From the Editor
by Wendy Vogel
At the beginning of 2011, we find ourselves at the dawn of a new decade—one in which the technological advances and networking capacities of the Internet 2.0 have been assimilated into our daily lives.* In the spirit of new year’s navel-gazing, this editor’s letter and issue of …mbg is devoted to the question of creating an engaging critical discourse in the age of infinite hyperlinking possibilities. When nearly every website, from social networking platforms to self-published blogs to leading newspapers, offers a comment option to the ambitious amateur critic, one may wonder where the specificity of criticism even lies and where the public intellectual finds his or her platform.
The editors of the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review had the same questions in mind this week. In a feature entitled “Why Criticism Matters”, they asked six prominent critics to address the task of the critic today. Some of the responses were predictable polemics calling for a reinvestment in the genre’s traditional modes of address (“embrace competition,” “be more opinionated,” “write more artfully”). Panjak Mishra offered a more inspired reflection on the public intellectual’s role in non-Western nations. But it was a section of Stephen Burn’s response “Beyond the Critic as Cultural Arbiter” that struck me as particularly applicable to the contemporary art critic’s (and editor’s) task today:
“While the removal—or more accurately, the redistribution—of the evaluative task is likely to dilute critical standards, it can also free up the critic to engage in more serious tasks that might bleed back into the culture, providing a stronger skeleton for a range of literary activity. The critic who reviews contemporary novels now might valuably turn her attention to different kinds of vertical or horizontal mapping.”
Here I’d like to argue for the role of the publication, online or otherwise, as the discursive site in which new forms of horizontal mapping might take place. In this way, I am affirming the curatorial aspect of publications as a way to relate discrete ideas and critical statements. As the editor of …mbg, I consider ways to specify and connect contemporary art in and of Texas in the public imagination. Sometimes, this means drawing connections between spaces and artists that may be geographically dispersed but conceptually related to local work and ideas. The articles and features in this week’s issue, while largely covering events outside Texas, all exceptionally relate to the reevaluative task of the critically engaged work, exhibition or space to create new ways of being in the hyperlinked world.
For some of our writers, the question of creating a discursive field means resolving to become more theoretically informed. Rachel Cook’s reading list in “…mbg recommends” throws down the gauntlet for artists to self-educate and set the critical terms for a new decade. The artists of Marginal Utility in Philadelphia, who I interview, stake a claim for the political possibilities of theoretical work in their ‘zine Machete, monthly discussion groups and critically informed exhibitions. Bryan Zanisnik, whose solo show is currently on view at Marginal Utility, is featured in our Artist’s Space. And Sara Reisman reviews Christopher K. Ho’s complex exhibition Regional Painting, where the artist marries theory and praxis to illustrate the possibilities for the peripheral or side-guard artistic production.
Other reviews tackle the critical possibilities of exhibitions to address aesthetic and politicized issues. Jess Wilcox’s review of Benjamin Patterson’s solo exhibition at the CAMH asserts its revisionist importance, not only as a long-overdue major exhibition for an exceptional artist, but in problematizing how Fluxus is historicized as a movement. Katie Geha reviews an exhibition of Mark Morrisroe’s work at the Fotomuseum Winterthur, an overtly queer artist whose oeuvre is formally and conceptually related to Wojnarowicz’s (whose work is still provoking controversy in the new decade). Finally, I discuss and question the assumptions of publicness in the group exhibition Free, which takes the Internet’s possibilities of information sharing as its theme.
In closing, we hope that the new decade finds you well and that this issue of …mbg leaves you burning with enthusiasm about new ways to engage in the two-thousand-teens. As always, we encourage you to share your thoughts with us, too. What are your new decade’s resolutions, and how can you bring them to bear with relevance in our ever-expanding discursive field? How can we collectively reimagine the local to sustain us, challenge us and connect to a broader public?
*As a disclaimer, I understand the “us” here to be the largely Western readership of an online art publication. In the interest of class consciousness, however, I do want to acknowledge that a significant population in the U.S. and abroad do not have regular access to the Internet.
Wendy Vogel is Editor of ...might be good.