People generally look to restaurant, book, film, and art reviews, to determine whether they should spend the time or money to entertain or be entertained. The media recognize that although so many deny relying on what some stranger has to say, the reviewer has the power to secure patrons. Understandably, non-profit art galleries and museums specifically rely heavily on reviewers to help swell their attendance.
Spending the last couple of years reading reviews of local art exhibitions I have found most to be informative rather than critical. As an advocate for the arts who encourages large audiences of every age for art, information that entices viewers is good. Such information, much of which is lifted from the press packet or the gallery website, functions as a nice primer before I make my own judgment. As an art historian, I don’t really need a reviewer to encourage me to see an exhibition. Though there have been reviews that have kept me home. If I hadn’t gone to the opening of ArtWorks Paper Chasers, Matt Morris’ review in City Beat would have been one of those reviews.
While it is clear that Morris is a friend of the artist/curator and I admire his support of her work, his attempt to laud the current exhibition with art theory does nothing more than force the average art patron to quickly dismiss the show and turn the page. With phrases like, “…a substantial constant that calls attention to the unique solutions each artist extricates from the broader continuum of connotations…” Morris’ review reads like what my former grad school colleagues referred to our own scholarship as intellectual masturbation. This is not for your eyes.
And if that is not damaging enough to the attempt to encourage people to see the show, Morris goes on to suggest reading Jacques Derrida. Derrida? Is he kidding? Art theory should perhaps be required reading to create a show like Paper Chasers, but not to view it. Morris’ reading suggestion only intimidates and discourages.
At the end of his review Morris seems to find his way back to his recognized reviewer’s voice. Finally, he insists clearly we should see the show. Because Morris spends too much time beating his chest and our heads with art theory only to come to a plea to see his friend’s show, he, ArtWorks, and the rest of us are left to rely on City Beat’s red “Critic’s Pick” that graces the review. Morris’ review thus risks not only alienating loyal art patrons, but reducing the role of the reviewer to a mere editor’s stamp.