Yes. Yes we can.
Here are the negotiations that took place between myself and curator Andy Campbell (Middle East pay attention):
— Andy Campbell wrote:
It was a particularly nasty review, wasn’t it?
Honestly, I am not so concerned that you left out our names, what bothered me was that you really missed the organizing principles behind the Summer exhibitions.
Firstly, the exhibitions are democratic. Anyone who wants to participate, and who has the drive and initiative to meet with curators and writers, is welcome to. To me, this is a kind of grassroots-based approach to curating, and presents very specific advantages and problems.
One of these problems is making a cohesive exhibition. I was afraid that Making It Alone would follow the path of its predecessors —- shows where the artworks on display were not easily relatable. What I was surprised with, and surprised that you found it otherwise, was how well all the artworks fit together. Simply classifying them as “landscapes” doesn’t do the artists (or me and my team of curators) justice. Instead of looking at some kind of inner-life whether that be emotional or mental, the artists in Making It Alone look towards an outer reality. You have deer feeders and suburban snapshots; woodland creatures and dogs sniffing each other’s asses; graffiti to be taken to the streets and street detritus taken into the gallery. I think, for me, the critical missing link was thinking about why these works were put together – why a deerfeeder and suburban cookie-cutter house America could exist within the same space; how Jones’ paintings of superimposed images play off of Johnson’s and Mueller’s submissions to the show.
I heard through the grapevine that you used to be a Studio Art student at UT. You, probably better than anyone, should understand that interaction between artists and art historians is next to nil. The summer exhibitions have always been (and are still considered to be, by myself and my co-curators) about bridging the gap between artists and art historians. In this respect the exhibitions this year have already been successful. Many of the artists have not had more than a paragraph written about them (if that!) – they have not had their work critically digested by someone who is not also an artist. For the artists this can be an important experience. The same case could be made for the Art Historians, some of whom have never written about contemporary art (ok, the vast majority of them haven’t). Far from being at the beck and call of the University, the Summer Shows are about academic and artistic interaction outside of a class or seminar culture. Artists should feel free to show work they wouldn’t otherwise show their professors, art historians should feel free to write essays that wouldn’t be considered “academic” under other circumstances.
Although, I admit that monetarily the exhibitions are fully dependant upon UT’s support – let me make clear that I get no money for this. And neither does anyone else.
Your comment about the “disproportionately high word count” was by far the most egregious of your criticisms, and the one that hit closest to home. I found it most callous that a writer would say something like this. I think this comment off-handedly discredited a whole group of people (the writers) who worked on this project. It made me think that you had some kind of beef against writers in general. In your email you told me that you respect writers but that was not what I got from your review, and while it’s nice for me personally to know that you think writers “give you a better view of the art world” the impression that the people who read Might Be Good get is that you think our writers are snobby, opportunistic, longwinded braggarts. If this is what you meant to say, what you meant to convey… well alright.
In my experience writing carries with it a heavy responsibility. I can only speak for myself when I tell you that when I send my writing out into the world I feel like I am putting Saint Sebastian on the pole (and I’m Jewish!). When I have written critical reviews (and I have written one for MBG) I have felt even more vulnerable, like those who I criticize will come back out and burn me back. SO I hope you don’t read this letter within that framework. I wanted to send you an email that said “Hey, you missed the mark here” not “you can’t be critical.” I think that criticism is an incredibly important part of the art production system (production of works, words, meanings, books), and there is plenty to be critical about Making It Alone – but none of this was touched upon in your review.
Oh and not everyone in these two exhibitions is a current University of Texas student, I could’ve told you that if you had asked.
Take care, and next time do your homework,
— Salvador Castillo wrote:
Now that’s good criticism!
Mr. Campbell, I am so glad you mentioned the feeling of vulnerability from writing. That’s exactly what I go through everytime I hit the send button. Up to this point, nobody has really objected to what I was stating. I guess up to this point, nobody has really cared.
Before I forget, I never meant “made it” or “making it” to mean making money. I am one year fresh out of UT and I know that nobody north of the stadium has any money or is making any.
Allow me to share my thoughts around your thoughts:
A nasty review? Although I prefer it wasn’t looked upon as being hurtful, but yeah, I wrote about what I saw and what I understood to be happening. And it was strongly worded.
About the exhibition:
After Eric’s, Amanda’s and your input, I now know that these summer shows are “democratic”. As an audience member, that information was not available to me. It seems like that is an important element. But the press release and the catalogue do not define your participation in those terms. I fully understand that both the artists and the writers mutually benefit from these events, but while it is, in my opinion, an academic exercise, you have placed your work out in the public realm.
I try to enter the gallery as a layman. So coming from the street and not being informed that the show is something akin to resume building, I think I go away with something different then what I would expect you wanted me to walk away with.
I’ll admit I didn’t devote any space into asking why the work was placed together. Instead, I tried to ask why Mueller’s work was described as having elements of graffiti via the catalogue. In front of my face I did not recognize that element in the work. On the same level, McGrath’s and Graybill’s work did not explain their narratives. I assumed their was a story, but the catalogue was the source of my enlightenment.
About Art History vs. Studio:
Yes I am aware of the segregation in the ART building. But like I said, I try to walk into a gallery with a clean slate. What does the public care if artists and historians don’t have lunch at the same table? I guess I want to point out that even though you conduct these exhibits under the auspices of the University, you’ve opened the doors to a public unaware of the politics involved in such activities. And as such, I, as part of that public, expect to see the next level. A more challenging exhibit for both participants and audience.
About “high word count”:
Yes, that was hyperbole I was using. Unfortunately, I think it was exagerrated and slightly distorted in context during the editing process. Although I have been writing, I am clinging to the idea that I am an artist, as that is how I was trained. That is where my feelings toward the separation of art and its explanation stem from. As an artist, I want my art to be able to communicate my intentions without the need for literature or my presence.
Lets see if I can clarify my contradiction without contradicting myself again. In a review or a thesis, I am willing to consider a writer’s perspective on some artist or artwork. I do not like seeing the writing competing with the art in a gallery. Perhaps I was writing too emotionally around this topic and not objectively enough?
Stereotypically, those are good descriptions. (hah!)
Specifically though, I found the writers to be a little green around the ears.
Like I said, I don’t necessarily think that I am a “Writer”,more like an instigator, but I do try to adhere to the different guidelines (academic, journalistic, diaristic, etc.). One of my goals with my writing practice is the promotion of discussion. From my seat, the …mbg review has been my most successful publication. Even though I haven’t had alot of feedback online, hits have gone up. In person, I have been able to talk to people both supporting what I said and defending what you worked on.
I’ll do my best with the homework, but this school of hardknocks doesn’t really handout assignments.
I wish to extend an invitation for you to add a comment on my blog. Or with your permission, I would like to post our email discussion.
Let me know,
P.S. At least you didn’t chew me out like Amanda did.
— Andy Campbell wrote:
your email was really long – and I didn’t quite make it through! Hah! Just Kidding!
Points well taken… esp. about making the “democratic” clear in the Press Release and catalogue – I’m thinking this will be rectified for next time.
Just food for thought: Why does art writing have to compete with the art itself? why can’t it compliment, contradict, resonate with or throw in additional narratives. I might consider myself an artist as well, take the essay I wrote for McGrath (b/c I can really only speak for myself)… for me her artwork (esp. her recent inclusion of trees) brings up the idea of autobography, of geneology, names and roots. In my essay I tried to (although I may have failed) compliment the narratives I saw in the artwork with my own. Kind of an artistic exchange, no? I emailed her the draft and she really liked it – thought it was good for what she was trying to do. That’s just one way to see art writing I think. Anyway – not an argument, just, if you keep writing – which you should and obviously you plan to, try to broaden what you want to accomplish with your writing. and don’t hate so much! damn!
Thanks for the emails.
no more Mr. Campbell, please
oh and post it if you want to – I ain’t gonna stop you – and I wrote the damn thing.
Not hate, more like passive (and/or) aggressive nitpicking.
And in case you missed it, Amanda and I settled our differences at the Nohegan/ Mass opening. Needless to say, she has a mean left hook and there was no need for Mr. Zimmerman to jump in! But that loogie was hard to wash out of my hair!
I’ll tell you ’bout what I sees (from the less injured eye).