From the Editor

by Wendy Vogel

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      “The question is whether criticism today is a statement about one’s beliefs at all. Cultural production is based on memory: we have known that since Plato. And today, I’d say, we have lost our memories, and memory has been replaced by Google. Instead of memorizing, we are Googling.” -Boris Groys

      I’m terrible at saying goodbye (or “until I see you again”), so it’s with bittersweet sentiments that I write this letter from the editor, my last before I leave Texas on July 1st. Editing the last 20 issues of …might be good has been a rewarding and unforgettable experience. I have been extremely fortunate to work with a brilliant and sensitive team at Fluent~Collaborative. My deepest thanks go to them: Director Laurence Miller, Production Associate Emily Ng, Editorial Intern Nancy Lili Gonzalez and Production Intern Kelly Hanus. Your warmth, intelligence and collegiality have made each day of work a true pleasure. I’d also like to extend my gratitude to Mike Chesser and Claire Ruud for the stimulating feedback and conversations over the last year. Of course, it goes without saying that I must also thank all of the writers, artists, gallerists, curators and others who have worked with me on these issues of …might be good. Your generosity, enthusiasm and criticality has energized and challenged me, and I look forward to seeing what lies in store for all of you.

      After this issue, …might be good will go on a two-month summer hiatus, and will return early in the fall under the leadership of a new editor. In the spirit of reflection on my own practice, I’d like to leave with a few thoughts on criticism and judgment. It’s been a topic of public conversation recently in Austin, and a special area of interest for me as a writer and editor. I recently picked up a reader called Judgment and Contemporary Art Criticism, a compendium of papers from a symposium convened by Canadian critical powerhouses Artspeak and Fillip in early 2009. While opinions diverged on the forms and procedures of judgment, I’d like to leave with a meditation on some salient questions that have stuck with me.

      Zeros and Ones, or the Question of Object Choice

      The question of what gets covered in art criticism, as well as how and by whom, became the point of departure for many critics’ papers. Some thoughts by theorist and art historian Boris Groys in frieze offered a polemical springboard. According to Groys, most readers do not delve into the content of art criticism. If a show or artist is written about, it’s assumed by the public that the show is worth writing about. To sum it up: “I understood immediately that the code of contemporary criticism is not plus or minus; I would say it’s a digital code: zero or one, mentioned or not mentioned.” Groys goes on to argue that the role of the critic, even more so than that of the theoretician or academic is inescapably political: “You have to decide what you want to advertise, what your ideological position is, what you want to make known.” In other words, you are increasing someone’s symbolic value simply by putting his or her name in print, and you claim your stakes in choosing your subject. No press is the worst press.

      I am not so cynical as Groys to think that no one reads the content of criticism, but I have to agree that the choice of topic matters. In fact, I’ve written about the editor’s role as discursive engineer in just these terms. However, I think more along the lines of what Tirdad Zolghadr calls critical specificity, or the understanding of the critic’s task to generate a crisis by bringing an aesthetic problem to the attention of a public. Critics have a responsibility of challenging the status quo, not in terms of taking potshots, but rather in challenging the “weak politicality” of the system that surrounds them.

      Intimacies and Publics, or the Question of Audience

      Tom Morton’s paper, “Three or Four Types of Intimacies,” along with arguments by Diedrich Diederichson and Sven Lütticken, defended that most traditional format of judgment: the review, particularly the critical (negative) or ambivalent one. Morton called for the elevation of the review from its ghetto as the “unofficial audition space for emerging critics” at the back of art magazines. As the reviewer must negotiate between personal taste and that of the perceived “public,” and between established theoretical propositions and subjective experiences, he says, it is perhaps the last vestige of perceived “critical authority,” and must be treated as such. Diedrichson agreed that negative judgment was a dialectical necessity, a way to get out of the ahistoricism that categorizes contemporary neoliberalism. He says, “You have to be able to think progress in order to criticize regression.” Sven Lütticken lauded web-based criticism as a place where transmedia critique was possible. In virtual space, Lütticken argued that media limitations could be disregarded in favor of experimental models that go beyond brash, unqualified one-to-five-star assessments.

      As …mbg has run a substantial amount of reviews under my editorship, it’s clear that I agree with these assertions of the form’s value. In my opinion, however, the critical review functions best when it is argumentative in a broader scope. I believe these thinkers feel the same way. The negative review can be an antidote to the unbridled enthusiasm featured elsewhere in art publications, offering, if not prescriptive advice, a deconstructive assessment of a practice or logic not included elsewhere.

      Questions and Commas, or the Question of Form

      Finally, Fillip editor Kristina Lee Podesva introduced the symposium’s panel discussion with a meditation on form entitled “Between the Question and the Comma.” She argued that the ideal piece of critical writing both poses questions, a mode of address that “occasions a productive shift … prompting us to think more about what is unknown rather than known,” and commas, a symbol that “initiates dialogue and ushers in the verbal address, declaring and distributing a space between speakers, listeners, givers and receivers.”

      These bellelettrist metaphors underscored another aspect of the conference, which was a question of experimentation in writing as an artistic form. Panelists like Maria Fusco embraced types of writing like fiction and poetry, and an audience member challenged critics to respond to contemporary art practice by “becoming real writers,” taking their subjective, creative practice into account by fictionalizing and perverting established art discourse.

      While this type of writing is exciting and deserves a place alongside more traditional types of criticism, James Elkins raised understandable concerns about its function as criticism in his afterword. In other words, Elkins questioned the extent to which this writing is fluent in and challenges an existing corpus of literature on the practice of criticism. Unlike a somewhat established canon of readings for artists, Elkins claims, critics from formations as diverse as journalism, art history, cultural studies, literary theory, philosophy and art practice don’t necessarily share a common language. Nor, Elkins says, do they take the time to read up on their peers’ writing on the state of art criticism from related conferences.

      It is a challenge for an editor to negotiate between different types of address, but one that I’ve found enormously pleasurable. At …might be good, I’ve worked with writers who identify as art historians, artists, poets, curators and otherwise. If there is a way for me to wrap up this text with a few words of advice for the incoming editor, it would be to enjoy the dialogue with your writers, colleagues and peers and the freedom of this particular forum. Allow writers creative freedom, but help shape their texts to be polished and sharp pieces. Most importantly, stay true to your own position and instincts. Give yourself space to write about the topics that matter to you, and keep abreast of the debates in criticism and practice.

      And please, keep this writer in mind for future assignments.

      Wendy Vogel is Editor of ...might be good.

      + 2 Comments
      Ben Lima
      Jun 23, 2011 | 7:49pm

      Wendy, thanks for all your great work and good luck with the next chapter!

      Mike Mosher
      Aug 1, 2011 | 4:25am

      So to be written about means the work is "good enough to criticize", that there’s substance there worthy of attention and thought.  To be ignored is to be doomed to obscurity.

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