Art Criticism

By McDonough, Tom | Art Journal, Fall 1996 | Go to article overview

Art Criticism


McDonough, Tom, Art Journal


Last Chance for Eden: Selected Art Criticism by Christopher Knight 1979-1994. Ed. by MaLin Wilson. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1995. 440 pp.; 78 b/w ills. $29.95

Dave Hickey. The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty. Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1993. 64 pp.; 8 b/w ills. $12.95 paper Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe. Beyond Piety: Critical Essays on the Visual Arts, 19861993. Cambridge Studies in New Art History and Criticism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995. 377 pp.; 8 color ills., 30 b/w. $80.00; $29.95 paper rt issues. (a magazine published in Los Angeles by Gary Kornblau's Foundation for Advanced Critical Studies) has over the past few years made a valuable attempt to expand the critical purview of American art production beyond New York. Since 1993 the magazine has also published books on art and aesthetics by West Coast writers in a further bid to draw attention to this region's culture, but with varying success.

The most recent and ambitious of these volumes is Last Chance for Eden, an anthology of Los Angeles Times critic Christopher Knight's weekly art columns. Normally this sort of thing is a vanity publication, but at 420 pages this book clearly purports to be a more substantial statement. Unfortunately, the collection holds together more as an exhaustive sampling of what this critic has seen in fifteen years than as the statement of a coherent theme.

The problem may lie as much in Knight's geographic location as in his own shortcomings as a critic. Even a mediocre critic in New York is witness to art history in the making, while one in Los Angeles sees only a random sampling of what happens to pass through (museum shows on tour, various New York and European artists with already-established reputations). When it comes to the more promising area of local talent, as in several essays on such West Coast artists as Mike Kelley (pp. 95-103) or Edward Ruscha (pp. 184-92), Knight conveys very little sense of a distinctive regional culture. Finally, any continuity or development in critical perspective over these fifteen years remains impossible to judge because of the inexplicable organization of the book, with reviews of artists arranged alphabetically by last name in one section and thematic articles arranged chronologically in the next. An earlier publication from Art Issues Press, Dave Hickey's Invisible Dragon, takes the more effective form of four essays on a related theme. This format has the virtue of forcing the author (a 1994 recipient of the College Art Association's Frank Jewitt Mather Award for distinction in art criticism) to make a consistent point. Here Hickey's argument is about beauty. He sees art's ability to communicate with the beholder as lying in its quality as a beautiful, empathetic object-a not uninteresting idea in itself. After a generation of criticism concerned with the politics of looking (originating in the mid-seventies feminist critique of male spectatorship), it certainly is time to focus on the complexities of the erotics of looking, the unique (and at times disruptive) pleasures the art object affords. Unfortunately, Hickey seems unaware of the stakes involved in making this argument. Instead of taking issue with those who would denigrate this pleasure in the name of political expediency, he spends too much of his time concocting an antimodernist diatribe. …

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