdam); Ingrid Commandeur (Art critic and researcher, Rotterdam); Birgit Donker (Director, Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam); Maarten Doorman (Professor of Criticism of Arts and Culture, University of Amsterdam); Anthony Downey (Director of Contemporary Art, Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Editor of Ibraaz, London); Hendrik Folkerts (Curator of Public Program, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam); Amira Gad (Associate Curator, Witte de With, Rotterdam); Jörg Heiser (Art critic and co-editor of Frieze Magazine, Berlin); Adam Kleinman (Writer, Online Publications, Witte de With, New York / Rotterdam); Quinn Latimer (Poet and critic, Basel); Aimee Lin (Independent writer & Former editorial director and founding editor of Leap Magazine, Beijing); Carol Yinghua Lu (Curator, Beijing); Sven Lütticken (Art critic and historian, Amsterdam); Vivian Sky Rehberg (Art historian, critic and Course Director of the Master of Fine Art at the Piet Zwart Institute, Paris/Rotterdam); Peter de Ruiter (Assistant Professor Modern and Contemporary Art, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen); Domeniek Ruyters (Editor in chief, Metropolis M, Utrecht); Marc Ruyters (Editor in chief, H ART, Antwerp); Anna Tilroe (Professor and Honorary Chair for Art and Culture, Radboud University, Nijmegen); Hrag Vartanian (Editor of Hyperallergic, New York); Barbara Visser (Artist, Amsterdam); Brian Kuan Wood (Writer, editor and co-founder of e-flux journal, New York).
Day 1: Wednesday 28 November 2012, 4-9 pm
Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam
4 PM: Introduction by Defne Ayas & Amira Gad
Reading of Claes Oldenburg’s “I am for an Art” by Adam Kleinman
4.15 PM: Keynote lecture by Jörg Heiser / Respondent: Adam Kleinman
From Assange to Zuckerberg and back again: Criticism at times of the super-nerd
Two of the most influential and notorious protagonists of online publicity – Julian Assange of Wikileaks and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook – have, I would argue, been following similar aims in regard to three issues, despite opposing political and economic agendas: confidentiality; intellectual copyright; and critical judgment. This development is symptomatic for a paradigm shift the effects of which in regard to criticism in general, and art criticism in particular, we only just begin to see.
5 PM: I AM FOR AN ART CRITICISM THAT IS UNIVERSAL
This panel discusses, using specific cases, the positioning of art criticism from an international perspective, how it could be translated into a Dutch context and vice versa, questioning the influence of art writing and its universality.
With: Carol Yinghua Lu, Anthony Downey, Ali Akay, Anna Tilroe / Moderator: Amira Gad
6 PM: I AM FOR AN ART CRITICISM THAT HAS A VOICE
This panel explores the mediums (from newspapers to blogs) and registers used in writing about art, the impact it has on its readers and the role of education it has towards the reader.
With: Hrag Vartanian, Barbara Visser, Quinn Latimer, Maarten Doorman, Marc Ruyters, Ingrid Commandeur / Moderator: Vivian Sky Rehberg
7 PM: Brief introduction by Adam Kleinman & Audio Screening of The Economics of Film Criticism: A Debate, Jean-Luc Godard & Pauline Kael (1981)
7.15 PM: BREAK (with soup for sale in the Consensus Bar)
7.45 PM: Statement by Defne Ayas (Director, Witte de With)
I AM FOR AN ART CRITICISM THAT IS INDEPENDENT
This panel addresses issues of funding in art journalism, the place of art writing within the art field, also addressing the matter of the loss of independent professional platforms and the strategies adopted by journals and magazines in the content selection.
With: Brian Kuan Wood, Domeniek Ruyters, Aimee Lin, Sven Lütticken, Ahu Antmen / Moderator: Hrag Vartanian
8.45 PM: Closing – Reading of Dan Fox’s response to Claes Oldenburg’s “I am for an Art” by Adam Kleinman / Q & A with the public moderated by Adam Kleinman
9 – 9.30 PM: Drinks in the Consensus Bar
DAY 2: Thursday 29 November 2012, 4-9pm
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
4 PM: Welcome by Hendrik Folkerts
4.15 PM: Keynote lecture by Peter de Ruiter
Don’t burn after reading. Some thoughts on the state of Dutch art criticism in the 20th century.
Art criticism in the Netherlands has had a somewhat ‘invisible’ position over the last decades. This lecture reflects on its position and on the predominance of art journalism after the seventies. How to explain this status quo? Can we point out a beginning and how does it impact on the current situation of art criticism?
5.15 PM: I AM FOR AN ART CRITICISM THAT IS SELF-REFLECTIVE
This round-table conversation gathers different perspectives and approaches in discussing the uses and influences of art writing today, also addressing questions of (self-) reflectivity and criticality.
With: Birgit Donker, Carol Yinghua Lu, Ali Akay, Anthony Downey/ Moderators: Hendrik Folkerts & Amira Gad
6.15 – 7.30 PM: BREAK (Stedelijk Museum Café)
7.30 – 9 PM: Award Ceremony PJKK 2012
Date: Wednesday 28 November 2012, 4-9 PM
Location: Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art
Witte de Withstraat 50, Rotterdam
Admission Price: € 10
Date: Thursday 29 November 2012, 4-9 PM
Location: Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Museumplein 10, Amsterdam
Admission Price: € 15 museum entrance ticket.
Free for Museumjaarkaart (MJK) holders.
I AM FOR AN ART CRITICISM THAT… is partly supported by SAHA Association – Supporting Contemporary Art from Turkey