Friday, September 03, 2004

This review by Michael O'Sullivan of a couple of exhibitions at The Textile Museum is a perfect example of why I think O'Sullivan is the best art critic writing for the Washington Post.

Call me plebian, but I am always delighted to read an art critic that shows his colors and his prejudices when reviewing a visual exhibition, and then has the honesty and courage to somewhat change his mind.

O'Sullivan writes:

"FULL DISCLOSURE: I don't particularly like flowers or shiny metallic thread.

Which makes my recent visit to the Textile Museum to check out two exhibitions -- the new "Floral Perspectives in Carpet Design" (whose title pretty much says it all) and the about-to-close "By Hand in the Electronic Age: Contemporary Tapestry" (a show with more than its share of fiber bling-bling) -- potentially problematic.

See, I've been conditioned by exposure to contemporary art to mistrust the decorative. Floral art -- unless it's a stand-in for sex or death, as it so often is -- is not my cup of tea. And glints of gold thread woven through textiles remind me, I'm sorry to say, of Liberace.

So I was heartened, not to mention somewhat surprised, by the fact that in addition to flowers and lamé, there's something to chew on in both shows."
I'll admit that althought I liked O'Sullivan's review, I'd rather still rather watch an ice cube melt than go see "Floral Perspectives in Carpet Design," which makes O'Sullivan a more open-minded and fair critic that I can ever hope to be; but that's just me.

But I digress. My point is that it is rare to see these sort of "full disclosures" when discussing an opinion in an art review. More often than not what we find is cynicism, and writing that is what the author thinks the other "cool" critics and "hot" curators would want to read.

That also explains why a lot of contemporary art critics and curators have such dislike of painting. They have been conditioned to think that it's not cool to like painting, and it's fun to see them scramble to line up when an unexpected painter bolts out of the blue, such as Gerhard Richter and the same people who shout that "painting is dead" line up to applaud a painter who Sotheby's calls the "most influential artist in the world." Not painter, but artist.

Thus we can always see critical hypochrisy or all the sheeps lining up to follow the lead. Another perfect example of that theory was the orgy of great reviews by super cool contemporary art critics for The Quilt's of Gee's Bend. The New York Times dubbed this show one of the "ten most important shows in the world," and art critics who one would imagine would rather have their eyes poked out with a blunt butter knife than hang a quilt as "art" in their post-modernist flats all lined up to applaud the show.

I did too. I was enthralled and seduced not just by the quilts, but mostly by the quilters that I met.

And I went back and re-read a lot of the reviews and I was (and still) nagged by the impression that a lot of the words were written not out of honesty, but out of political correctness; it would have been suicidal for any writer, not just an art critic, to dislike the show.

I could be wrong.

But when the world's most influential daily anoints a show as one of the "ten most important shows in the world," it essentially dares every other secondary art critic in the world to disagree with them.

But I could be wrong, and because I have never been particularly fond of quilts as "fine art," I went to see this show prepared to dislike it - my own prejudice and (like Michael says) "conditioning," and a fun opportunity to disagree with the mainstream critic media.

And yet, let me repeat myself: I was enthralled and seduced not just by the quilts, but mostly by the quilters. I ended up loving the quilts because of the quilters.

And to this day I am nagged by the feeling that it was the quilters, more than the quilts, that we all liked so much.

And thus, I applaud honesty like O'Sullivan's in today's review.

Today is the first Friday of the month, and thus the Dupont Circle Galleries technically should have their extended hours. It is also the "unofficial" opening of the Washington visual arts season, which "unofficially" opens in September.

However, since Labor Day is actually next Monday, I suspect that many galleries may still be closed and on vacation, in which case the "unofficial" opening of the visual arts season may shift to next Friday to the Bethesda Art Walk from 6-9 PM on September 10.

The week after that, on Sept. 16, is the Third Thursday Night Out for the 7th Street Area Arts District from 6-8 PM. By the way, if you'd like to volunteer as a 3rd Thursday gallery crawl guide, contact Rachel Leverenz at 202/315-1310.

The next day, on Sept. 17 is the third Friday and the Canal Square Galleries in Georgetown have their new show openings from 6-9 PM, catered by the Sea Catch Restaurant and Raw Bar.