Is MOMUS returning to art criticism? Is Canadian Art magazine neglecting it?
I offered Momus editor Sky Goodden first crack at publishing this critique of her own journal. My argument was that she’d raise MOMUS above the fray by enabling an uncomfortable discussion on the vulnerability of art magazines. The same concept was offered to Canadian Art magazine. Both discretely demurred. Momus promotes itself as a return to art criticism, prompting two question; what kind of criticism and how good is it? Momus replies their writers are risk-takers, art historians, popular voices, and truth-seekers. Surprised, I asked where Momus got these outlandish notions? Was it envy at reading my articles? Risk takers? Please! Perhaps scribes who flourish jargon in exchange for a writer’s feedbag.
Robert Storr cuts to the chase with “a class of critics and artists that lost all sight of the reader and created a cult of difficulty based on jargon – the words used like pieces in an erector set to reference their own theories to other theories rather than to works of art.”(1) So with MOMUS, whose articles elicit admiration for obtuse language but do they touch on topics meaningful? We read how Baselitz was sexist, surely a revolutionary exposé… ah, isn’t this stale news 20 years old?
What criticism, when you’re friend with everyone? Can’t criticize without ruffling feathers. How can you expose insider-trading or bad curatorial choices when that curator’s friendship is important to you? Momus overleaps these hurdles with lavish self-praise, and by attending global conferences where editors award each other certificates of significant achievement.
MOMUS is excellent at networking. “Informing the art world’s global economy and increasing professionalization, the artist residency has risen to the top, becoming one of the key features of contemporary art practice.” Art critic and Momus publisher Sky Goodden hosts a Podcast conversation on this phenomenon, featuring international curators, critics, artists, and residency directors.
Momus: The Podcast episode 2 features guests Daniel Baumann (director of Kunsthalle Zürich), Kristy Trinier (artist, curator, and former Banff Centre director), Aaron Cezar (founding director of Delfina Foundation), Michelle Grabner (artist, educator, and artistic director of Front International), and the co-directors of Beirut residency marra.tein, Jared McCormick and George Awde.”(2)
“The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begin to suffer.” (3)
Momus is no worse than the best. I started reading Artforum at 15 and regularly went facepalm at lack of relevance. I’m not wanting to hurt anyone’s feelings, but the portico fails and civic warnings must be posted. Art rags love superficial jargon distanced from reality, ignoring their own fingers in the pie, such as the power of gossip in the art curator friends network and how that affects what and whom we see in the gallery; the power of influence and insider trading.
The New York Times just hired art editor Sarah Jeong, who writes of how she loves insulting old white men, so don’t expect to see old white men in the arts pages of the New York Times. She justifies her racism by pointing to a long history of racism by whites. She forgets the long history of Korean racism against other Asians, so bad it has a chapter of its own in Wikipedia. Haters will hate, racists find excuses… but you cannot fight racism by being a worse racist, nor end hatred by being a worse hater; we need less racism, not more. I cancelled my subscription to the New York Times and told them why. Some say politicizing art was always a thing. Yes, but it was bad luck back then, it’s bad luck today; we want to see less corruption, not more.
Then came a moment of hope. At MOMUS podcast Episode 3, on criticism and journalism, Catherine G. Wagley(a Momuscontributing editor, and a critic for ARTNewsand The Los Angeles Review of Books, among others) wondered if the Halperin kind of reporting (on the 5 main U.S. galleries and their link with major institutions) isn’t also the province of criticism, as these politics affect what we see – and how. Sigh! The question raised but the finger pointed far, far away.
Plenty to see at home. Canadian Art Magazine, for example, plays coy at being PC. One article by Leah Sandals denounced a police raid on an amateur art gallery and after-hours speakeasy, that was important to the community because POC youth felt welcome there.I myself was surprised, shocked the police would raid an unlicensed after-hours club that sold alcohol to underage youth. Nice way to disturb the community, Mr. Policeman!
The article, claiming to speak for the art community, questioned why police Tasered the bar co-owner, a skinny kid weighing less than 120lbs. A curator (the show curator?) said she had been in many police checks but had never been treated so badly. I wonder if the skinny tried to assault a muscle-bound 220lb. police officer while hysterically screaming “existential bias”? I imagine the cop laughing, which inflames the kid’s rage, so regrettably the Taser was sent for. “Existential bias”?
Perhaps it’s not the first Canadian Art story to sound biased. Unverified assertions and eventually lies give the impression some editors ignore due diligence, and likely those interviewed are laughing at the gullible writer who believes everything she’s told. Other juicy bits from this article, and many others, must be left veiled for lack of time. Could be Stockholm syndrome, believing the unfairly oppressed yet morally superior street kids and the local poor would never tell a lie, but some writers allow their sources to hijack the story.(4)
Another Canadian Art story told a tale I do not understand for lack of advanced math skills. It seemed to me that 80% of people working in the Canadian cultural sector were female, yet the 20% who were male got 80% of the money, a narrative that confirms our views of male privilege. This was accompanied by charts of colored arrows and serious numbers. The author did mention one bias in the survey for the sake of clarity… recalling a meme of four accountants who applied for a job and the one hired was the one who asked, “What do you want the answer to be”?
Since Canadian culture is funded by the Canada Council, which has strict gender equality laws, we’re amazed the Canadian cultural sector can be so sexist in favor of men; this is illegal, unfair, yet they get away with it. Oh that male privilege! Sheesh!
Even more bizarre, women in the arts are woke and seriously political, yet they don’t mind gender pay disparity, in fact, feeling deeply generous, they forgive this sexist distribution of cash… it all sounds rather suspicious! Many strange stories abound in Canadian Art. Are they filling their pages with hyperbole, exaggerations not meant to be taken seriously? Or are these published straight faced? This journal gives the impression of bending fishy facts to fit politically correct waters. Canadian Art Magazine tries for the moral high ground… but if one fibs to get there it tarnishes one’s celestial wings and halo.
Derrida’s method of deconstruction was to look past the irony and ambiguity to the layer that genuinely threatens to collapse that system. One such layer is our forgiveness and tolerance of our friends’ worst duplicity along with deafness for those who speak truth to power. Derrida would have laughed to learn that today’s art journals toe the line. It follows that creative territory gets submerged in orthodoxy; you can’t lead the pack if you follow.
Most fine arts producers graduate from similar schools sharing the same values, reflected in their association, production, and the systems created thereby; surely a cultural blind spot follows this homogeneity?
Still, who’d criticize art rags considering their clout? Which means till now there’s been no genuine art criticism in Canada, no risk-takers, no popular voices, not even truth-seekers. Few dare provoke the powerful but in a corrupt scenario a person who wants nothing is literally invincible; there comes a time when we must put gain or loss aside for a higher truth. So you can see how the waters around you have grown, and you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changing.
– Endnotes –
1-Stuart ServetarTHE INSPEAK OF THE OVERLORDS,N.Y.Press. May 29-June 4, 1996.
2- Sky Gooden, The Artist Residency, Dec. MOMUS 2017, http://momus.ca/episode-2-artist-residency/
3- Ronald Wright, A Short History of Progress,p109, 2004, CBC Massey Lectures.
Toronto Editor: Miklos Legrady
Published by Luxenburg Magazine