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From: Ed Young
Received: September 24
Subject: Art criticism in the press
A couple of weeks ago I came across an article by Melvin Minnaar
published in the Cape Times entitled 'Flip Side of Art Stirs
Passions Even Before Event'. It was an article about Andrew Lamprecht's 'Flip' exhibition.
It wasn't a bad article; a Minnaar tour de force in fact. He seemed
to engage with Lamprecht's work on a fairly stable level and presented
a nice description of the Muizenberg/Simon's Town Watercolour Society's
concern over Lamprecht's exhibition, which presents the old masters
in the old Town House with their backs turned to the viewer.
This is not a piece concerned with your average stupid Sunday painter,
however, these old folk might have to realise that Lamprecht is a
historian as much as he is a theorist, and the backs of these paintings
have as much, if not more historical significance than the front.
It's like these guys telling their wives not to turn around because
they have a huge saggy arse. And I promise Lampie will turn them
back as soon as he is done with them � Iziko will � or some private
company that Iziko will have to subcontract because it is in no department's
job description to turn paintings around. Anyway�.
My concern is Minnaar. Towards the end of the article he starts
showing off with contemporary examples with which he is familiar,
the obvious Santiago Sierra reference etc., and the famous Duchamp
reference which these boys (almost without exception) throw in whenever
something slightly conceptual rears its head. Duchamp produced Fountain in
1917, and not 1913 as Minnaar declares with almost absolute authority.
I will not dig into the complexities of Fountain's history
as this piece does not allow for in depth discussion (nor does Minnaar's).
But, if Minnaar was at all in doubt about the date surrounding
this conceptual piece, the consultation of any high school art kid
could have been of some help. In fact, the numerous reproductions
of the piece all mark the date of its production, since this formed
part of Duchamp's signature on the work.
Minnaar is not the only one. In an unfortunate review of my own
work One lame Asshole, for sure the famous playwright Guy
Willoughby wrote: 'Why, Marcel Duchamp did precisely the same thing
with far more wit and invention in 1913 when he mounted his famous
urinal on a pedestal and signed it 'R. Mutt'�'. The obvious attachment
to this specific date could be a link to the possible date of birth
of the above-mentioned critics.
This was not the only factual inaccuracy found in this highly critical
press review. Willoughby did not enter the space of my exhibition
and obviously wrote about works that did not exist as part of the
show. His writing was informed rather, by others bitching about the
latest Ed Young piece. The work described in the article as an object
for sale was in fact not my own creation but a piece of vandalism
produced by some (presumably) innocent gallery attendee. He also
mentions the Bruce Gordon piece as my final year undergraduate
work (which I will excuse).
Shortly after the publication of this article I found myself drinking
hefty gin and tonics with Willoughby. The article came up in conversation.
I said that I agreed with everything except the factual inaccuracies.
Willoughby, shocked at first, insisted on publishing a retraction.
I felt uncomfortable with this as I did not want to respond to any
published material before I had finished my project as a whole. Willoughby
did not publish a retraction.
As embarrassing as this might be, I feel that this topic is in
dire need of discussion. If Minnaar and Willoughby can't be bothered
to check their references, then how are we to take their writing
seriously, and even more importantly, how are these critics to be
Unfortunately, South Africa is faced with a situation where the
arts get very little, if any coverage in the popular press. So, do
we bitch about it? Do we complain to the editors when this itself
might result in an even more drastic cut of art coverage? Even if
we could get them fired we might contribute to the closing down of
the arts pages in the local press. But, what I am trying to get at
here is that these folk should drop the bitch-ass, I-am-only-doing-it-for-the-cash
I can personally recommend a few able individuals for this job,
as well as a couple of 14-year olds. Point is, if we are faced with
this insubstantial amount of newspaper coverage, we need quality
and not some half-baked asshole unable to engage with production.
We need to identify individuals capable (and willing) of acknowledging
conceptualism and its existence beyond Duchamp, or at least Fountain.
And Duchamp made Fountain in 1917.
From: Brenden Gray
Received: September 22
Subject: Art criticism in the press
I have always felt that ArtThrob is in the position to become a
dialogical space for artists, learners/students and arts educators
to communicate. Given the relative flexibility of electronic media
it could become a dialogical space rather than only a space where
information is transmitted and presented. The website for me works
in a primarily presentational mode � giving reviews, news, etc. This
prevents two-way conversation, contestation and debate. It could
become a medium for active involvement in critical engagement with
the visual arts.
The feedback section I think is misnamed given the kind of entries
it is receiving. Debates begin to emerge in this space, despite its
title as a place where readers present comments on the website. Another
space could be created that documents ongoing critical conversations
between practitioners who take different positions.
I think that one of the reasons why there is a crucial shortage
of critical writing about art and culture is that there is no dynamic
public platform or forum. Given the relative anonymity made possible
by the internet, an author can present their ideas without the fear
of being ostracised or stigmatised by a very small visual arts community
which is so often the case with contributors in vulnerable positions
(young, emerging writers, critics and commentators).
As an educator I have always felt that students can develop their
writing skills best in a real communication situation, where writing
has a purpose and a wide audience. Learners and students often see
very little value in writing because their audience is usually one
lecturer/teacher (and, if they are lucky, a moderator) where the
primary purpose of writing is not communication and exchange, but
assessment. I imagine Master's students, matric learners and learnership
students being able to test their ideas in a real forum, a space
that is alive and responsive.
Finally, the website caters for the arts industry in terms of giving
space to curators, artists, arts administrators and critics to present
their ideas but does not engage arts educators or learners. Many
artists have or are engaged in education and I suspect that a section
devoted to educational issues may garner some interest.
Thanks for this constructive advice. We at ArtThrob are committed
to engaging in wide dialogue about the site, how it works and the
sort of coverage it offers. Our Gauteng regional editor, Robyn
Sassen, is currently doing research to find out how we can better
serve our readership. The issue about the Feedback section is well
taken but with very few exceptions it seems very difficult to get
debate and dialogue going. What are other readers' opinions? (Andrew