Written by Yang Heon Lee Translated by Youngjoo Kang
Years ago, some art critics gathered for a discussion, and the most urgent issue of the current state of “criticism” was agreed as follows: it is a labyrinth of texts. This expression evokes a sense of anxiety and emergency of the continuing crisis of criticism and shows how this ghost still drifts aimlessly in the realm of art criticism.
Are we still in the middle of this crisis? If you look closely at contemporary art criticism, the answer is simple: no one reads criticism anymore. The ecosystem of criticism is impaired, critics are struggling in their own compartmentalized world, texts are either excessively ridden with theories or barren like journalism criticism. What’s more, criticism is not carrying out its designed purposes and meaning in the art system. On the other hand, some may say that art criticism is still relevant. Young critics’ writings are getting more sophisticated and their theory is more significant. Furthermore, there are some earnest readers who wait for new pieces of criticism. However, critics who are immersed in theory and a sense of anxiety seem to have lost their motivation in the exhausting cycles of rhetoric and arguments while their job cannot support them in the system.
While criticism is lost wandering in a maze with seemingly no exit, a crisis is manifesting itself. Isn’t it fair to say that now is the time criticism should confess its expired validity? Nevertheless, the world of art criticism is still being rejuvenated with new blood, and people are practicing criticism. Rumor has it that new spaces designed for critics are opening up soon. What does this mean to us? Here are more questions. What does criticism mean at all in contemporary art? What can criticism do or not do? How do new practices differ from old ones? Why do we need to continue criticism at all? This article was initiated to answer those questions, or at least, shed some light on them, by gathering main subjects of practices sporadically happening in the contemporary art world.
JeongHyun Kim, Siwu Kwon, Jinguk Ahn, Kiwon Lee, and Taerim Hong all responded to such questions with their perspectives and contemplated potential and valid possibilities of this topic. It is by discovering the beauty of criticism that it is doomed to fail (Jinguk Ahn), capturing new underlined images beyond criticism (Kiwon Lee), or by exploring potential possibilities of its transformation and expansion (JeongHyun Kim). How about the focal point of criticism that guesstimates the viewpoint from inside and outside of its subject matter (ShiWu Kwon)? Taerim Hong states that criticism should not be an act of silence but a cry under the heavy clouds.
The era of criticism, which functioned as a mediator between the public and art, a connoisseur of taste, and the means of elite’s power-authority monopoly, came to an end a long time ago. A philosopher-critic like Arthur Danto or the critic models of “October” magazine that crossed over various post-structuralist theories are in fact a century old. Is it reasonable to raise our expectations on critics’ strategies of praising esthetics, affirming static-dynamic personality, or supporting a utopian world? Or, as Maurice Blanchot said, isn’t the nature of criticism in vanishing after all? At the exhibition Critical Practice, there lies a book of criticism written by numerous critics. It is available for anyone to make a copy to keep, but it is hard to imagine that people would actually come to a gallery just to read a piece of criticism at this time and age of information.
Deep down at this labyrinth, there might be an indifference of the audience. Art criticism indeed is in deep trouble. Yet, I still hope that someone would come into an exhibition and find their way out by following the weaved texts, perhaps like how Theseus rescued himself from the Minotaur’s labyrinth by following a red thread. Could criticism give us excitement and joy again?