Last July I got an email from one Zane Fischer that changed my life (or at least my weekends). He was looking for someone to take over the visual arts column at this paper and, of all the people in the world, he chose…Well, actually, he chose someone else. Fortunately, that person declined the job and gave Zane a referral, whereupon I was offered the job.
Since then I’ve seen almost 150 shows, drank 4,000 plastic cups of chardonnay and written 20 reviews covering 23 different venues. In the fading sunlight of the calendar year, I began flipping through my official Critic’s Notebook (99 cents, Walgreens) to reflect on these past five months.
The Notebook Decontextualized
Overall, I saw some truly amazing and weird stuff: killer robots, a car that becomes a cloud, scale models of abandoned service stations, celebrity family snapshots, people posing in family snapshots with total strangers, people fornicating with animals, animals ravaging automobiles, the monsters that live in SITE Santa Fe’s floors and, in one case, I saw what happens when a man walks across the tundra to take pictures of practically nothing. If you didn’t know I was an art critic, you’d think you were reading the diary of a madman.
Whatever you think of the architecture, the Railyard is coming into its own. The Railyard galleries constitute a conscious shift away from the cramped showrooms of the Plaza and Canyon Road in favor of clean sight lines and concrete floors. This has not always meant better art but, for those of us who just got off the Rail Runner, it does project a more cosmopolitan vibe. (Or it would if the trains didn’t idiotically say “meep meep” when the doors are closing.) Box Gallery, James Kelly Contemporary and Santa Fe Clay were consistently worth the visit.
Another highlight was the alive and possibly well DIY movement. With the emergence of Pennbrick Gallery and the continued audacity of Meow Wolf, Santa Fe gets a steady dose of conceptualism that proves this town has some homegrown talent. It’s not too often I feel excitement before an art exhibition, but these young organizers, free of the commercial constraints of so many galleries, put together some of the year’s best shows.
How to Get Ahead in Art Exhibitionism
Mostly this job is like dessert, but there were a few things I encountered along the way that made me lose some sleep.
1. Please don’t ask me to review your show. You will seem desperate. Think of it like dating, except I am way better-looking than you are. And definitely do not call me at home. And under no circumstances should you call me at home every day for two weeks. You will seem crazy.
2. If you disagree with something I write, I welcome comments and dialogue. What I don’t understand are the insinuations about the critic-as-envious-failed-artist. I have seen this a few times (not always directed at me) in response to unfavorable reviews. Maybe I’m myopic, but it seems unlikely anyone would become an art critic to enact some revenge fantasy on his peers when there are gun stores. In all honesty, sometimes I just don’t like a show.
3. Curating is not the same thing as organizing. The word “curate” has been watered down to the point where it basically means sorting, as in “I just curated my laundry.” If you want to be named a show’s curator, pick a theme and write an essay—and please don’t put yourself in said show. That is like using yourself as an example of someone you look up to.
Predicting the Future
There is plenty to be excited about in 2010. Susan Rothenberg at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum promises to be good and SITE is having its biennial. Happy New Year!