Help Desk is where I answer your queries about making, exhibiting, finding, marketing, buying, selling–or any other activity related to contemporary art. Submit your questions anonymously here. All submissions become the property of Daily Serving.
None of my shows have ever been reviewed, even though I’ve been exhibiting my work in solo and group shows for almost six years. Press releases, personal emails, and newsletters have been sent from me and from the galleries. The galleries aren’t blue-chip, but they’re decent, and there’s an audience. Why can’t I get a review?
John Divola. As Far As I Could Get (R02F09), 10 Seconds, 1996-7; pigment print; 60 x 40 in.
There’s a strong possibility that in the same moment you submitted your question, I was standing in an exhibition space and wondering if I would or could write anything interesting about the work in front of me. Not every critic has the same constraints as I do, so I’m going to answer your query from my perspective alone; below are all the reasons that (to date) I have not written a review of an exhibition.
Before I give you my list, let’s agree that writing about art isn’t easy. The reason we make representational images and abstracted forms is because the ideas and feelings behind them are slippery and changeable, reshaping themselves from moment to moment. Meanwhile, a word is a fence—it codifies and concretizes, thus a review is an attempt at the interpretation of something whose function is to defy a final analysis. Further, the words a critic ends up using depend a lot on her race, class, gender, and education. An exhibition review can tell you more about the critic than it does about the art, and in the same way that artists sometimes feel tremulous about presenting their work to the world, the critic can feel equally wobbly because her interpretation of this ever-vacillating thing comes with the possibility that art historians, editors, fellow critics, curators, or the artist herself will say, “You’re wrong.” Taking a position and substantiating one’s claims is challenging and sometimes laborious.
Now to our list: If I like your work, there still might be a host of practical reasons why I’m not able to write about it. Please know that a lack of reviews doesn’t mean that your work doesn’t have merit. For example, sometimes I learn about exhibitions too late. Here at Daily Serving, our editorial calendar is made a month in advance, and we only publish “live” reviews for shows that are still open. If one of our critics does see your show and loves it, we won’t be able to review it unless we have a free slot before the show closes.
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