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JJ's reply

From:     JJ
Category: Art
Date:     16 January 2008
Time:     05:40 PM


"Joining the party late, but better late than never. 
I was reading some old art magazines I got in a charity shop (one of the first friezes, an Artforum from 
around 1980 and a Flash Art from the same period) and was startled by the clarity of prose and 
reasoned value judgements in their reviews. I do not read many art reviews in current art magazines 
or even newspapers, and this is because I usually find them boring and written in a kind of art speak 
that it is hard to get through and often just discussing the issues in the art rather than the experience 
of looking at it. Either that or they are regurgitations of press releases sometimes called previews. 
Now there are exceptions (some/many of the reviews of Searle, Dorment, Collings, Schjeldahl), but 
generally I am not compelled to pick up an art magazine and read it. Like many artists I will flick 
through them in a bookshop to check the ads to see whoís doing well, but I canít imagine laying out 
my own actual money for one. 
I am an artist and passionately care about art and you would think I would make a good customer for 
frieze et al, and yet my feelings about current art magazines are decidedly tepid. Although you seem 
to dismiss Ben Lewisís criticisms as tabloid junk, perhaps it should concern you that his views are not 
dissimilar to what I think is a widespread feeling amongst many young and old artists: that the art 
world is a cosy collection of people who help each other, hand out prizes and reviews to their drinking 
buddies, donít seriously debate whether any of the art is really excellent, and which puff up a few stars 
while excluding those outside their network.  I donít think there is a vast conspiracy and am aware 
these views are often the bitter talk of the mediocre or unsuccessful artist. Yet I have some sympathy 
for them. 
The feelings I have at the Frieze Art Fair are mixed to say the least. There is pleasure in the 
abundance of art, a happiness perhaps that all this economic activity might one day trickle down to 
me, and excitement about all the interest in ART.  But then again seeing all the networking, and 
botoxed rich folk and the same galleries and the minor celebs at the opening, and the VIP areas, I 
veer towards sadness that the thing I care about has become a plaything for people with megamoney 
and little discernment - another area which is just like everything else, full of hype and capitalism. And 
the people who hold power in the artworld often seem to be exactly like people who are powerful 
elsewhere: those with money, those from fancy places like Oxford (like me), old Etonians, and those 
good at making those with power feel good, sycophants and hangers on. So I suppose those on the 
outside of the glamorous party with their noses pressed against the glass would rather think it a 
conspiracy, when really like much else it is not, just those on the inside are quite happy to be there 
and there is only room for the most tenacious to get in. 
And yet how many, loosely speaking, negative art reviews do you read in art mags? Is that perhaps 
because it is hard to face someone you have spoken negatively about at the next nightís PV? You 
dismiss (well, not Searle) cheap decisions on good and bad, yet actually trying to decide on a set of 
criteria to judge, value, or even just to explain likes and dislikes is hard and vital to the whole creation 
and reception of works of art. It is what artists (and collectors, curators, and gallerists) are doing all 
the time. So I wish academics and art magazine editors would stop being aghast that people might 
ask them to say whether they like something or think it is any good, for it is a perfectly valid place to 
start or finish. 
I hope the frieze gang will not just dismiss my views as grinding axes or jealousy or whatever else 
might make them not have to worry about them, for genuinely I am happy that they and I are part of 
this glorious jamboree that is art now, and which they have done much to build. All in all it is a great 
time to be an artist, I just wish that things could be even better, and some of our shared passion for art 
was expressed in ways that made sense to me and which I wanted to read.  I wish that more dumb, 
angry, negative, or silly criticism appeared on their pages, and that diversity wasnít so narrowly 
defined. Otherwise I might just begin to think the whole thing is a conspiracy to keep prices high and 
avoid crunchy credit. "


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