The Changing Landscape of Art Criticism
I founded Momus as a response to a wan moment in art criticism. I wanted to return us to a criticism that is brave, evaluative, and accessible. I particularly wanted to establish a model for trenchant, meditative, and meaningful criticism online. Because online publishers, in their early efforts, have been too cynical and cheapening of audience attention spans – and we know there’s greater potential here. Momus seeks to remind us of art criticism’s pulse and posture – and, alongside, of online publishing’s potential for substance. We’re slowing things down in a medium that suggests we should move on. Here, we ask ourselves: what’s good? What’s bad? And how should these things be weighted? Critically recognized, and widely read and shared, Momus has quickly become a trusted reference for those wishing to reflect on contemporary art at a slightly slower pace, and with greater focus and integrity, than online platforms typically allow. Now, through our publication and a newly-inaugurated podcast, we 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 art world in flux.
Wendy, a satire of the art world
Wendy is the continuing graphic novel series, chronicling the misadventures of Wendy, a young aspiring artist living in an urban centre who aspires to art-stardom, but whose dreams are perpetually derailed. Romantic woes, professional frustrations, parties and awkward encounters play out in black and white. The position of the outsider and shape shifter is central to this body of work and the influence of feminist icons such as Mary Tyler Moore, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde or artist, punk poet, experimental novelist and filmmaker Kathy Acker lingers. The series is a satire of the larger power dynamics of the contemporary art world, but also looks closer at the interpersonal relationships of the players in this milieu - the artists, curators, performance artists - the list goes on. Wendy is an avatar who shifts between different cultural institutions, reinventing herself with every modality and juggling different fictions of herself. The project has taken the form of a graphic novel series, but has also as sculptural installation, billboards and public art, totebags, residencies, book clubs and performance. The mutability of Wendy, and its ability to function in the worlds of contemporary art, comics, indigenous narratives, institutional critique and literature simultaneously, can often create a productive friction around the way we categorize and isolate our modes cultural production.
The Promise of Mutability
For several months, I have posted short excerpts from an essay-in-progress on Instagram (@emmaiduma), paired with colonial-era photographs from the National Archives of the United Kingdom, taken in Nigeria. The underlying basis for my work with the archive is a question, drawn from a line in an Eduoard Glissant poem: How am I in history until my barest marrows? But it is equally an impulse to question the nature of the interaction, particularly on digital platforms, between text and image. The genealogy of such work arguably reaches back to Ekphrastic writing, is beholden to the evolution of Western and non-Western literacy, collaborations between visual artists and writers, fiction written in response to images or film, and, as in this case, the idiosyncratic ways writers use Instagram. If the use of social media in general is constrained by the need for “shameless self-promotion,” how might criticism work within those parameters? What is the distinction, perhaps in a phenomenological sense, between “posting” and “publishing?” How is engagement sustained, carried-over, or retooled for ongoing or future work? At the Symposium, I hope to present an essay on art criticism as presented on Instagram – the promise of a mutable, fluid, and interlocutory social media platform.
Talk Sweet to Me: Critical Fear and Indigenous Art
A few years ago, Australian Aboriginal artist Vernon Ah Kee lamented the “dearth of criticism of Aboriginal art” and suggested that the reason “no-one had ever criticized his work” was because “they were afraid.” Many Indigenous artists reckon that the lack of critical engagement is the barrier that keeps their art in a bubble at the edge of the art world pond. However, there is great anxiety that bursting this protective sphere would lead to assimilation, a shift from Indigenous art to mere art, from Indigenous artist to mere artist. In order to unlock the Ah Kee paradox we need to understand the difference between Customary, Aboriginal, and Indigenous art and then map Indigenous art’s changing relation to the dominant art world, particularly its reception, interpretation, and evaluation through critical art writing, and the rise of a parallel Indigenous art world with its own artists, curators, critical writers, spaces, protocols, and discourse. This talk concerns Indigenous critical writing about Indigenous art; non-Indigenous writing about Indigenous art; and, especially, critical art writing and critical oral performance outside of the mainstream publishing structure.