Michael Kimmelman, New York Times
By Sara Caron
Michael Kimmelman has been the chief art critic for the New York Times since 1990. He has an undergraduate degree from Yale in history and a degree in art history from Harvard University. He has written several books including The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa and Portraits: Talking with Artists at the Met, the Modern, the Louvre, and Elsewhere. His current column for the New York Times, “Abroad” examines contemporary art, society and culture in Europe.
His criticism seems fairly expansive, from a cursory engagement with it. He doesn’t write strictly about art, which may be due to his background in history. I would describe him as more of a cultural/ social critic.
In an interview with Charlie Rose, Kimmelman talked about his job at the New York Times being the best job you could have. He talked about the range of topics he involves himself in everyday, from thinking about history, looking at art, to talking to artists, going to museums etc. You can see that in his writing. He grounds the description in the present and gives a clear visual and emotional view of people and work but then takes that description into a broader context. He’s pretty subtly sassy too.
The ways he describes works of art in his writing are pretty direct and expressive. I love this description: “ÉRIC ZEMMOUR, slight, dark, a live wire, fell over his own words, they were tumbling out so fast.” In his review of the Gees Bend quilt show this line: “She interrupts the plain geometry of green and white stripes with an irregular sliver of flowery border, an almost imperceptible riff, which nevertheless transforms a basic serial pattern into exalted form.” He takes the description from literal to personal.
The criticism here is more about grounding the work, topic, or experience in a certain perspective. He provides background that shifts the context of the work without explicitly saying thumbs up thumbs down in a shallower way. This is evidenced by two quotes from a review of the Gees Bend quilt show at the Whitney Museum: “But then, good art can never be fully accounted for, just described” and “New art constantly readjusts our taste.”
Michael Kimmelman in general: Confidently grounded, pretty tender, lovingly cynical.
Gees Bend: www.tinwoodmedia.com/PDFDownloads/KimmelmanREVIEW.pdf” target=”_blank”>http://www.tinwoodmedia.com/PDFDownloads/KimmelmanREVIEW.pdf
Michelle Grabner, Chicago
By Natalie LeRoy
Michelle Grabner was born in 1962 in Oshkosh, WI. Grabner received her MFA from Northwestern University, Department of Theory and Practice in 1990. At NU she worked with the painters Ed Paschke and William Conger. She received a MA in Art History (1987) and a BFA (1984) from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is a Professor and Chair of the Painting and Drawing Department at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago where she has been teaching since 1996. From 1997 through 2003 she was on faculty at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Department of Art. She runs The Suburban, an artist project space in Oak Park, IL. She is a corresponding editor for Xtra and artUS. Rocket, London; Marlborough Gallery, NYC; Richard Heller Gallery, Santa Monica; Wendy Cooper Gallery, Chicago; and Allston Skirt Gallery, Boston, represent her work.
In 2008 Grabner and Killam purchased the Waupaca County Poor Farm in the Township of Little Wolf in Central Wisconsin. The building’s 8000 square feet is dedicated to yearlong exhibitions. The Poor Farm, a non-profit art space and residency also hosts a dormitory building for artists and writers. During the summer of 2009 the Waupaca County Poor Farm was the site of The Great Poor Farm Experiment, a series of artworks installed and presented in and around the Poor Farm during the renovation of the main exhibition building.
An academic writer with mathematic processes in her art, Grabner eloquently dissects pieces and pairs them sociologically, historically and personally to deduce reason and appreciation of projects and works. Her criticism is well directed, never citing specific tastes, her voice comes through diction and connotation; descriptive and informed about the backgrounds and context of her reviews. She is not authoritative, but knowledgeable. Her answers in interviews and reviews seem effortless yet when she describes it as, “The process of writing is miserable for me; it’s a very difficult process. But I do it and I do it diligently, because I come to understand work that I probably wouldn’t take the time to analyze otherwise. I try to contextualize things and then I bring that into the classroom and to visits with grad students.” She has been taken as “The Pragmatist” when Grabner was interviewed by Saul Ostrow in the March 2010 issue of Art in America. She summarizes pieces in a single sentence and moves on to promote their importance rather than detailing their aesthetics. Feelings about pieces are equally matched with a detached reference to other artists’ works and movements in art. In an example from Freize Magazine, issue 105 of March 2007 where she reviewed a show by Mel Bochner, a conceptual artist from the sixties, she writes, “Cited as the first Conceptual art exhibition and responsible for spawning decades of lousy Xeroxed artists’ books, Mel Bochner’s ‘Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant To Be Viewed as Art’ (1966) is the bedrock of mid-century Conceptual art history… Like Bochner’s assessment of Minimalism at that time, the four identical black office-style archives signal a paradigm shift away ‘from the humanistic stammering of Abstract Expressionism, Happenings and Pop art’.” Her references to other works are definitive, clear and tied strongly with reason as well as flexibility. Grabner states her opinion, yet her language denotes clauses for unsaid interpretation.
I feel her voice is directive, but not over powering. As a practicing artist herself balancing an unconventional lifestyle of suburban mother, art critic. “At a lecture in 1992 Vito Acconci acknowledged that he has a great fear of the notion of home and family. Was he referring to the outdated notion of “family values” as touted by right-wing politicians and Christian organizations? Or did he mean to invoke the stereotype of the three-bedroom nursery in the suburbs governed by women obsessed with decor, or the ego-charged product of this domestic institution: kids?” (Grabner 22). Her viewpoints seem less elitist and more relational. Most of our generation comes from the similar circumstance, suburban middle class. Grabner allows the sometimes-closed art world into the familiar backgrounds that many artists try to leave behind and operate under a new identity.
Michelle Grabner, New Art Examiner, “Test Family: Children in Contemporary Art,” October 1999, pp. 22-23 & 60.
Michelle Grabner, Freize Magazine, “Mel Bochner” Mar 2007, Issue 150.
Roberta Smith, New York Times
By Teresa Cano
Roberta Smith captivates her audience with exceptional details of the work she discusses. She is able to bring in mental images of the work helping the reader understand her observations and opinions. After reading multiple reviews I began to understand her style of writing, or her “voice” as a writer. She carries her work in a classy and clear way. There is normally no sarcastic undertone or opinions challenging your thoughts. Her voice is knowledgable and even handed. Her clear and concise way of writing didn’t leave me with a branded idea of the works. I felt like I knew more about what to expect but didn’t feel like I finished that article and knew then whether I would like it or not. Her sense of confidence is shown through her descriptions, which she seems more concerned about then boldly declaring an opinion.“I like these shows, but that’s not the point. We can not live by the de-materialization or the slick re-materialization of the art object alone.”
In The Post Minimal to the Max article Smith clearly states her status on what seems to be missing in the shows recently exhibited. “Why hasn’t there been a major New York show of Philip Taaffe, whose layered, richly colored paintings are actually taking the medium of painting in a direction it hasn’t been before?” She asks questions like these in order to understand why small shows dedicated to less popular artists are scarce. She doesn’t rant and rave about how this is so disturbing. Instead she uses her collected voice to bring this matter to the doorsteps of New York’s citizens, this being a much stronger approach in my opinion.
After attending college in Iowa at Grinnell Collage her career in the arts started in an undergraduate internship at Corcoran Gallery of art in Washington D.C. The following year she began interning with the Independent Study Program at the Whitney Museum becoming interested in Minimal art. After graduation, she returned to New York City in 1971 to take a secretarial job at the Museum of Modern Art, followed by part-time assistant jobs to Judd and Paula Cooper in 1972. At the Paula Cooper Gallery she began writing exhibition reviews at the Paula Cooper Gallery for Art forum, and afterwards for Art in America, the Village Voice and other publications. She began writing for the New York Times in 1986.
Smith has written a number of essays for catalogues and monographs on contemporary artists, and wrote the featured essay in the Judd catalogue raisonné published by the National Gallery of Canada in 1975. In 2003, the College Art Association honored Smith with the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism.
Article on William Kentridge:
Article on Gilbert and George:
Article on Post Minimal to the Max:
Peter Schjeldahl, New Yorker
By Ashley Janke
Peter Schjeldahl writes some of the most influential art writing in the US, and is a distinguished art critic and reviewer for the New Yorker.
He was born 1942 in Fargo, North Dakota, but grew up mostly in smaller towns around Minnesota. He attended Carleton College in Minnesota, and the New School in New York.
I would describe Schjeldahl as a populist writer, putting a personal and opinionated spin on each show. Also he builds a relation to the artist through their past personal history (“Burchfield was a family man of shy temperament who passed his life in small towns in Ohio and western New York.”)
It seems that his writings are biased more around what each artist brings to the show through their history. Once he begins to hone in more acutely to the work, he relays it in terms of emotional relations, how each line feels, rather than formal art elements. He also makes references to other artists as well as art history, but clarifies the work he is relating it to for the reader. In these ways, although a bit non-academic or traditional, he does a great job of introducing the reader to the exhibition and work through a humanistic personalized account.
He is definitely does not hesitate to offer a critical or opinionated perspective. “He is the finest American artist of what might be termed the personal-is-political era, which peaked fifteen or so years ago. That hardly qualifies him to interpret a Middle American, homebody modernist, but he was enlisted for the role by Ann Philbin, the director of the Hammer Museum, in Los Angeles, where the show began, last year. (She had noticed that Gober and his partner owned, and treasured, drawings by Burchfield.) The match proves the potency of having one good artist present another, something that should happen more often.”
“To the end of his life, Burchfield repeatedly denounced a rave review from 1920 by the era’s best critic, Henry McBride, who attributed the power of the young man’s art to a “detestation” of the provincial ugliness of “the loathsome town of Salem, Ohio.” This was an honest cosmopolitan mistake, at a time when artists and writers routinely fled the hinterlands for the liberties of Greenwich Village.”
He uses clear opinions and refers to the work as “good,” “inadequate”, or “hardly qualifies.” He also picks out distinct pieces that he enjoys the most in the show.
“He is the finest American artist of what might be termed the personal-is-political era, which peaked fifteen or so years ago.”
“Prince seems to have de Kooning mixed up with Francis Bacon. (De Kooning’s pictures are lyrical improvisations of line and paint, in which glimpses of figuration come and go.)”
The voice of Peter Schjeldahl is informed, intelligent, challenging, and a bit arrogant. He brings up excellent points, but uses the artist’s background often to support them rather than the work at hand which I have yet to decide if I agree with or not. He explains works, exhibitions and artists, as if he were sitting at dinner with a friend picking apart a show they had just experienced together. An interesting approach, and although I am not sure if I agree with the point he makes, he sure keeps my attention.
By Erin Hill
Meyer Schapiro was a critic who focused primarily on Medieval and Modernist artwork. A professor at Columbia for a majority of his life, Schapiro published over ten books dealing with art criticism.
Schapiro was born in 1904 and was a prominent writer from the 1930’s until he died in 1996. He was a professor, philosopher, historian, and most importantly, an innovative writer for his time, but that’s not all. Schapiro had a strong influence over the art world, and is said to have given a hand in the success of Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Robert Motherwell, by encouraging and supporting the work they were producing.
He was one of the few critics of his time to say that abstract art, along with modern art, would become a huge movement that would shake the art world. His work does not focus on specific shows, but focuses on specific artists and art movements. Schapiro’s strong voice and knowledge of Modern art movements and the social issues that affected them, made him one of the most well known art historians and critics of the twentieth century.
In his essay The Nature of Abstract Art, Schapiro points out that artwork is not just a reaction to the art movement that came before it, but rather an expression of the times in which the artist is living. This may not sound like an innovative discovery for artists studying today, but when it was published in the 1930’s, many critics referred to abstract art as just a reaction to the movement before it, saying that artists were tired of “painting facts,” so they began painting things just for the sake of painting. The critics of the time referred to the work as a purely aesthetic movement. However, Schapiro points out that although art is affected by the work that comes before it, it is not the only thing driving the artists, but rather they are influenced by the times in which they are painting, not just rebelling against the styles that came before them.
“The theory of immanent exhaustion and reaction is inadequate not only because it reduces human activity to a simple movement, like a bouncing ball, but because in neglecting the sources of energy and the condition of the field, it does not even do justice to its own limited mechanical conception” (Schapiro 189).
Schapiro points out that by ignoring the other factors of the times, we are downgrading the artwork and limiting our knowledge and understanding of the pieces. Schapiro goes on to explain that Gauguin and Van Gogh did not make their work simply as a reaction to the work that came before them, but rather a reaction to their isolation from society. Schapiro does not just point out the artists and their lives to prove his point, but also brings up literature and philosophy of the time, while at the same time giving a well rounded description of the abstract art movement.
Schapiro, in his writing, is not critical of the artwork or the movement, but of people who do not look at all of aspects of art movements, specifically abstract art, and just brush it off as a reaction to the work that came before it. More specifically, Schapiro is critical of historian Alfred H. Barr Jr., who believes that art movements are a reaction to the movement that came before.
“Even if Cubism and Abstract Art is largely an account of historical movements, Barr’s conception of abstract art remains essentially unhistorical… He excludes as irrelevant to its history the nature of the society in which it arose, except as an incidental obstructing or accelerating atmospheric factor. The history of modern art is presented as an internal, immanent process among the artists” (Schapiro 187).
Schapiro is opinionated, without being overbearing or talking down to the reader. He uses metaphors and examples of abstract artists to prove his point. He goes into detailed description about the artwork, the artists, and entire movements. He not only talks about abstract work, but also about movements leading up to it, such as impressionism. Schapiro doesn’t just focus on abstract work, but on what came before along with literary works and beliefs of the time. As a writer, his voice is informative, and intelligent.
While reading The Nature of Abstract Art, it was easy to see why Meyer Schapiro is one of the best known art historians and critics of his time. Not only is his work interesting to read, but it is broadly informative.
Schapiro, Meyer. Modern Art, 19th & 20th Centuries: Selected Papers. New York: G. Braziller, ! 1978. Print. “The Art Story: Art Critic – Meyer Schapiro.” The Art Story: Modern Art Movements, Artists, ! Ideas and Topics. Web. 15 July 2010. <http://www.theartstory.org/critic-schapiro-
Hilton Kramer, New Criterion
By Collin Schipper
Hilton Kramer is currently the art critic and partial founder of the Magazine the New Criterion. He started writing around 1960, but got his big break in 1965 when he started writing for the New York Times, which he did up until 1982. Currently Hilton Kramer is not very active at writing, though he finished a book in 2006 at the age of 78.
Kramer is perhaps one of the most conservative writers of the 20th Century, leaving the New York Times to form his own magazine because he felt they had become too liberal. His artistic views strongly resemble his political views, asking for small changes, celebrating the academies of old, and criticizing much modern and postmodern work that cannot be deeply rooted in the past. He was a very strong critic of communist work, specifically Stalinist work, saying that it had little value.
When it comes to describing the work, Hilton Kramer is very good at providing historical context, alluding to great artists who have come before, and comparing the work of the show he is critiquing to that work. He does not, however, go through an in depth description of the work. I do not feel, after reading his critiques, as if I could picture the work he is writing about – sometimes, even if I’ve seen it. He focuses more on the historical connections and some psychological elements, talking about the intent of the artist and the feel of the work. He takes a very academic stance, which is somewhat odd in writing for a populist publication, but he doesn’t ever attempt to dumb it down for the people.
Kramer is very critical and opinionated about works of art. Writing about Robert Motherwell, he said, “Where strong color is used, the results are, I think, less distinctive. In a work such as ‘In Beige, Ultramarine and Green’ (1968), the shadow of Matisse clouds one’s vision – as, indeed, it seems to have clouded the artist’s – and elsewhere, too, color seems merely disruptive, a visual noise disturbing an otherwise calm and sustained meditation (Kramer, 344). He goes on to say what Motherwell has done well, and how he can improve his work, according to Kramer. He never shies away from saying art is failing, or not living up to his expectations, but he has many issues explaining why this is. His analysis is formal, based on context to the academy and canon, but he does not look at the works more conceptually and deeply – for Kramer, a work must speak for itself, and that speech must have some connection to Matisse, Picasso, or Cezanne, otherwise it is a bunch of hogwash, littering the artistic scene.
Kramer’s voice is very authoritative, somewhat brazen, and quite informed, but it is as a pure historian and journalist. I get from reading his analysis of the work that he was never an artist, and got into the scene because he could talk to them, but more importantly for Kramer, about them. His ability to create connections to artists of the avant-garde that he appreciated is impressive, and his knowledge of art history expansive, so he makes it known that he isn’t just coming up with something off the tip of his tongue. He does not delve into gut feelings. I think, for me, that’s one of the problems with his writing. Kramer never seems to connect with the work, entering himself into it, but observes from a pedestal far removed, and his reviews don’t really ever tell me about the work itself, but how Kramer felt about it.
I also find it somewhat of an issue that much of Kramer’s ideals are based around a strict hatred of communist art, or art for the bourgeois, and he talks about how the fast pace of art since the avant-garde has often relinquished the artists once celebrated by the academy, moving forward basing their work off the artists of yesterday, not last century.
Kramer’s political views, which are highly conservative, celebrate the world of capitalism, which the art world has entered into. Post-industrialization has caused a state of constant change, with the world at large seeking newer, better, faster, shinier: that’s what capitalism is hinged upon. His viewpoints seem to get blurred, mixing economic and social standings and critiques with an art scene he is, and always has been, out of touch with and standoffish to. His critiques are formulated around Hilton Kramer, person and critic, with strong ideals, rather than focusing on the work of the artist, and then injecting some of himself into it. It is arrogant work.
By Stephen Strupp
James Kalm (born 1951) is best known for the video series he produces called “The James Kalm Report,” which covers openings in New York. He carries the camera around with him at galleries, narrating what he is seeing and occasionally asking other people at the exhibition what they think of the work. He often opens a video with an introduction like, “This is James Kalm, the guy on the bike, welcoming our worldwide viewership back for another half-assed production.”
His videos are generally around ten minutes long. They can be found on several websites, including YouTube, Vimeo, jameskalmreport.blip.tv, and lorenmunk.com.
Loren Munk is the alter ego of James Kalm. Munk is a painter who has been working in New York since 1979. The work of both Kalm and Munk is available at lorenmunk.com. On the website, Kalm describes Munk as “a founding member of ‘Kitsch Art’ and a leading member of New York Neo-Expressionism.” Munk invented the persona of James Kalm in the mid nineties and started out publishing essays and reviews, mainly in the Brooklyn Rail, before moving on to establish the James Kalm Report in 2006.
I would describe Kalm as populist, because he basically seems to be trying to provide an objective experience of the show, without using too much art jargon.
Kalm doesn’t really present the overall idea of the show. However, if he comes across the curator he asks for some thoughts on the show. Also, if he is there for a gallery talk about the show he will feature it in his video. He doesn’t describe the work very well, but the camera partially makes up for it. He mostly just says what other artists or movements the work reminds him of and sometimes says if he likes it. Kalm mostly deals with general descriptions and usually doesn’t express an opinion about the work, unless he likes it and then usually calls the piece “nice.” He often says something like “This is an impressive piece.” An example of a rare clear opinion is: “Damien Hirst has nothing on this guy [referring to a Paul Thek meat piece].”
Kalm will reference a historical work if the piece he is looking at reminds him of something he has seen before. He says the name of the artist and their piece it reminds him of, and usually says what the artist he is looking at has done differently or added. He doesn’t really connect the ideas, it’s more just surface-level commonality and maybe a little bit of an opportunity to name-drop.
I would describe Kalm’s voice as relaxed and a little pretentious.
By Alec Regan
David Hickey, born in 1939, is a famous and controversial art critic and MacArthur “genius” fellow, who has written for Rolling Stone, Art News, Art in America, Artforum, Harpers Magazine and Vanity Fair, among others. He currently teaches English at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He writes with passion, often brining in his personal life and experience to his interaction with artwork. His writing is unique in this way, in the sphere of art writing, and this is what makes him controversial. I particularly enjoy his writing, although a lot of his critics would say that his opinionated nature has no place in objective art criticism. But David Hickey doesn’t seem to care. He enjoys being an outlier, against the grain. This is his way in to the art world, and he shares this quality with artists.
By Sean Weber
Robert Hughes was born in 1938, in Sydney, Australia. He has lived in the United States and in Europe since 1964. In 1970 he earned the position of art critic for TIME magazine. Hughes worked a couple of television narration positions, and in 1980 the BBC broadcast the debut of his series The Shock of the New. This series was accompanied by a book with the same title. Hughes also published a collection of essays on art and artists, Nothing If Not Critical, in 1990.
Hughes’ tone seems to be well informed, almost to the point of being omniscient. He seems to be conservative and rather critical. Hughes does not tend to appreciate the under-informed. He is ready to prod and question one’s background and thought process. Hughes has a knack for describing artworks with much detail and accuracy. He is not afraid of voicing his opinions and he will usually give ample reasoning for them. All in all, Robert Hughes seems to carry a blazing torch for the art critic, not ashamed of his thoughts and ready to voice his opinions. Accessible, authoritative, informed, intelligent, and challenging–Robert Hughes will go into history as a prominent critic of our times.