Is criticism going the way of the dodo bird? An awkward duckling that padded happily around the island of Mauritius until Dutch traders landed and shot them all, the dodo is now the island’s tourist mascot, immortalized as a branding tool.
Objective, informed comment about culture is a rare species. Technology, information glut and the omnipotence of marketplace values have reduced readers to the status of customers who apparently don’t have time to reflect. They just want to know what’s hot and where to get it, fast and cheap. This new reality is seriously undermining not only the integrity of art but the crucial relationship between creators and their public. Those who toil in the trenches of culture are frantic for new ways to gain attention. Celebrity is the only game that still seems to work.
Nowhere is the crisis of criticism more acute than in the visual arts, a demographically marginal art form that nevertheless deals in serious money. In our time, it is possible to become both wealthy and (in some circles) famous as a visual artist before death. It is also possible to make a lot of money by “investing” in the art market. These facts naturally skew the work of art. Corruption on all levels is rampant.
Enter Sky Goodden and Momus.ca – one of the classiest, bravest and potentially most powerful publishing ventures of the decade. Strictly online, Momus carries international coverage of art; reviews, interviews and a curated calendar of artworld events. Named after the Greek god of criticism, it is elegant, smart and easy to read. Writers are paid; funding is by way of discrete banner ads – usually the name of a gallery linked to their website, plus donations from patrons and collectors.
Momus writers include David Balzer (Toronto), Joseph Henry (New York), Saelan Twerdy (Montreal), Andrew Berardini (Los Angeles), R.M. Vaughn (Berlin) and Goodden, founder and editor, who lives in Toronto but spends a great deal of time on the road (and in Montreal), looking at art. The writing is fresh and gutsy, not always simple but remarkably devoid of the vaporous nonsense that often occurs around the effort of distilling images into words. Example, check out her recent Janet Werner exhibition at Parisian Laundry. When was the last time you heard Sommerset Maugham quoted in the daily media?
The masthead’s editorial statement describes Momus writers as “risk-takers, art historians, popular voices, and truth-seekers purveying the contemporary moment from a distance while fully ensconced. Together they claim an important platform for the revival of art criticism, and present art writing that promotes integrity and clarity in its reflection on the complexities, challenges, and potential emerging from an artworld in flux.”
Goodden is in Montreal this week for Papier 15. She’ll take part in the fair’s educational programme focusing on issues related to private and corporate collecting. Now beginning its 8th edition, the fair has moved north from downtown to Mile End, in a warehouse at 5445 de Gaspé, between St. Viateur and Fairmount. Forty galleries from Montreal and across Canada will feature hundreds of works using paper as the medium. Opens Friday at noon and closes Sunday at 6 pm. Full details here.
For an informed look at Papier 15, Montreal’s ultra-popular paperworks art fair (April 24-26), Rover recommends following Sky Goodden’s guided tour this Friday at 1 p.m.