Results tagged “art critics” from ARTicles

Actors can wait tables. Theater critics can bus tables, maybe wash dishes. But what can art critics do?

About a month ago, blogger Tyler Green posted a three-part interview with one of the Village Voice's freelance art critics, Christian Viveros-Faune (quite a good critic, too), in which Green asked him if he thought his connection to two commercial contemporary-art fairs, as executive director of one and "organizer" of another, was a conflict of interest. The critic's response, intemperate certainly, was basically yes, but because conflict of interest is inevitable, virtually built into the position, it didn't matter.

He was dropped from the Voice freelance stable a few days later -- not the same as being fired, because he was never on staff. (An unusual part of the Voice union contract does give health coverage to freelancers who earn enough money and file enough pieces during a fixed period, or at least it did when I worked there.)

But the important issue here is not one particular critic's decision about how to make a living. Unless cultural critics are full-time employees of the place for which we write, or have a plush and dependably regular freelance gig, we must find other work. I was a weekly restaurant critic for the Voice for more than 15 years, yet I needed to edit (the Voice's art and architecture criticism as it happens, and other stuff as well) and write plenty of pieces in plenty of fields in order to survive. Sure, many of my delicious meals were paid for, but I still had to keep myself in Pepto-Bismol.

I'd be surprised if more than half a dozen art critics in New York, even now the center of the multibillion-dollar art universe, eke a living only through their writing.

So the specter of "inevitable" conflict of interest must arise. Teaching and editing are pretty safe. But what about writing art-show catalogues, performance and CD program notes, or giving gallery talks? You're taking money from the very hand a reader expects you to bite.

Yet it doesn't seem reasonable for a paper or mag to demand from its freelancers a complete divorcement. Some places (like the Voice) have allowed compromise: wait two or three years to review a show in a gallery that's given you work because, if the workplace won't pay you enough to live, it shouldn't count on fealty.

Any thoughts?

I'll ask Peter Schjeldahl over there for my check.

February 27, 2008 10:10 AM |


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