Art critic coming to Detroit says she will review anyone's work

Oct 28, 2015 at 12:33 pm
click to enlarge Art critic coming to Detroit says she will review anyone's work
Photo by Claire Pentecost

Lori Waxman is an art critic for the Chicago Tribune. For the past decade, she's helmed a project called the "60 wrd/min art critic," a Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program-funded event in which Waxman travels to different cities, sets up an office, and doles out live reviews. 

In 20 minutes, Waxman will assess the work of any artist — of any skill level. Reviews are served on a first-come, first-served basis. The project is meant to lift the curtain on the mysterious and subjective process that is art criticism: Artists and spectators will be able to watch Waxman formulate her thoughts live, and artists will walk away with a signed copy of their review (and a nifty blurb for their CV).

"Reviews are free of charge, but are not guaranteed to contain positive responses to the work submitted," Waxman says in a release. "Critics are not meant to be cheerleaders or educators or advertisers; they are opinionated, thoughtful, informed commentators. Or so they try."

Artists interested in a review can book an appointment starting Nov. 13 by emailing [email protected]. More information is available on the project's website, Reviews will happen between Nov. 27-29 at the 9338 Campau gallery (9338 Joseph Campau St., Hamtramck). Later, the reviews will be published in Metro Times.

We called Waxman to learn more about the project:

Metro Times: So how did you get into this weird gig?

Lori Waxman: I've been doing it since 2005. It was sort of a consonance of a number of different things that were going on. I used to work in publishing at Distributed Art Publishers, I was the managing editor. One of my many jobs was that i wrote all of the catalog texts for the 600 international art books that we distributed twice a year — which is a huge number of short texts about art books, most of which didn't exist yet. So I had a short amount of time to write them. But I loved it. It was a crazy, insane job with a lot of thesaurus usage and research on artists that I had never heard of.

I'd try to figure out how to not say the same thing twice. So I polished this skill of writing really dense texts about visual matter really quickly. At the same time, I also started writing for a lot of art magazines, like or Sculpture — basically, anyone who would have me. And it pays crap, but it gets you out to see art. I like to write about art — otherwise I don't really properly think it through. So I realized the more I saw and the more I wrote, and the faster I wrote, the more those line items would work out as well.

Most of my friends were emerging artists. The guy I was dating — who I ended up married to — was then an emerging artist. He's not emerging anymore.

MT: He emerged.

Waxman: Right. Anyway, all of our friends were emerging artists, and they were really confused, and kind of filled with anxiety about the artists critic situation. "Who are the critics? How do you get them to see your work? How do you get a show if no one has written about your work? How do you get your work written about if you don't have any shows?" They really wanted feedback, but found the whole situation really opaque.

So I kind of put all of that together, and lying in bed one day came up with this idea: What if I just made myself available? What if I was a critic, and I was in a public place, and I just said, "I will write real criticism for you if you want it." You come and ask me, instead of hoping that I'll come to your show and for some reason decide to give you my word.

MT: So it's very honest.

Waxman: Right. It's meant to be as transparent as possible. And also it was a bit of an experiment: Would this really be worth anything to anyone? Is the mystique part of the value or not? Maybe nobody wants it if you're offering it for free.

MT: When did you start to do it in other cities?

Waxman: I did it on no budget. I lived in Brooklyn at the time. I moved to Chicago, and some friends of mine ran Mess Hall, so I did it there. It doesn't cost any money to do it. You need a table and chair and an Internet connection and a printer. A guy named Chris Molinski ran a space called the Art Gallery of Knoxville, which sounds really fancy, but actually it was a scrappy storefront space. He wrote to me and said, "Hey, I heard what you're doing. I want to bring you down to Knoxville because we don't have an art critic, but we have a lot of artists."

And wow! It was brilliant. It was so much better doing it there than doing it anywhere else. We had people lined up out the door. And I took extras — you know, like when a doctor stays late because serious patients arrive. You can't turn people away. It was unbelievable to have people who were so hungry for criticism and so grateful to get it.

And I'm not spoon-feeding. I'm really, seriously thinking about this work, and this is what I would say about it regardless. I had a woman who was in tears. I was so worried, because it was a tough review to write. It was a moment where I realized, "Oh God, I hope I didn't hurt her feelings." This is a real person in front of me, who's not doing this in a professional gallery and understanding all the rules. Fortunately, it wasn't because I hurt her feelings. I went to talk to her and she was so moved by having gotten a serious, critical response to her work. And that blew me away.

MT: What's with the flatscreen monitor?

Waxman: When I showed at Knoxville, and Chris showed me the space, there was a flatscreen monitor on the wall. Chris said, "This was left over from the last show, and I wondered if you want to hook your laptop up to it?" I did, and I've never been without it since. It's beyond transparent. You can basically watch me think my way through the work. If I can't remember an artist's name who i want to reference it, you'll see me Google it, or see me misspell "Rauschenberg," or deleting stuff. You follow a train of thought and then you realize that's wrong, so you nix it.

MT: You must be seeing the spectrum of artists — from seasoned pros to kids just getting started.

Waxman: Yes, literally kids in some cases — like 6 year olds! I do not discriminate on any level in terms of what artists come for reviews. Anything that you can imagine comes through the door. And it seems to happen more often outside of major cities.