The Art Scene and the Art Critic in France: A Birds Eye View
In this extremely brief overview, I will outline in five points the current situation of contemporary art in France, and the prospects that it offers for the art critic. 1) France’s many publications in print and online provide many platforms for the art critic’s expression; 2) Places multiply the opportunities to practice criticism; 3) The abundant supply of conferences and public discussions should provide opportunities for reflection on the public expression of art criticism; 4) The abundance of prizes for artists demands a corresponding AICA France prize for art criticism; 5) In France the professional status of art critics remains unclear and must be strengthened.
In France we have the good fortune of having many art publications, including artpress, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary. In artpress and elsewhere, one sees proof of the vitality of art criticism and, because you cannot have one without the other, the vivacity of an artworld dynamic which fuels the need for publications. artpress is the longest-running journal in France that is dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. Beaux Arts Magazine, L’il, Connaissance des arts, Artension, Art Actuel and Art Absolument are younger or more general. Although it was originally dedicated exclusively to contemporary dance, the magazine Mouvement has been exploring all facets of contemporary creation since 1995. May (its title being a nod to October magazine) was founded in 2009 by Catherine Chevalier and Eva Svennung, and is directed to a more specialized audience, much like Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, the journal of the Centre Pompidou, or Critique, the journal of Archives de la Critique d’Art.
The appearance of numerous Internet publications also expresses this dynamic while undergoing the evolution of medium. There are many examples : parisART, founded in 2002 by André Rouillé, La critique, created in 2006 by Christian Gattinoni, editor-in-chief and a member of AICA France, Revue Diapo, the quarterly journal of the online collective Continuum since 2009, Code Magazine 2.0, revived in 2010 by Laetitia Chauvin and Clément Dirié, editors-in-chief, and members of AICA France, and Le Quotidien de l’art, created in 2011 by Philippe Régnier in collaboration with Roxana Azimi, for which a paid subscription is required.
This all demonstrates the important presence of art critics on the Internet. It is a challenge for organizations with limited resources—even AICA France—to maintain a site on such a tight budget, so this is a difficult challenge to overcome. In order to reach beyond our “followers” and among art professionals and enthusiasts, it only makes sense to bolster our web traffic and work with social media platforms that direct traffic to our websites to broaden our audience.
As everyone knows, it is becoming more and more difficult to get published in a book, and to work as an editor, in France as elsewhere. It is a field where the Matthew Effect, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” figures prominently. Writers who have already published are able to publish again more easily. This is why I think that AICA France should develop its publishing activity to provide writers easier access to visibility in the field.
In 2013, we published three books which all resulted from public events. Hybridation et Art Contemporain (Al Dante/AICA France, 2013) was the result of a roundtable discussion organized in Johannesburg on the eponymous topic. La Performance: vie de l’archive et actualité (Les Presses du Réel, 2013) followed a colloquium organized at la Villa Arson (Nice, October 2012) in conjunction with the Getty Research Institute. With a PechaKucha event on art criticism at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013, we published a monograph of Laura Lamiel, written by Anne Trouche, which was selected as the winner of the first AICA France prize.
In the last decade, the French art scene has been considerably enriched by new spaces, providing abundance and diversity and thus fueling the need for art criticism. Le MAC/VAL in Vitry-sur-Seine opened its doors in 2005; Le Générateur in 2006; Le CENTQUATRE in 2008; Le Centre Pompidou Metz in 2010. The Palais de Tokyo now maintains over 72,000 square feet of exhibition space, while in contrast the private foundation La Maison Rouge hosts its distinctive, rigorous programming on a more modest scale. There are also private, non-commercial galleries offering specialized programming, for instance, La Vitrineam (art and branding). FIAC, an international art fair, completely renovated its image, as did the Salon de Montrouge, dedicated to young artists, and the latest edition of Drawing Now, a salon dedicated to contemporary drawing, was unanimously praised. The Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation will soon open its doors in the Bois de Boulogne, just west of Paris.
All the spaces mentioned above, and many others, develop programming featuring conferences, debates, and round tables. Given this abundance of offerings, it seems crucial to reflect on public formats of art criticism in the hope of elaborating new ways to revitalize public interest in art criticism and valorize it by showing it in a new light. This is why I took the initiative, in conjunction with Elisabeth Couturier and Marc Partouche of AICA France, and AICA International to launch the PechaKucha of art criticism. The first installment of these occurred at the Palais de Tokyo in 2013, and the second at l’école des Beaux-arts de Paris in 2014. Its rapid-fire format—20 images are discussed for 20 seconds each, for a total of six minutes and 40 seconds—fosters a strong momentum, permitting us to give floortime to more art critics in one evening, and to underline the role of art critics in taking a position regarding particular artists, and to defend these choices. The events have been considerable successes, exceeding their high expectations.
There are many prizes for artists in France. The Prix Fondation d’enterprise Ricard (established 1999) and the Marcel Duchamp Prize (created by the Association for the International Dissemination of French Art [A.D.I.A.F.] in 2000) are now reference points for other, newer prizes to follow. Created in 2009, the Prix Canson Art School was founded to support young artists in three disciplines: drawing, painting on paper, and photography. La Société Emerige founded La Bourse Révélations Emerige to support recently graduated artists under 35. However, a prize for art critics did not exist in France. It was necessary to fill this gap by creating an AICA France prize to reward and honor French art critics. We organize it with an international jury, taking advantage of the annual rotation of AICA presidents in Paris, and the inclusion of different national chapters of AICA. It was Anne Tronche who received this prize in 2013, for her discussion of Laura Lamiel; the special prize of the jury was awarded to Marie-Cécile Burnichon, who spoke on the work of Miriam Cahn. This year, Marc Lenot received the prize for his work on the art of Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza, and Mathilde Roman received the special prize of the jury for her work on émilie Pitoiset. This prize is awarded in partnership with AICA International, with artpress, which publishes texts by winning critics, and with the Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne, which hosts an exhibition of the artist presented by the winning critic. AICA France finances the corresponding catalogue.
Despite this vibrant scene, art critics still face considerable difficulties in practicing their craft. One key problem is that due to the lack of an official professional status in France, art critics’ labor goes unrecognized. Unlike professional interpreters, for example, professional art critics do not benefit from a status or specific place within the social order. While interpreters’ official status permits them to impose official salary rates, art critics often struggle to receive fair payment for their work, simply due to this legislative technicality. Their compensation does not fit within the current parameters of what organizations are legally required to respect. Discussions are currently underway with the Ministry of Culture and CIPAC (Fédération des professionels de l’art contemporain) to overcome this obstacle, working toward a convention collective. There are also signs of promise elsewhere: for example, a recent publication for children presented “art critic” as a potential career (Fil à Fil; Lectures et Mise en Réseau, Istra hachette, 2013).
RAPHAEL CUIR is President of AICA France and Vice-President of AICA international. He is the author of The development of the Study of Anatomy from the Renaissance to Cartesianism : da Carpi, Vesalius, Estienne, Bidloo (Edwin Mellen Press, 2009) and has edited and contributed to numerous books including Ouvrir-couvrir (Verdier, 2004) and Il corpo digitale : natura, informazione, merce (G. Giappichelli Editore, 2011). He is the editor of Pourquoi y a-t-il de l'art plutôt que rien ?/"Why is there art rather than nothing ?" an anthology of answers to the title question by famous artists, critics, art historians, curators and philosophers (Archibooks 2009, forthcoming new augmented edition, May 2014). He has been scientific coordinator for the Chair of Research in Creation and Creativity at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris, and a scholar in residence at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles where he taught at Otis College of Art and Design. In 1999 he created the first online art history TV channel. He is a regular contributor to Art Press magazine for which he recently edited a special issue on the theme of "Cyborg".