I think Cara Ober at Bmore Art started an excellent discussion about the quality, QUANTITY and honesty of arts criticism in Baltimore. This is a discussion in which I am endlessly involved, proudly as a member of the art critical writing force while simultaneously lamenting its smallness and consequential lack of coverage for the gallery I co-direct.
As a member of the arts community, wearing many many hats happily and often exhaustedly, I would invite anyone with any interest to contribute to the conversation. BLOGS ARE FREE. There is a constant paranoia about the perception of our multiple roles, our own studio practices and competitive inclination to slight our fellow artists. I have to say, in the case of every arts writer I know, there is never a personal or duplicitous motivation behind the need for and crafting of the local arts dialog. The money isn't great, our contributions are a labor of love and a lot of thought.
With criticism, here I mean negative criticism, comes the vested interest in the continuation of the conversation, the urging on of artists to continue to work hard, be open, and to produce great work.
Through my gallery and writing both, I am only seeking to promote and work hard to gain attention at a national level for the unbelievable range of talent that exists in this city. That being said, the Sondheim seems like an amazing opportunity in and of itself to attract this kind of attention. It is largest art prize in a city that has been enjoying an international reputation for being cool and cutting edge, especially thanks to its music scene.
Unfortunately, the Sondheim has little impact on the national art front, it is not a household name and many people cannot name its recipients, however talented. Despite my disinterest in Matthew Porterfield's works last year, it was politically the smartest move and biggest push toward disseminating the Sondheim prize and its benefits into the greater art world. This year, however, I felt much of the work was of a weaker caliber, and did my best to contribute to the CP cover story two pieces that highlighted both what was strong about one artist, and what was lacking in the second's installation, hoping that this artist will continue to make work, and take bigger risks when presented with future opportunities. My second piece was cut.
I am a gallery owner, and the partner of a semi-finalist artist. I have exhibited, both locally and in other cities, the works of many other semi-finalist artists. My criticism is not based on the selection of the artists who where chosen, but how artists chose to represent themselves. I would like nothing more than to be surprised by and introduced to new artists making excellent work through the Sondheim selection process.
Jury-based prizes are often determined on a grading system. Some high scores are weighed down by low marks of those jurors who don't understand the work. It is a general agreement amongst artists and anyone who has ever served on such a jury that those artists consistently in the middle scores, ones whom everyone can agree are "pretty good" are selected as finalists. This can produce some conservative choices, and of course, some excellent surprises. It is up to those artists to put their best foot forward and give both the selection of their artwork and the prize prestige and legitimacy. THIS SHOULD BE A HUGE DEAL!
This is the piece I wrote about Jon Duff that was replaced, after much deliberation and the added delicacy of having a mutual, professional respect for one another, by my acting editor.