Photo of Guy Fieri courtesy New York Observer
Does criticism have any impact anymore? If you write a negative review of Bob Evans, he's gonna keep selling sausage. It doesn't seem all that different with David Zwirner. Over at Review31, Orit Gat has penned a great text on the state of negative criticism. She opens with a passage from Pete Wells's oft-quoted New York Times takedown of junk food arbiter Guy Fieri's restaurant in Times Square:
Guy Fieri, have you eaten at your new restaurant in Times Square? Have you pulled up one of the 500 seats at Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar and ordered a meal? Did you eat the food? Did it live up to your expectations? Did panic grip your soul as you stared into the whirling hypno wheel of the menu, where adjectives and nouns spin in a crazy vortex?
She writes about how Wells's review gains strength by its humor and unusual (if mocking) question-only format. How often do you read a full-out takedown like this, and how often should they be written? And with what tone? Gat acknowledges that reviews sections aren't often read, but are important because of the capital that flows through them, and continues:
In order to avoid the usual binary claim that without negative criticism the positive reviews are valueless, here’s the New York Times former culture editor Jonathan Landman in response to the newspaper’s Public Editor asking his opinion about Pete Wells’ review and the place of negative reviews in his section:
‘[the] all-guns-blazing takedown’ shouldn’t happen often. There are a thousand ticks between the greatest and the worst, and a great critic is unerringly accurate in picking the right place on that scale.
A scalable definition like this seems extremely useful. So why do we need negative – yes, guns-blazing – criticism?
A first answer is that criticism expands the field. The more all-encompassing art is becoming, the more we need criticism. There more books there are, the hungrier we are for a way to navigate the field. The more of other disciplines the visual arts take on – poetry, dance – the more we need critics to research, think through contexts and presentation, and, yes, judge the merits of these sometimes uncomfortable unions. If there is no way out of a system that overproduces in the hopes that something will catch on, then we need to make room for larger discursive platforms. The second point is about larger structures – the role of criticism is also to keep the market in check. Last year, New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz wrote about matching symptoms in current abstract painting, referring to process-based abstraction as ‘Zombie Formalism’. The weakness of Saltz’s zombie formalism theory is that it spends more time on sameness – ‘why do these all look alike’ – rather than structures: these look alike because there is a market for work that looks like that....When art critic Ken Johnson wrote about artist Michelle Grabner’s show at James Cohan calling her a ‘soccer mom’, artist Amy Sillman wrote a letter to the editor concerning its misogynist undertones, and posted it on Facebook. The snowball effect of such reactions in other publications and social networks made clear that here was a community that needs criticism and reacts to it because it is part of its intellectual production. And this community bonded quickly because of the internet and its pace."
How often do you read reviews? Do you think that reviews--in art, food, music, etc.--have an impact on the producers or the world at large?