美術評論家：次の絶滅危惧種？ Art critics: Next endangered species?
Will ‘ARTnews’ and ‘Art in America’ disappear as print journals?
Art critics: Next endangered species?
NEW YORK, NY.- Questions about the future of art criticism and how it might survive another season of layoffs and corporate mergers have dogged the International Association of Art Critics, a nonprofit organization based in Paris that represents more than 6,000 art writers worldwide including some 500 critics, art historians and scholars in the United States.
Six board members — nearly half its leadership team — have resigned in recent months from the organization’s American chapter, with most citing its failure to enact a diversity plan that members had supported since the George Floyd protests in 2020. The plan included award and fellowship opportunities for writers of color, as well as a revised mission statement reflecting the organization’s commitment to social justice.
“No aspect of that plan has been implemented yet,” critic Seph Rodney and art historian Aaron Levy wrote in a joint resignation letter sent to the board of AICA-USA in January. “All indications are that it has essentially been shelved.” They added that AICA-USA was “moribund and loyal to the time when art criticism and writing was a niche, privileged, recherché endeavor. We insist that it does not need to be this.”
The International Association of Art Critics was created in 1950 to revive cultural discourse after World War II, and it became a force in subsequent years with influential members such as Dore Ashton and John Perreault. But the organization has been weakened by decades of media cutbacks that diminished the number of art critics with staff positions on newspapers and magazines.
Chapters are responsible for vetting new members and suggesting internal policy changes, which are ultimately decided by an international committee in Paris. Seven U.S. members said that tension between conservative leaders of the group in Paris and liberal critics in the United States had thwarted progress on diversity initiatives.
“This letter of resignation raised some valid points,” Judith Stein, a writer and curator and the organization’s executive vice president, said in a phone interview, adding that “it encouraged us to reaffirm our desire to ensure that AICA-USA works better to reflect the values that it already had, which are rooted in a sincere commitment to diversity and inclusivity.”
“We are hopeful that we can bring the international committee more in line with the realities of our art world,” she added, pointing out the group’s Distinguished Critic Lecture series, which has honored many writers of color in recent years.
Over the past three years, the art world has faced a reckoning on its historical lack of diversity, while also coping with the challenges of COVID-19. And though AICA-USA hasn’t fully carried out its diversity plan, other arts sectors have taken action. For example, some museums and galleries, with bigger budgets, have hired new executive leaders; others have appointed managers to devise equity plans and strategies for increasing the diversity of the art they show or collect.
The need for change in museums was pointed out in the 2022 Burns Halperin Report, published by Artnet News in December, that analyzed more than a decade of data from more than 30 cultural institutions. It found that just 11% of acquisitions at U.S. museums were by female artists and only 2.2% were by Black American artists. (The museum study concludes with 2020, the last year for which data was available, but before the impact of changes from the Black Lives Matter movement could be felt.)
Julia Halperin, one of the study’s organizers, who recently left her position as Artnet’s executive editor, said the industry has an asymmetric approach to diversity. “The pool of artists is diversifying somewhat, but the pool of staff critics has not,” she said.
However, the matter of diversity in criticism is compounded by the fact that opportunities for all critics have been diminished.
While most editors recognize the importance of criticism in helping readers decipher contemporary art, and the multibillion-dollar industry it has created, venues for such writing are shrinking. Over the years, newspapers including The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Miami Herald have trimmed critics’ jobs. In December, the Penske Media Corp. announced that it had acquired Artforum, a contemporary art journal, and was bringing the title under the same ownership as its two competitors, ARTnews and Art in America. Its sister publication, Bookforum, was not acquired and ceased operations. Through the pandemic, other outlets have shuttered, including popular blogs run by SFMOMA and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis as well as smaller magazines called Astra and Elephant. (National newspapers with art critics on staff include The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post.)
David Velasco, editor-in-chief of Artforum, said in an interview that he hoped the magazine’s acquisition would improve the publication’s financial picture. The magazine runs nearly 700 reviews a year, Velasco said; about half of those run online and pay $50 for roughly 250 words. “Nobody I know who knows about art does it for the money,” Velasco said, “but I would love to arrive at a point where people could.”
Noah Dillon, who was on the AICA-USA board until he resigned last year, has been reluctant to recommend that anyone follow his path to become a critic. Not that they could. The graduate program in art writing that he attended at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan also closed during the pandemic.
“It’s crazy that the ideal job nowadays is producing catalog essays for galleries, which are basically just sales pitches,” Dillon said in a phone interview. “Critical thinking about art is not valued financially.”
Large galleries — including Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, and Pace Gallery — now produce their own publications with interviews and articles sometimes written by the same freelance critics who simultaneously moonlight as curators and marketers. Within its membership, AICA-USA has a number of writers who belong to all three categories.
Even jobs that blur the line between criticism and advertising are rarely secure. During the pandemic, Sotheby’s stopped publishing most of its glossy catalogs that appear before each auction season. The company had employed dozens of writers and editors to produce those volumes; now, it has just two editors split across New York and London.
According to Lilly Wei, a longtime AICA-USA board member who recently resigned, the group explored different ways of protecting writers in the industry. There were unrealized plans of turning the organization into a union; others hoped to create a permanent emergency fund to keep financially struggling critics afloat. She said the organization has instead canceled initiatives, including an awards program for the best exhibitions across the country.
“It just came down to not having enough money,” said Terence Trouillot, a senior editor at Frieze, an art magazine funded by the fair. He spent nearly three years on the AICA-USA board, resigning in 2022. He said initiatives to reenergize the group “were just moving too slowly.”
The organization has yearly dues of $115 and provides free access to many museums. But some members complained that the fee was too expensive for young critics, yet not enough to support significant programming. So leaders behind the diversity action plan were frustrated when AICA-USA hired an outside consultant, Buff Kavelman, to review their work.
“It felt like a feet-dragging exercise,” said Rodney (he is also a New York Times contributor).
Efforts to revive AICA-USA are continuing. In January, Jasmine Amussen joined the organization’s board to help rethink the meaning of criticism for a younger generation.
Amussen, 33, is the editor of Burnaway, which focuses on criticism in the American South and often features young Black artists. (The magazine started in 2008 in response to layoffs at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s culture section and now runs as a nonprofit with four full-time employees and a budget that mostly consists of grants.)
Amussen said the nonprofit model has allowed Burnaway to experiment with art criticism through summer writing boot camps and a recruitment effort to bring untraditional writers into the magazine’s digital pages. Recent contributors included a landscape architect, a rap scholar and a comic illustrator. Widening the appeal of arts writing is the goal.
“I’m in the art world because there is no other option for strange people who want to write about cultural things,” Amussen said in a phone interview. “And I worry that if something isn’t done to remind people why art and criticism are important, then the industry won’t survive.”