Sun, Dec 08, 2013 - Page 12 News List

A critic abroad

International Association of Art Critics president Marek Bartelik discusses his future goals for the UNESCO-affiliated body and Taiwan’s role in it

By Noah Buchan  /  Staff reporter

TT: Is this an issue of language?

MB: That’s one of the things we are working on, how to give voice to critics who write in different languages. For example, our congress next year will be in South Korea and one of the items when we organize the congress — since two years ago, when we decided to publish a collection of essays by the Paraguayan critic Ticio Escobar as a part of Distinguished Contribution to Art Criticism Award — is that the country that gives the congress in association with AICA publishes an anthology of critical writings by one of the distinguished critics from that country. And it is bilingual, in the case of South Korea most likely English-Korean. This gives a great opportunity to introduce critics that are well known in their country but not necessarily outside.

STATE OF ART CRITICISM

TT: What is the current state of art criticism in Europe and North America?

MB: On a practical level, today it is more and more difficult to find places for critics to publish because newspapers — most newspapers — have eliminated cultural news. As an association of critics we are trying to reignite interest in criticism and contemporary art so that our members have a place to write. And not just a few hundred words but maybe something longer. Your interview is a perfect example that it can be done, and I appreciate it a lot.

That’s really the issue that I’m most interested in and that’s the focus of our debates: what constitutes our profession and how we have to adjust to the times we live in. Obviously what happens now is much different than what happened 20 years ago, not to mention 50 years ago. So there is the political reality, and also the very practical reality, which is we have fewer and fewer daily newspapers publishing anything about art. If they do, it is profiles of artists, it profits our culture.

TT: But it also seems that finding that fine line between academic rigor and appealing to a broad audience and with critical theory, for example, it just seems to exclude average readers, rather than include them.

MB: That’s maybe where we are not being at our best. [Art criticism] has become such an isolated practice, with its own language and interests, that it’s easy to lose the average person, who otherwise could become interested in contemporary art. I think it’s our responsibility to reconnect with the broader audience, talk to them; if we fail to do so we risk to be just a small group of people talking to each other and nobody else. And that goes back to the issue of language. There is more and more translated into English but there might be brilliant critics writing in Chinese that are not translated and so are not part of the international network and therefore nobody knows about them. AICA wants to represent them, and in doing so contribute to the conversation about the meaning and the importance of contemporary art.

For me those are the crucial issues that we are facing: the place of art criticism in the current world, the issues of language, including critics’ responsibility to express themselves in a comprehensive way, to write well. It’s bigger than anything else. If we don’t adjust to the new conditions, we are not going to survive for a long time. So as an association, I’m not just worried about how local politics are played, but more our well-being and our “philosophy of writing.”

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