There is an ugly glut of gushing praise in the art world. Wonderful, amazing, fabulous, great, fantastic, must see … gushing praise is just so much balderdash, soap bubbles of words that don’t tell you anything. Turn the flow of praise down and find something else to say about art.
In the past the partisan politics of the modern art world attracted many defenders convinced that appreciate progressive art was the same as supporting progressive politics. A small, marginal cultural practice might need a gushing review from an insider to promote it but Melbourne’s contemporary visual arts scene is neither small nor marginal. It can stand on its own merits and doesn’t need a constant flow of gushing praise to sustain it.
The arts media is seen as a free promotional forum whose role is to attract a larger audience for an event. These gushing comments are poncy (“poncy” as in pandering, procurering and pimping) praising all the artists and every exhibition or event. There is even a Melbourne blog called Art Pimp by Din Heagney, artistic director of Platform Artists Group (2006-2010). But all this pimping isn’t going to improve the quality of the art.
There is a lot of gushing in the Australian art media because too many the writers and presenters can’t say anything else due to massive conflicts of interests. Andy Dinan who presents “Gallery Girl” on Channel 31 is the director of Mars Gallery. This conflict of interest that is left unmentioned on the show, even when Andy Dinan reports on her own gallery. “Gallery Girl” is not community television but a half hour advertisement for some of Melbourne’s commercial galleries. There are so few independent critics who can comment without conflicts of interests that it goes unmentioned in the arts media. Even the ABC’s “Art Nation”, the national broadcaster’s visual arts show is full of gushing; one of their commentators, Reko Rennie’s artistic career influences what he has to say about art.
When was the last time that you read a negative review of a contemporary art exhibition? When was the last time that you read that a notable artist was under performing or that an exhibition wasn’t worth a look? These kinds of comments are common in film and book reviews, even from sports commentators but they are rare in the visual arts. One of the reasons for this blog is to improve the quality of critical discussion in Melbourne’s visual arts not to gush.