From the Editor
by Claire Ruud
At a moment when contemporary art practices may feel almost paralyzingly diverse, standards about how to look at art, and how to evaluate it, seem equally diffuse. For a critic (or viewer) navigating this heterogeneous landscape, the act of looking is sometimes plagued by the range of possible ways of looking. For such a viewer, an exhibition like the recent Works on Paper: Jo Baer, James Bishop and Suzan Frecon at Lawrence Markey can be refreshing because the work offers a clear framework for looking—a formal one. Because of our history with it, it’s almost as if this type of work comes with an instruction manual: look at it in person; look at color, line, shape, dimensionality, texture. When Wendy Atwell describes this show as “a contemplative, peaceful break” in this issue, this is what I think of—the peace of mind that arises out of knowing how to look.
We “know” how to look at work like Baer’s or Bishop’s because artists, critics and art historians have codified formalist modernism. Visual signals and historical cues prompt us to look/think formally. Over the past few years, however, curators and art historians have been asking us to reassess legacy of New York modernism through exhibitions such as ICI’s High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975 and the Blanton’s Reimagining Space: The Park Place Gallery Group in 1960s New York and even New Museum’s Mary Heilmann: To Be Someone. These shows, though they focus on the years of New York modernism’s so-called decline, suggest that modernist painting was never as neat and tidy as we sometimes want it to be.
Erin Curtis’s most recent work, reviewed by Eric Zimmerman in this issue, works best as a eulogy to Modernism. Recent history has torn up Modernism into little bits, as diverse as the art produced today. From amidst the rubble, Curtis’s paintings attempt to piece back together Modernism’s effigy—“the God-head from which it all came,” in Atwell’s words—not simply to question it, but also to venerate it. By resurrecting that singular Modernism, Curtis allows herself to revel in color, line, shape, dimensionality and texture and offers her viewers assurance that they know how to look at the work.
Given the upheaval and uncertainty of the current moment, it’s no wonder the idea of Modernism feels reassuring. Not least among the art world’s worries is the future of arts journalism, as exemplified by the tone of the National Arts Journalism Program’s recent summit. In this issue, I talk to two entrepreneurs in online arts journalism—Matt Nash of Big Red & Shiny and Matt Peiken of 3-Minute Egg—about the practicalities of running such projects.
In our next issue, look forward to reviews of Mike Smith and Mike Kelly at SculptureCenter, NYC, and Ping-Pong at Optical Project, Houston.
Claire Ruud is Associate Director of Fluent~Collaborative.