Jerry Saltz sees a lot more shows than I do. The critic told Irving Sandler at the Brooklyn Rail he looks at 30-40 shows each week and goes to the Met 40 times a year, (though he thinks going to Frick twice a year will suffice). Frankly, I don’t know how anybody has time to see as much as he does, procrastinate and write weekly, while maintaining a teaching schedule. I suspect living in Manhattan helps though; it automatically gives a person an extra day you’d normally lose in commuting.
Saltz also mentioned he’s finding it hard to read ArtForum again. “The articles seem too long and removed from art.” he said, “There's something academic at the root of this, the cleaning up of reactions, the reigning in of art. Maybe critics aren't self-taught enough and aren't trusting their own reactions.” Given that ArtForum has come up a lot around here in the past two weeks, usually in a negative light, I’d like to make clear that I think the magazine still publishes a lot of great features. Naturally though, as a self taught critic who recently remarked on the overly academic talk that occurs in that magazine, Saltz’s sentiments struck a chord with me.
Meanwhile, in that same paragraph Jerry issued his opinion about ArtForum, the question of which critics Saltz likes best was dodged. With the disclaimer that like anything else my taste in critics changes over time, here are my current New York print picks in no particular order.
- Peter Schjeldahl – The New Yorker critic can be quite conservative at times, (his Richard Prince review certainly demonstrates this), but there is not an arts writer as skillful. Schjeldahl almost always makes me see something in work I hadn’t seen before.
- Martha Schwendener – Schwendener freelances for a number of magazines including the Village Voice and the New York Times (though I haven’t seen anything of hers appear in the Times for quite a while, so I’m not sure what happened to that gig), and is brilliant at giving context, explaining complex ideas, and most importantly, identifying bullshit. Read her review of Paul Chan: A Light In April in the Voice. It’s the reason she’s on this list.
- Jerry Saltz – From a craft perspective, he’s not the strongest writer in this lot, but he’s benefited a lot working with New York Magazine editors, and I’ve never thought that sort of thing should matter as much as a good eye, which is something Saltz has. Also, he’s really funny, has opinions and is open about his biases, (readers will probably notice he mentions his disinterest in subject matter in the Brooklyn Rail interview (as opposed to content)). Every critic finds partiality in something, and that’s a good thing because it’s how strong opinions are formed. Being aware of these biases is incredibly important to a community because it informs the criticism. As an interesting side point, because blogs are more personal in nature, they tend to give a larger window into a writers likes and dislikes; Yet another reason I find the medium superior.
- Holland Cotter – The long time New York Times critic reviews a lot of emerging artists, goes out of his way to see shows in Brooklyn, and takes an interest in political art, and minorities. Also, I frequently I agree with his opinions.
With the exception of Martha Schwendener who is fairly young (mid to late 30’s I believe) you have to wonder who’s going to take over when these people retire. There just aren’t that many critics who do what they do as well, and the profession is neither lucrative nor thriving.
*Image via MAN