Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Good Bad Review

Something I feel bad about, a little guilty about, is that I almost never write bad reviews. Partly because, if I am going to go through the trouble of writing a review, I want to write about something I like. But also because I am a wimp who hates to hurt other people's feelings and especially hates it if people get mad at me.

I'm reading a book about art criticism now and one of the things it said about the state of art criticism in the U.S.A. is that there aren't a lot of bad reviews. For a bunch of reasons. One of which is a kind of boosterism. I mean, here we are in Houston, it's hard to get people interested in contemporary art and we maybe feel that what we have here, the scene that exists, is too fragile to endanger with bad reviews, with tough-minded criticism. I'm not saying this is the right way to think, but it's an impulse that affects me as a critic.

All this is a lead in to a really nice bad review by Douglas Britt of the Chronicle. Britt is someone I have mostly thought of as a booster-type reviewer (like me). But check this out.
You should make a point of heading to DiverseWorks by Saturday to catch The New Normal, for reasons both straightforward and perverse. The traveling group exhibition addresses how boundaries between the public and the private spheres have blurred in the post-Sept. 11 era.
The straightforward reason, of course, would be to see good art. Though there's not nearly enough as there should be, just enough cream rises high enough to justify a visit. More on that later.
The perverse reason is that the most fascinating thing about the show is the yawning gap between the juiciness of its premise and the dry, chewy nature of the work meant to illustrate it.

Curated by Michael Connor, The New Normal is a case study in squandered potential -- or how an exhibit's introduction can jack up expectations only to have the underwhelmingly bland contents send them crashing back to earth. (Douglas Britt, The Houston Chronicle, February 17, 2010.)
That was my reaction exactly! Why didn't I have the courage of my convictions to write it down? Well, thank goodness Douglass Britt did.

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