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I wear many hats in the art world, one of them as an art critic. Until recently, I have only accepted offers to attend press previews and other pre-public opening events at large-scale institutions when I knew I was actually going to write about a show. Increasingly, I realize I cannot predict whether I will want to write (or should write) about a show until I see it. Also, as someone who covers a huge metropolitan region, I need to stay abreast of the local art scene, but also schedule my own writing time with care. I want to keep track of shows, but I can’t cover it all. Is it okay—ethically, journalistically—to accept these invitations, attend press previews, and NOT write about the exhibition? I’m not trying to run a scam, but I do feel slightly dishonest. Should I even be worried about this? Thanks for your continued sagacity.
In brief: Yes, you can and should go to press previews; no, you shouldn’t worry that you’re violating some ethical or journalistic code. Instead of wrapping it up with the short answer, perhaps we should talk about why you might feel uncomfortable, and what you can do about it in the future.
A press preview is an industry event that critics attend in order to determine whether they’ll be able and willing to invest their time in a conversation about the artworks. It can be very difficult to predict if you’ll want to write about a show before you’ve seen it, even if you’re already familiar with the artist’s oeuvre—and woe betide the critic who has already sent a pitch to her editor and then makes everyone’s life difficult by backing out a few days before the deadline. No critic can cover every show, even in a small city, so she must determine which of the exhibitions on offer will be the beneficiary of her attentions. In order to do this, she must possess a modicum of facts about the work, and attending press previews and seeing a lot of artwork as it is best seen (in person, without needing to elbow through a crowd of selfie-taking nitwits) is a great way to get the facts.
Some of the anxiety you feel might be attributable to the press officers who organize such events. Having eaten my share of mini-quiches at preview breakfasts, I can attest to the subsequent pressure that press officers sometimes bring to bear on the situation. I’ve had my hand pumped, been flirted with, had exhibition catalogs pressed into my arms, fielded aggressive appeals to interview artists and curators, and indeed been asked outright, “Are you going to write about this show?” before even being led into the galleries.