Dear Dave, Welcome Back
Welcome back to art writing, if indeed your article was a signifier of that. I was troubled by your abandonment of us in the first place. Your message in quitting art criticism was that the art world had become so corrupt that you (and by extension us) should give it up. I can’t. I’m reminded of the guy who cleaned the elephant bins in the circus and complained constantly about how filthy the job was. A fellow worker said, “If you so hate it, why don’t you leave,” And the bin cleaner answered, “What and quit show biz.” We’ve known for years that the auctioneers, billionaire collectors, and dealers command so much attention it often seems that we have become like the piano player in a whorehouse. But writing is our primary weapon. Giving it up is counterproductive.
Now that you’re back to criticism, if you are back, I’d like to know more of what we as critics can do. You seem to propose that we write new theory although your essay reads like a syllabus to teaching old theory in graduate seminars. The only theory you mention is the same-old-same-old French variants—words about words with very little about art. Some (most) of us believe that French theory and its October offshoots, above all, Baudrillard, have been relegated to the dustbin of history. Don’t get me wrong, theory is okay, but is this what art criticism really needs? As I see it, we need a riposte to market agendas which have dominated art world discourse and have sidelined art criticism. We should reassert our role by turning away from the market and looking to ourselves to formulate today’s art issues. Phong Bui and I have begun to do this by calling a meeting of 50 critics. Forty-seven attended indicating, the interest in discourse. We will do more of this and enlist the American Section of the International Art Critics Association in this effort.
A final word to you Dave. I look forward to your spelling out what you mean by theory and particularly what theory is relevant in our time.
Cordially as always,
IRVING SANDLER was an art critic, art historian, and writer. The second volume of his memoirs, Swept Up By Art: An Art Critic in the Post-Avant-Garde Era, was published by Rail Editions in 2015.