Conversation with Art Critic Lori Waxman

Read Waxman's reviews from the Columbus show at ROY here.

Art criticism is in a weird place. Lori Waxman's 60 WRD/MIN performance this past March at the ROY G BIV gallery made that clear by blurring the lines between art and criticism and mixing a bit of the past with the present.

Waxman is a professional critic and art historian who is an instructor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a freelance contributor to the Chicago TribuneBad At Sports and Artforum. With 60 WRD/MIN, a traveling performance underwritten by the Warhol Foundation, she visits isolated art locales like  Austin, Texas; Knoxville, Tennessee; and our own Columbus, Ohio to write short reviews on an appointment basis for that untouchable caste in the art world -provincial artists. 

So what's weird about that? Well, to start with, the reviews Waxman wrote in Columbus were published by a magazine that no longer has a dedicated art critic or arts editor on staff.* This is part of a nationwide trend among print publications to cut and/or water down arts coverage. Since art criticism has been amputated from our current media experience, part of the allure of being reviewed now lives in its near impossibility. Actually getting to have a serious review written about your work feels almost like a anachronistic novelty, like using a wind-up clock or going to a haberdashery to pick out a spic-and-span trilby. While 60 WRD/MIN clearly serves to invigorate local art scenes it also underscores that out-of-time je ne sais quoi of seeing actual art criticism in contemporary American media. The environment which makes 60 WRD/MIN necessary and intriguing also makes it a bit depressing, like "No, Lori, please don't leave - we need you here!" 

But it's also weird for the contradictory impulses that have always been constitutive of art criticism, as Waxman points out on the 60 WRD/MIN site:

"The short review is at once a challenge, an insult, a record, and a piece of advertising. Its purpose is debatable and arguably quite different for the various parties involved: the writer gets a tear sheet, a couple of bucks, and some editorial gratification; the reader, in the best case scenario, gets a succinct, opinionated description of a body of work they probably did not see in person; and the artist gets published recognition and an entry for their bibliography."

In our absolutely mammoth conversation after "The Jump" I ask Waxman about all of that and more - touching on long form versus short form writing, general readership versus professional readership, quality of artwork in regional areas versus metropolitan areas, her PhD dissertation for NYU on radical walking, the theatricality of 60 WRD/MIN, its critical reception and the particularly odd behavior exhibited by a few of our more uncouth Columbusites. 

*Arts Editor Melissa Starker left the Alive in December. Recent Artscape articles covering going-ons at the Wexner Center were written by freelancer Tracy Zollinger Turner, who is not listed as being a member of the Alive's staff on their site. And, perhaps tellingly, no one is listed as being the new Arts Editor.

Lori Waxman in Conversation - 3/18/10

Lori Waxman.

 James Payne:
How did 60 WRD/MIN come to fruition?

Lori Waxman: It has two geneses as an idea. One of them is personal, one of them is work related. I got the idea around 2005 when I was dating an artist who I am now married to and most of my friends were emerging artists. I was working as a freelance critic at that point but they were just all very stressed about this critic/artist situation. Like how do you get a review? Do you need reviews to get a show? Who are these people who review us and do they even care about us? Even now these are still concerns that they have. That’s one side of it. So I was a critic but I was intimately aware of how it affects artists. At this point, work-wise, I was in publishing at Distributor Art Publishers, D.A.P.. I was a managing editor and I did a number of jobs there. One of the things I did was that I wrote all the catalogue copy. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the D.A.P. catalogue – there is a lot of copy in there describing all these books. I wrote every single word of it and I had to do this twice a year and really fast, on serious deadlines and the books didn’t even exist. So I actually developed a skill for writing very quickly - fairly intelligent, descriptive but also demonstrative texts about art, I mean art publications, but art. But, you know, not being too snarky. I got a lot of tics out – like don’t be snarky. But don’t be boring. But don’t write the same thing about everything. Don’t treat things as derivative, take them seriously, try and give as much information as possible, that sort of thing.

So D.A.P. formalized your tone for 60 WRD/MIN?

LW: Yeah, although because it was D.A.P. and because I was both the managing editor and the technical writer, I had a lot of freedom. It’s not Abrams, it’s D.A.P. It’s art, it’s not something more serious, or not “serious” but you know what I mean. So it was a really interesting training ground for doing that kind of writing. And then when I ended up writing for Artforum.com maybe a year or two later, I realized it actually had its application for actual criticism. The limit on the pieces for Artforum.com is 200 words and they are really not well paid, they are vaguely prestigious but they are not well paid. So I took that skill and brought it into regular criticism and it was useful. I wrote those reviews fast and they were good, but I wrote them really fast so I could write more. They still didn’t pay decently but they paid better than maybe they would for someone else [who was slower]. So you sort of put the 2 and 2 together that I just explained and you maybe end up with something, some of the questions that led to the performance I put together.

JP: How would someone in the position your friends were in get you in the guise of your job at the Chicago Tribune or Artforum to do the same thing? That seems like the problem that inspired 60 WRD/MIN, of how do we get those people attached to those institutions to write about this. You’re willing to write about it, but through this other project and not necessarily as part of the institutional framework.

LW: Oh yeah, I’m not solving it. How does someone get me to come review them:

A: They have to have a show whereas for this project someone doesn’t have to have a show, they just have to be making work that they are willing to put out there. B: I have to know about it. I also have to not have a newborn because I’m not really seeing much of anything right now but I will again starting in a couple months. You can’t get me to review work. I have to be interested in it. All that someone can do is make sure I know about it and not annoy me, and there is a fine balance.

JP: And do you pick assignments, or is that something that your editors dictate?

LW: No, no, I strictly control what I write about. I mean, they can refuse a pitch if they think it is completely irrelevant to their readership - both Artforum and the Tribune - but I don’t take assignments, I don’t work on assignments. I have in the past and I don’t like working that way.

JP: How do artists make you aware of what they are doing - do they have publicists? Do they send you emails?

LW: People send me emails, galleries send me emails, but I also keep up with things.

If it were a space I don’t visit then someone would have to let me know about it. But you know, it’s Chicago: it’s not New York. It’s not that hard to keep abreast of most of what is going on. I can’t see everything and I’m not interested in everything so I’m sure there is tons of stuff I would be interested in enough to write about but I don’t get to see it - I’m human. And I’m certainly not going to see art everyday. I’m going once a week, maybe. Right now I’m not going at all. But normally I’m going once a week. With the Tribune I’m not going to write about really obscure shows in really obscure places because it’s not really worth it for the readership unless I think something is so incredible that it goes outside of specialized realms.

JP: As far as the readership for the Tribune - who are you writing for? Is there a “museum going public” that you are writing for?

LW: That is a hell of a good question. I should actually ask my editor. I was actually really surprised when they hit me up to take that job after they let Alan Artner go in the spring. I would have been much less surprised if they just stopped covering art. They didn’t and I actually have been meaning to ask them why. I mean, it’s great, don’t get me wrong, obviously, and I don’t just mean that because I need the job - it’s amazing. Wow. That they wanted to keep covering art and they decided to ask me to do it, I think that’s pretty cool. Who am I writing for?  I don’t know what they would say, me personally, I am writing for what I think is a general newspaper reader. It may or may not be the actual average reader of the Tribune but I’m trying to write for someone who is just your average, intelligent person who cares about culture and isn’t in any way specialized in the arts. But someone who will see a good film, someone who will read a good book, someone who will go see a good art show but because they are not a part of any of those fields needs someone from the field to help them learn about it.

JP: One of the ironies with your recent show in Columbus was that the paper that published your reviews used to be a good alternative weekly but was bought out by the only newspaper in town and recently their main art critic left the paper. It was on her own accord, sort of leaving a sinking ship, and now they don’t really have a designated art critic.

LW: So John Ross, the guy who sort of put together the piece?

JP: I believe he is a culture person. They have two culture writers who are culture people (Editor's Note: At this moment, I was thinking Ross and Chris Deville). But from what I understand, before they had writers (Editor's Note: I was thinking Melissa Starker, J. Caleb Mozzocco, Stephen Slaybaugh) who were more specialized in specific areas like film, music and art.

LW: That is how The Tribune is treating art apart from me.  There is a staff writer, Lauren Viera, who started covering art when Alan Artner left, and she’s actually a musician and would cover music but they won’t let her because she is a local musician and they think it is a conflict of interest. So she covers art. She wrote art reviews in college, I mean that is her basic experience in art. She puts a lot of effort into it but she is by no means specialized in art and would tell you as much. I’m “The Specialist.” So she does much more of the culture coverage, the entertainment coverage as it applies to art, than I do. She writes reviews too but I think I do the serious, focused reviews and I don’t do any of the more culture writing.

JP: How does working at a traditional print outlet like the Tribune differ from the online audiences at Bad At Sports or Artforum.com?

LW: Well the Artforum.com audience and the Bad At Sports audiences are obviously super specialized in art, as is the Artforum magazine readership. I don’t write for Artforum.com now, I just write for the magazine sometimes. Those are super specialized, different specializations, not the same audience, obviously they overlap, one is a lot more highbrow than the other or whatever you want to call it – the elite art versus the sub-elite art or something. But those are very specialized. So you don’t have to watch your use of jargon, you don’t have to watch your use of reference whereas I would in the Tribune.

JP: Are the reviews you are writing for 60 WRD/MIN more in the vein of the specialized writing for Artforum or the general audience writing of the Tribune pieces?

LW: Somewhere in between. They are more specialized than the newspaper – they sort of have to be because I am going so quickly. And I don’t have the space. The one good thing about jargon and references is the short hand but I am aware that the people who are coming in. I’m really writing for the artist to a certain extent. But as you saw the artists are all over the place, they didn’t all go to art school. So if I’m just writing for an art school audience then the person who made the work I am writing about may not get it and that seems really lame. And since I’m trying to take each piece on its own terms I shouldn’t really end up with jargony writing about something from an artist who never went to art school because they are probably not making work about that, right?

JP: So does 60 WRD/MIN change how you would write about the work? You talk about taking them on their own terms, is that something you would normally do? Are you pulling your punches in a way?  Would you do that normally?

LW: I try to. Well there are a couple of answers to that. One is that I wouldn’t write about most of this work professionally. Why? A lot of it’s not interesting to me, personally. And most of it wouldn’t end up in a gallery anyway so I’d never see it. Let’s say if it was in a gallery and I would happen to see it I’d probably not be particularly interested in writing about it. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy thinking about it or I’m not capable of thinking about it but I don’t have much to say. I don’t have enough to say. There is too much too look at and write about. Taking everything on its own terms… most of the stuff I write about exists on the same terms – my terms. Our terms, art world terms. So that’s its own category. And those are the terms I take on the stuff that is clearly coming out of MFA and BFA programs. Because those are its terms and I know them really well. I’m harsher with the stuff where I know the terms clearly; I’m also more full of praise potentially. And then with other stuff, like a lot of outsider stuff – who the hell knows what the terms are? Who knows? So you just try and figure out something to make of it and it’s fun, it’s really exciting half the time. One of my favorite pieces that I wrote about in Columbus was this total outsider stuff by this older gentleman, this older, retired gentleman who was coming up with a way to visualize what we normally use numbers to represent and he gave me a whole performative lecture about it. That was a trip. That was great. I was so happy he participated. And he sent me a lovely thank you note too. He was the only person who sent me a thank you note and it was delightful. I took him totally seriously and he was totally serious and I completely took what he was doing seriously but I certainly didn’t evaluate it the way, let’s say the way I evaluated your work.  It’s on a completely different set of references; it’s trying to do something completely different.

“The critic is here but she’s busy, do you really need to speak to her?  Ok. She’s got a lot of patients to see.”

JP: While you are providing this easily accessible service for emerging artists does that same ease of accessibility make the reviews you write mean less to them? If everyone has a review from Lori Waxman does it mean as much as a review those artists would get from someone else?

LW: That’s a really good question and it is actually one of my operating questions, it’s a performance so I don’t have to answer all the questions I pose but that’s one of the questions I ask so I would turn around and ask you, since you participated as an artist, what do you think, what’s it worth? 

 Well it’s good for me, as general feedback from anyone, but I don’t know if it’s something that if I was serious about an art career I would use by saying, “This person said this about me.” (Editor Note: I have since done exactly that.) Knowing that everyone would be aware of your project. It seems that anyone looking at that would be like “Oh, this was someone who signed up for 60 WRD/MIN and Lori had to write this.” But at the same time all of my friends who did participate in Columbus turned around and put it on their blogs right away and probably in their CVs later or whatever.

LW: As have other people. It probably ends up meeting somewhere in between. I think most emerging artists do exactly that; they immediately put it on their CV as far as I have seen. I’m not Jerry Saltz but I do write for Artforum, I do write for the Chicago Tribune, so it’s going to appear as something more than just a random project.

JP: Is there a difference in the work of these regional locales like Columbus or Knoxville and the metropolitan cities like Chicago and New York?

LW: I’ll answer it but I’m going to give a caveat which is that I feel like in Chicago and New York through whatever fault of my own I mostly got a real artist crowd, like a post-school crowd and I got a much, much broader participation in these secondary or tertiary towns and cities. Is that because they have broader constituencies? I kind of doubt it. I think it has more to do with the fact that because they are smaller places the art community is smaller and therefore… I don’t know, do you understand the kind of math I’m talking about? I haven’t got my brain on to sort of describe it but you know what I mean. So I think it has more to do with that. But that’s just my hypothesis because obviously that’s not the evidence I got. The evidence I got is that I got more of an insidery art in New York and Chicago and then I got everything from across the way in these other places. Which is way more interesting for me, way more interesting for me. And it kind of makes the project worthwhile and curious. I haven’t been to enough regions yet to note real differences in between them. I don’t know if any will arise, I imagine some will but I don’t know. Thus far it has to do with diversity.

JP: And the quality of the work is?

LW: It’s just all over the place. Completely. It’s also really hard to judge quality because the work has so many different intentions so I can’t measure a lot of things against other things; I sort of have to measure them against themselves. Like quality of Sunday painting from one place versus another. Plus it’s very random who I am getting. If I had 80 submissions for appointments, I took the first forty. Maybe the next forty were better so it’s not necessarily representative of the place. In all honesty there actually was more stuff in Austin and Knoxville that turned me on, that I got super excited about, than in Columbus but that really could be coincidental, I don’t know. 

  Waxman in Knoxville with receptionist (and artist) Veronica Siehl in the foreground.

JP: The move of the receptionist being present seems important to the concept. How did that came into play, how do you feel about it?

LW: I don’t remember when it became clear that it was necessary though I have never done it without one. I don’t remember but really it’s twofold. One: it would be impossible to manage without it, it’s very practical. Two: there is a real theatricality to this which is important and which I enjoy because we don’t get to be theatrical very often, us non-artists. But it helps with the theatricality of the office environment, the doctor’s office, the waiting area, the checking things in, like “The critic is here but she’s busy - do you really need to speak to her?  Ok. She’s got a lot of patients to see.” kind of thing. But it is really practical. You saw how tight the schedule and how tight a ship I run and it really wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

JP: Is that removal important though – are you trying to mimic the removal an art critic might normally have from artists?

LW: No. In that sense it’s really just a practical removal of  “I have a lot of shit to write” and if I had to also check the artists in I couldn’t get it done and it’s more important that I get the writing done than anything else because at the end of the day it’s how many reviews I can turn out that are decent, that are good enough and I can’t do it without a little bit of remove. It’s not because I want the remove and it’s not meant to be the regular remove of the critic/artist, it’s just meant to be about me getting writing done.

JP: What does bingeing on short form writing during 60 WRD/MIN do for your long form writing?

LW: It probably doesn’t do anything for my long form. I mean my longest form right now is that I’m submitting my doctoral dissertation on Friday. What it does for it is that it gives me a break from this long, long – it’s a relief. So it’s more that kind of a help than a direct one. It’s indirect.

JP: And your doctoral dissertation is on critical walking, radical walking?

LW: Radical walking. Yeah. It’s called A Few Steps in a Revolution of Everyday Life and it’s about The Situationist International, The Surrealists, and Fluxus and a number of contemporary artists too, interwoven as comparative examples. It asks why did artists suddenly take up this most basic human action, walking, and start making art out of it? Or start using it to make art or not necessarily to even make art, but to do what they thought was important whatever you want to call it, whether you call it art or you call it something else. I mean with all three of these groups it is interesting that they primarily have non-object based practices and that they have really revolutionary goals – why is walking so important for all of them? That’s what it was all about figuring out.

JP: Do you see criticism as something that’s really isn’t tied to one thing. Like it’s not really tied to writing if you can be politically critical through walking? Is it a mental state or framework that doesn’t need to be in one specific medium? Is there any connection between the idea of radical walking and the act of criticism in writing?

LW: Probably. That’s an interesting question, I’ve never quite thought about it. I’m a writer so most of the critical thinking I do is completed by the writing process, like it actually takes place while I am writing in part. It’s not like it happens in my head and then I just get it out in writing so it can be expressed, it actually happens through writing in a lot of ways. For other people who don’t write it happens through other media I guess. And then there are those people who really are thinkers and they just struggle with finding some way to get it out of their heads. But I realize that through both short form and long form writing, if I’m not writing I’m not having complete thoughts.

JP: You said in an interview that you don’t really read much art criticism. I don’t read much art criticism and I don’t think many people do. It makes me feel odd about writing it.

LW: Well why do you write it then? I have my answers.

JP:  Well with what you said about completing thoughts, or just getting something down. I feel like I’ll have a very general idea about something and once I start writing about it I can fully articulate it in a way I can’t from just thinking about it. But at the same time if I’m not even interested in really reading someone else doing that…

LW: I know. That’s sort of my answer. Is it selfish? Mostly it’s selfish in that I like to look at and think about art a lot and writing really helps me to do that. And then the other is the less selfish one and newspaper criticism is the most relevant to this, which is, I actually think that going and looking at art is really important and most people are not going to do it. It is a super specialized activity at this point. So if by writing about it in the newspaper I can get more people to go and see it and think about it and have some ease with it then it is worth doing it. When I write for Artforum, I don’t know, it’s good for my career. It’s good for other people’s careers – it’s a very careerist thing all around. And it’s a specialized dialogue that sometimes I feel strongly enough about to take part in. Mostly I don’t, sometimes I do, sometimes I’m really excited about something and I feel like I have a unique idea about it and I want to put it out there for the people who track these things and sometimes I’m really angry about something and I want to put it out there for the people who care about these things. You hope that it makes some kind of difference, people do read this stuff - the people who make it, who make art and think about art, a lot of them do read – Artforum let’s say. So it’s one way of throwing an idea into the hat.

JP: But you view it as more of a professional journal or an industry publication than anything else.

LW: Yes. It is absolutely that. The only reason why it’s ever taken as being something else is that it’s so fancy and that’s just because it’s art. But otherwise it’s a very specialized, field specific journal.

JP: And you feel that dialogue isn’t interesting you that much or that you’re outside of it in some way?

LW: Eh, yeah, I’d rather just go look at work. It’s often also about a lot of work I don’t care about. I find some of it insufferable. I find a lot of it irrelevant, jargony, about work I don’t care about or work that I do care about or not in a way I care about. I’d rather go look at the work. Also, I’d rather read about things I don’t know about. I’d rather read about the world. To be honest, I’d rather read The New Yorker from cover to cover. And I do. That is my favorite magazine and actually it is sort of my goal for journalism. I think The New Yorker is amazing on the whole.

JP: You received funding for 60 WRD/MIN through the Warhol Foundation.

LW: Yes, the Art Writers Grant Program. You should totally look it up as a blogger. They have a category that is specifically for blogging – new media. Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City won it last year. But there is a lot of money to be had. Which is all about encouraging art writing, all kinds of it. They liked my project because it was a new form of art writing and it was about art writing.

JP: Do you get critics covering 60 WRD/MIN in other cities?

LW: I had the theater critic cover it in Knoxville. He was amazed. He was amazed that I would make my critical process public. He really reviewed it as critic to critic. He reviewed it as performance and he was really “Whoa, I can’t believe you’re letting people see your computer screen.” Yeah. That really freaked him out that I was exposing my process of writing. Which he couldn’t imagine doing. He said it was giving him angst just sitting there watching it. 

                                     Watch the criticism!
JP: Yeah, watching that screen was amazing. Because you would look at your writing backtracking and going forward, then back, which contradicts the idea of a piece of writing as being a natural whole. When you get to see someone actually writing you realize it really could be anything, it’s not some magical process.

LW: This is my brain at work.

JP: It was also like a machine, it felt like a robot since you are watching the screen. Like it is an output.

LW: Oh, that’s interesting. I like that. Good. A very human robot. And that actually happened completely haphazardly. When I was in Knoxville, the last show they had up in the space they had a monitor up on the wall. And the guy who ran it said, “Hey, what do you think of this - can we hook you up to it?” And I was like “Yeah!” And it was amazing so we did it ever since. In Austin it was the best because I was situated in the window of the gallery on a really busy street. People were just watching the screen, watching me and this huge screen behind me. A big flat screen. Randomly. And often the artist would be there and there wasn’t much space in the window so artists, if they wanted to read it, would be outside on the sidewalk, reading. People would stop and read and the artist would be like “Hey, that’s my work she’s writing about!” and they would point to the work in the window, which was on the desk in front of me. It was really like a fishbowl. 

...it’s not good enough art to be dealing with rape and abortion so fuck you basically.

JP: My friend Cassie is a performance artist and she initially had the idea to come in and be the overeager art fan and bug you for a long time and apparently she decided not to.

LW: Good. I’m glad. Not quite in the spirit of it because it would have gotten in the way of other people’s reviews. I’m glad she didn’t do that. Two people actually did, in a way, I think, though they’re not performance artists, do something performative that I frankly resent because I feel it was not in the spirit of the whole performance. There was a guy who went by the name Charles Ives, which is obviously not his name because it’s the name of a composer - probably dead, I don’t know, I don’t know much about music. So he put two pieces in and he sent me the email from someone else’s email address and he didn’t use his real name and he gives me this work that is pop derivative stuff and he gives me no information. And he gives me a magazine with some work that looks like this work reproduced in it under someone else’s name. It’s just like, give me a fucking break.

JP: Was he trying to trick you?

LW: Yes. He was kind of trying to trick me, test me. And he wrote about that in his email asking for the appointment that this entry would be a test of my art historical blah, blah, blah. So whatever, I gave him one of the harsher historically brimming reviews because he asked for it. But that – I don’t need it you know? To me that’s not interesting. And the other guy gave me two conceptual pieces, one which was soap in a soap dish, untitled, and one which was this text piece, I don’t know if you read it, it was a one line thing, typed, that he put up on the back wall. It said,

“John – the rape was painful, Mike must never know about the abortion. LOL. – Lori.”

Spelt the way I spell my name. I read this and it was two entries after I did the other guy and it was like you are fucking kidding me, this has never happened in any other city what is with you people? Obviously made for me. I spoke to him after. I ended up just reviewing the soap dish piece in order to take the shit out of the soap dish piece, which it deserved for being extremely ungenerous in conceptual art. Like, I’m sorry, you do that with no title - I have nowhere to go. Nowhere, no matter how well I know conceptual art history. So that’s what I spent his review doing because I just didn’t even want to touch the other piece. In retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t because what I would have liked to have said was “Look buddy, it’s very cool that you made work for me, that’s neat, however, this is not material that is appropriate to play with. Abortion, rape. Obviously, you’re not trying to be funny, but it’s not funny. And it’s not good enough art to be dealing with rape and abortion so fuck you basically. I’m sorry I didn’t take the opportunity to address the fact that there is actually material that is not for treating lightly, that’s not for playing with. You’re going to deal with it? Mean it. And not to throw the men/women thing around but I can’t imagine a woman doing that. Like he doesn’t know if I’ve been raped or had an abortion, I’m not sure if he knows my husband’s name is Michael or if that’s just a coincidence, it wouldn’t be that hard to find out but it could be a coincidence, it’s a common enough name. But certainly I have friends who have had abortions and been raped whether I have or haven’t. It’s just not okay. It’s just not okay. So those were two very unique experiences to Columbus that happened that I found quite theatrical to get back to the original question.

JP: That’s mystifying. Though I guess you are opening yourself up to anyone who feels

LW: Yeah, but no one took advantage of it until then.

JP: Yeah, because why would you?

LW: There are plenty of people who I could think of in those situations that would. Like whatever, it didn’t upset me – it pissed me off, it didn’t upset me. Obviously the first guy is bitter towards critics and the second guy I don’t think it has anything to do with bitterness, I think he is a shit disturber artist type, prankster kind of artist type and he thought it was a good opportunity to do so and he’s right, it was. I just thought it was a really lousy prank and didn’t make for good art. I don’t like art like that.

JP: Is that telling of the animosity between artists and art critics or is that feeling not really real?

LW: I think most of the artists who participate are not getting reviewed, period. And if they have been reviewed I doubt they have been bad experiences, they’ve just probably been very light kinds of reviews here and there or group shows and whatnot if anything at all. Except for this bitter experience, this bitter guy who clearly was bitter toward art critics and life in general and whatever shafting that was done towards him and he’s older, like I could tell when he walked in, it was all there. I think a lot of the artists, certainly the ones who aren’t coming out of art school, aren’t expecting critics to write about their work. It’s more curiosity of what a critic would think about my artwork and it’s the MFA students or the post-BFA students for whom it’s a potential professional issue.

You would be better off asking someone why they are going to art school – I can’t answer that question. And a lot of them probably can’t answer the question.

JP: You mention in the description for 60 WRD/MIN that it is almost comedic how there are too many artists, too many galleries, that a critic could never cover all of them even if they wanted to.

LW: Certainly not with newspapers cutting them right?

JP: Yeah, in one way it’s good to only pay attention to “what’s worth paying attention to” but on the other hand that sets up a hierarchy that keeps the majority of art out. Which side of that do you think is better? Is there a “better” there?

LW: Once upon a time everything did get covered. Back in the 50s.

JP: Everything?

LW: That’s the way the history books tell it. In New York in the 1950s, even the 1940s, when there were a couple of galleries on Tenth Street and Eighth Street and the abstract expressionists were the in-guys. They were just starting and they had their own galleries and then there were the uptown galleries. There weren’t that many galleries, really. Two or three critics could cover everything so everything got written about. There were no MFA programs then, surely there were some BFA programs but it wasn’t a schooling thing. You had a really different scale and tracking of art back then but it was very serious. I don’t know. A lot of fields have exploded in a similar way up to now so we can’t expect that kind of coverage and I don’t know what it would mean anyway.

JP. But why are there even so many galleries too consider if most of them aren’t even making money?

LW: I think there are so many art galleries because there are so many art students.

JP: Well, why are there so many art students?

LW: Why are there so many art students? Everyone has to go to college now. And lots of people have to go to grad school - people didn’t use to. I don’t know, there’s a lot more people. You would be better off asking someone why they are going to art school – I can’t answer that question. And a lot of them probably can’t answer the question.

JP: One of my friends refers to this as “The Art Schooling of America.” So many people are schooled in contemporary art but of what value is it for a broad base of the population to know something about contemporary art? However, you would think that would be a good thing for, for instance, the Tribune or the Alive, that they would want more art writers, if all these people do know about contemporary art or are going museums since there are so many art students coming of art schools than in the past.

LW: It’s still a fragment of the population. This is sort of off topic but since we’re talking about it, I think I’m more interested in art departments, good, radical art departments existing within universities than existing as art schools because then you get students studying in all kinds of disciplines, plenty of them practical or professional but also, for whatever reason, taking the occasional art class that just blows their minds and gives them this totally other way of looking at the world and processing it and making things and doing performance and relational projects or whatever and then they get to go back to math and medicine and music or theater or whatever disciplines and they get to bring that back with them. That for me is the interesting thing for an art education to do, more so then what happens for most people at an art school.

JP: Even for strictly focused art students, if you’re not learning about other things, what are you making art about? I realized a year through art school that I never had to take another history class and I wondered if I was even getting an education so I switched to a university. It seems crazy that all the art students at CCAD, for instance, don’t have to necessarily study political science or history…

LW: So what’s their work going to be about? I know, I feel exactly the same way. Don’t get me wrong, I teach at an art school (SAIC) by choice. Because I like teaching art history to art students, that for me is the most interesting thing. I don’t want to teach art history broadly. I like teaching it to the people who are making the stuff. But I’m much more interested in exactly what you’re talking about. Even if someone is going to major in Art History, do it in a university where you can go and take all these incredible classes in these other disciplines that are your content if you will. Because I don’t like art about art, it’s the least interesting of any thing to me.

JP: And it seems like the art school system will only produce that?

LW: Potentially. I mean obviously it doesn’t, it also produces plenty of good stuff and I’ve had the most incredible students in art schools but they’ve usually taken classes outside and done extra research outside and have frustrations about what we’ve been talking about.
                                       Read Waxman's Austin reviews here.

JP: How did you arrange the shows with the galleries logistically?

LW: Called them up. You call up someone and say you have a grant from the Warhol Foundation and they will listen to you. And you say I have this fully funded thing that is really good for your local artists and will bring them in. Everyone was on board within 5 minutes if they understood what I was talking about in 5 minutes. As soon as they got what I was explaining everyone said yes. It was just a matter of getting the dates hammered out.

JP: And how did you pick ROY G BIV out in Columbus?

LW: I know nothing about the regions in the U.S. at all but I knew that is where I wanted to go. So I spoke to Sylvie Fortin who is the editor at Art Papers, which has fantastic regional coverage, and asked her where I should go and are there any places in those particular cities you think I should call up. And she gave me a long list. I think she didn’t know a place in Columbus but she felt I should go to Columbus so I just did some research and ROY is the longest running gallery for emerging artists in town and so it was the obvious place. I mean, is there anywhere else in Columbus that I might have done it given that I am not interested in institutions?

JP: There would be some commercial galleries and then DIY spaces.

LW: I don’t want to do it in commercial galleries. And DIY spaces, I mean Knoxville was a DIY space, an amazing art space called The Art Gallery of Knoxville that doesn’t exist anymore, amazing one man job. But it runs smoother the more infrastructure the place has. So actually the best one thus far on that level has been Arthouse in Texas because it’s the biggest, most professional institution I’ve done it in. They just raised the bar - like they made wall text. They made window text, vinyl window text lettering. I was like, “Wow, really, that’s so cool I’ve got to remember to do this in other places.” I would have never thought of it.

JP: I guess I was confused about the project because you also went to larger cities…

LW: New York and Chicago were the first two places I ever did it. I lived in New York and I lived in Chicago when I did it in those places. And that was before I realized how much more interesting it was outside of large cities and the only way I realized that was the guy in Knoxville heard about me and invited me down and I said OK and went wow. The project completely expanded and got more specific and subtle and interesting and I’ll never do it again in New York or Chicago, I’ll never do it in L.A.

JP: It seems like there should maybe even be someone like you all the time, like a scout for the art world to go to these places. Did anyone approach you to say, “If you do see something that is really great…”

LW: That’s funny. Maybe someone will at some point if someone writes about this project in a prominent enough place, that hasn’t happened yet, I also haven’t sent the press release to Artforum or something. So no one is going to know about it unless they read the Warhol Foundation information, which people do and did hear about it, but that would be really funny. I would say no actually. No, I wouldn’t say no, why would I say no? But you can just go on to my website and look because I post everything up there eventually.

JP: Some of the most “famous” artists from Columbus have been shunned from the art world and it’s interesting to see that if you are stuck in that geographical location what your options are. There was this artist, Emerson Burkhart, who was a figurative painter in the 40s and 50s, and he was just a big fish in a small pond sort of thing but everyone in Columbus talks about him and he is collected by regional museums and it’s so odd to think that every city across America has someone like that. Your project seems to be fulfilling some sort of Johnny Appleseedesque role by looking at people who do want to be looked at and I think that is cool and needed. It’s just strange how something like art is processed so geographically.

LW: But it makes sense but its actually mostly still physical stuff. As much as we reproduce it, it doesn’t really. I mean yeah, plenty of stuff gets shipped around the world more and more and more but most of it doesn’t. It’s not like the writer who can work anywhere and send their manuscript off and it doesn’t matter where it came from.

JP: It’s not even like musicians either; there have been big musicians from Columbus all the time.

LW: There are a lot more music scenes that get scouted than local art scenes that get scouted to go back to the scouting idea you had.

JP: Isn’t that odd?

LW: Yes, I think it is. I think that is, come to think of it and it’d be interesting for someone to try and sort that out.

1 comment:

Sheilah Grogan said...

As an artist who was reviewed by Lori in Detroit recently, I have to say that I enjoyed this article very much. You explored things with Lori that I would never have been able to access by participating in the process. Very well done!