Friday, January 02, 2009

Art Tapout

Attended a unique performance recently, a public “critic vs. artist” styled as a boxing match. Kevin Frietas critiqued the work of four artists, inviting input from the gallery audience. The artists defended themselves and their work.
No actual punches thrown.
I have to say it was strange, a performance of something I do for a living. Kevin was not unkind, but I think he’s a rather nice type of guy anyway. I’ve witnessed scathing crits, where the work is embarrassing, and the critic/teacher has called the artist/student on the b-s.
The format was/is problematic. Was it performance? Should it be dramatic somehow, ie yelling and cussing? Is this academic exercise worth showing to the real world? One artist muttered he hadn’t participated such discussion since he’d left school.
At least one guy was still in grad school, and it showed; he could really talk the talk. He seemed almost bored, explaining it all again. Some topics seemed off limits, like why were all the artists young? Why all white? Why avoid talk about the straight guy stuff (mad-scientist, skate culture), the soft-spoken guy appropriating traditionally female craft (crocheting), the token woman?
But that said, I admire all those who participated. Kevin could be a bit harsher next time, which would entertain us more, and also feel more like the real art world. Life’s a bitch for us--on with the show.


Kevin Freitas said...

Hi Kloe -

Thanks for attending the Tapout and for your commentary. Let me try to answer some of your reservations/concerns that you mention. First, the goal of the Tapout was to bring into the public domain, that "dialogue" you perform professionally with your students. Some of the other underlying issues are the notion of "authority" and role playing that every one of us is locked into as either artist, critic, gallery, collector, teacher, etc. - who decides?, who's right?, who declares that what they make or see is art? The goal in part, was to open up the domain of the art world and to shed a little modest light onto its functioning. Specifically, I've found here in San Diego, that any dialogue or support of one's peers is sorely lacking and exists if you're lucky, in secular university settings. Once out of this environment, that insular bubble is replaced by another bubble which is the gallery and museum. The public is once again left out and required to "appreciate" viewing an object that someone else has declared "art". School critiques are for the most part obselete, what we need is to have those critiques exist outside of the university and in the public domain. This is ideally, what critics should do, but if you read say for example Critical Mess: Art Critics on the State of their Practice by Raphael Rubenstein, you'll discover that even a critic's "taste" has been circumvented by huge auction houses and big name galleries who are preaching entirely to the money choir - the interest is no longer in the art or its meaning/interpretation.

The problem with galleries and museums is that they are not going to critique necessarily an artist they are going to exhibit, make a selection yes, critique no - there's too much of a mutual vested interest, and besides, the artist has gained the temporary status of "accepted" and is beyond any further critique.

Some topics seemed off limits, like why were all the artists young? Why all white? Why avoid talk about the straight guy stuff (mad-scientist, skate culture), the soft-spoken guy appropriating traditionally female craft (crocheting), the token woman?

Art Tapout is a start Kloe, having only been the second time performed, there is obviously a huge potential for growth and a larger inclusivity. Given the 20 min. round to each critique, it is not possible to bring up every facet of an artist's work nor elaborate on the response. I don't believe any topics were off topic, but once again, in a limited time format, you have to pick an angle and keep on topic knowing that there are other avenues to pursue. Why young? Why all white? curious set of questions. David White made the selection of the artists, I didn't want to for fear of being too biased. His selection makes perfect sense if you think about it and recall his response to the Movers and Shakers exhibit in which he lamented the fact that there was no younger artists with innovative works beyond the medium of painting. The token woman? I think Kloe, you're reading way more into the selection then there actually is, the potential inference to a "boys club" or any gender bias is unfounded. On the flip side of this is the question of choice, and is what I feel is the most misunderstood aspect of the art world. Simply, fewer exhibition spaces mean less choices, couple this with each gallery or museum director's subjective and personal - this is what I like - selection process, and someone will always be excluded.

Finally, I don't do all this to entertain other people, I do it because I'm concerned about how franchised the art world is and how disconnected from the public it has become. A little honest, direct dialogue amongst everyone, especially here in SD, support of one's peers, the willingness for artists to take control of their destiny, and the the total rework of the art world system, would greatly improve the understanding of art and its rightful place in society. It's a bitch because no one wants to take the lead.

RG said...

The format was/is problematic. Was it performance?

One person's problematic is another's catnip - I find the tapout happenings to be compelling precisely because of how they blur the categories of theatrical performance and crit review.

I've talked with Kevin about how the two tapout events have gone, and one of the things we concluded is that all participants need to be made aware of this blur ahead of time, since the nature and degree of aggressiveness appropriate for an art crit differs significantly from that of a cage match.

The worst-case scenario here is where the ref is thinking wrestling while the artist is thinking crit review. The best is where the artist grabs the metaphor by both horns and releases their inner performer.

kloeamongtheturks said...

Hey Guys,
Thanks so much for your comments--they deserve a thoughtful response, and I wore my new high heels too many hours today to do any deep thinking.
I will say now, however, that the "worse case scenario" would be if the Art Tapout never happened at all.

Kevin Freitas said...

Ahh.. your true identity has been revealed. My lips are sealed. Until we meet again my art nemesis!