Oct 26, 2013

The whipping continues until moral improves.

Considering the reviewing of Art Exhibitions in Minneapolis through the lens of the Minnesota Biennial Reviews.


-Abbe 2010 ("Low Value Biennial")



-Schouweiler 2013 (“Biennial Fail: Making it Make Sense”)


-Jay Gabler 2012 (“Does Minnesota Need a Biennial?”)


"A preview tour suggested that the show, however appealing, is short on theory and vague about values, a loaded term that seems irrelevant in this context. If biography and interests can be inferred from art, the 16 seem to be curious about assorted media, fascinated by fragments, tentative, self-absorbed and obsessed with arty in-jokes. Their aesthetic is loose, open-ended and anything goes. Ranging in age from early 20s to mid 50s, the show's artists paint, sculpt, take photos, build stuff and do video. As a sample of Minnesota art at the moment, this is dismayingly vacuous and inbred stuff. The "value" conveyed, if any, is a vague, amorphous anomie."

-Abbe 2010

"Still, this particular partnership makes for an interesting clash of pretension and openness – something particularly in evidence at the Soap Factory on opening night of ‘, , ,’. On the one hand, a huge number of people showed up, as is usual at the Soap’s events; there was live music and other performances -- it felt like a party. On the other hand, there were no gallery notes on the wall to indicate the titles of the pieces and few entry points for visitors to engage with some of the more highly conceptual pieces if they didn’t know something about the artists beforehand."

"The fact is, this curatorial duo was given an opportunity to curate a biennial in the largest gallery in the Twin Cities, and even paid a modest stipend to do so. Simply to shrug and decide you’re not going to do it may be in keeping with the punk rock mindset of Art of This, but it also feels like a big “fuck you” to the audience."

"With the exception of a pamphlet discreetly placed by the gallery door that maps the show and relates artists and titles, the work stands alone, mute. You can buy a handsomely printed exhibition catalogue for $16; there’s a limited-edition LP for sale as well, featuring the musicians’ contributions. But don’t bother looking in these auxiliary pieces for substantive context or background information."

"There’s little practical difference between radical accessibility and stubborn silence. Openness is not the same thing as invitation. The expressed aim is that , , , be an “exhibiting” that reveals its content and purpose over the two-month run, in repeated gallery visits, engagement with ephemeral performance and music events, and the various panels. But from all available evidence, the curators are simply uninterested in engaging the casual gallery-goer. The show’s a grab bag with little evident intention connecting its constituent parts into anything like a coherent whole."

"Marks and Petersen used to run a high-minded, non-profit, artists-first exhibition space in Minneapolis, called Art of This, which presented work by beguiling but inscrutable artists. Petersen currently runs a commercial gallery of his own with much the same vibe."
-Schouweiler -2013


"’We wanted to provide some organization but not have it conceived as a “Best of Minnesota” show, so we cast our net wide,’ said Douglas, 38, chief curator at the Rochester Art Center. Stulen, a former associate curator at the Rochester organization, is now project director for Mnartists.org at Walker Art Center. Both are Minnesota natives who wanted to sample ‘a slice of this place and this time,’ as Stulen put it.”
-Abbe 2010

"The artists were corralled for the biennial by John Marks and David Petersen, veteran Minneapolis gallery operators in their mid-30s. As in most biennials, the curators were given free rein to choose artists according to their own criteria. In this case, they were picked as a “representation of the artists we are interested in at the moment,” Marks said in a recent interview."
-Abbe 2013


“With no narrative thread or overarching motifs to track, the show offers a pleasant amble through the Soap's warehouse, whose raw beauty sometimes dwarfs and sometimes augments the art.''
- Abbe 2010

“These act like liner notes to the show, primarily of interest to those already well-versed in the featured artists’ bios and bodies of work.”
Schouweiler 2013

“I was talking with an artist friend about Abbe’s scathing assessment. She made an apt point, saying: “The curators didn’t have to load the exhibition with intention or narrative, or even any explanation at all. But if [the biennial is really just] a snapshot of current practice, and all Petersen/Marks are doing is showing us that snapshot, then it’s fair game to say it looks like what it is: ‘a bunch of stuff in some room.’”
Schouweiler. 2013


“Aside from a few promising pieces, the exhibit part of the biennial — which includes periodic performances not reviewed here — is largely a shabby collection of apparently unfinished, unfocused and occasionally sullen detritus.
A few noteworthy pieces rise to attention.”
-abbe 2013

Despite my problems with exhibition as a whole, there are individual pieces that work on their own, despite the flawed structure of the show’s design.
-Regen 2013

Two video works, close to the entrance, rise above the fray.
-Schouweiler 2013

Abbe:  "Broc Blegen’s nearby sculptural installation of Scrooge McDuck characters based on a 1952 comic about greed and public art seemed to be hilariously topical satire. But I was wrong. I didn’t realize, until told by the curators, that Blegen was merely copying an earlier work by another artist, Allen Ruppersberg. [...] But it was a huge letdown to learn that Blegen’s piece is a third-generation homage to someone else’s creativity."

Schouweiler:   "Broc Blegen’s painstaking re-creation of Allen Ruppersberg’s 2010 conceptual work “Big Trouble” dominates the back gallery. [...] This work, in particular, cries out for some good curatorial context. All but the surface of Blegen’s work is lost on a viewer unfamiliar with the artist’s obsession for collection through re-creation. Without that crucial information, without being privy to the why behind this young artist’s museum-quality knock-offs, even an otherwise attentive viewer will miss out on the nuances..."

Regen: "If you aren’t already familiar with something of the story behind Blegen’s body of work, there’s no way that you’ll be able to understand what he is trying to do. While there is a handout that provides maps of the galleries with basic caption information, I don’t see why there couldn’t be labels or other peripheral materials provided as needed -- just a tiny bit of background, made readily available, to help visitors enter the work."


So there is, obviously, a problem.

Whereas, generally, critics (distinct from theorists such as Buchloh, etc.) operate under the guise of insightful tour guide, docents, halfway between public and those private artists, using their art reviewer’s knowledge to help a public who may only stumble once upon a time into the soap factory; here in MN, no such thing happens. The Critic instead stands in as the public, choosing to operate as the “audience's” aggression towards what, the critic believes, they cannot understand, and thus must take a stand against: what the MNcritic believes as public ineptitude, not only condoning it, but nurturing it, letting it atrophy by acting a crutch for “them,” the audience.  The facade created, of acting on behalf of a public without voice, is as an excuse to renege on the critics responsibility to act as neither public nor artist.  If a general public (who is given very little esteem) cannot get it, the MNcritic decides to do no further work.  This is the "common sense" pandering political appeal of GWBush and Sarah Palin that, while comforting, is gluttonous.  It implicitly condescends to the public, infantilising them by acting as Authorial protection from the ostensible asininity, trickery, and scary scary hubris of the MN art world.  Critics in minnesota, reiterate the fear of "not knowing" that is, apparently, amoral; stating to an audience, "it'll be okay, Authority is here to give the bad people just the scolding they deserve."
The stanzaic theme throughout all the reviews is that curators aren't doing enough to make their shows accessible, either due to insider gimmickry, or simple laziness: that the hand has not been extended enough; and that the shows often look like a mere hodge podge of objects in a room because the art is lackluster and insider (never due to the soap factory's stifling backdrop which is unanimously, unconsciously, loved), and the only objects that work are either high-polished (video screens, factory made objects), massive (miles of a substance), or simply quarantine themselves within a space built within the space; none of which of course has anything to do with separating themselves from oppressive soapfactory decorum subsumption.  The problem is the unhelpful curators not explaining it all.
This is not to let Douglas, Stulen, Marks, and Petersen off the hook for whatever; they all could have done everything a lot better.   (Patricia McMeans co-curated the first, 2008, biennial, so it hasn't always been freshly-minted men.  However the 2008 show, as far as I can tell, received no reviews.)  Because All the biennials have totally sucked ass.  They deserve criticism. but the Tsk-Tsking of reviewers who themselves refuse any personal responsibility for the criticism is ridiculous.
To claim that somehow everything is insider year after year, is not only a ridiculous trope, it is willfully ignorant to an extreme. MN is not a big place.  Artists are congenial.   To not know at least 50% of the people on this list by name, before even walking in, is actively not participating in MN's very very small art community.  If you have stumbled into MAEP's 5 times a year exhibitions you should know 12, possibly 13, of this biennial’s names. THAT IS OVER 50% OF THE ARTISTS LISTED ON THE CATALOG’S COVER. Simply by attending one major institutions 5 or so co-exhibitons a year. These people are by no means obscure artists to anyone in the MN art world.

The biggest euphemism about the whole thing, is that no one from the public is actually reading these reviews.  The echo chamber of Art Criticism in MN really consists reviewers talking directly to the curators by means of a ventriloquist dummy.  The reviewers are talking about a insider-ness while claiming to be outside of it, speaking as from or for the public, but who really are just as insider. There is no public, there is only the writer. No one is reading the Biennial reviews except DPetersen and maybe JMarks. These reviews are aimed at them. Talking about this elusive "public" to whom the work is closed is actually simply a scapegoat for a reviewer who refuses to own up to their responsibility as a critic.

The assumption that anyone should be able to pick up a critics notebook, and start writing, is the same as saying that if you can’t explain foreign affairs to Joe the plumber then you are unnecessarily complicating things.  Being fresh off the street is not a credential.  Andy Roony had been playing this shtick since like forever, and the art world smiled.
Yet it wears its ignorance on its sleeve.  "I discovered Art of This in the spring of 2010, a few months before it closed." (Regen)    "Marks and Petersen used to run a high-minded, non-profit, artists-first exhibition [...] which presented work by beguiling but inscrutable artists. Petersen currently runs a commercial gallery of his own with much the same vibe. Both curators are influential fish in our small art pond, respected as benefactors and sharp-eyed talent scouts for up-and-coming Very Serious Artists."   -(Schouweiler)
I would like to ask why very serious artists is capitalized?  It would almost appear to be mocking the idea of an artist taking themselves seriously, a willful anti-pretension that is the height of anti-intellectualism that for Adorno was at the root of fascism.