Everyone's a critic

Christina Davidson, Pam Hansford, Graham Coulter-Smith, Keith Broadfoot, Rex Butler, Edward Colless, Catharine Lumby, Mackenzie Wark, Ashley Crawford, Messer/Duloy
Yuill/Crowley, Sydney

Art for artists: never a valued claim. In fact art for artists is the most insular and problematic, academic and turgid of art's many strands. Artists who subscribe to it are not wrong but they debilitate themselves (more than their public) by paying little or no attention to the "real world".

Everyone's a Critic was art by critics to give artists the opportunity to air their own critique. Theexhibition was erected to 'enact the limbo' of art as an institution: through what channels do artists have to go ('typically art school-studio-gallery' or 'a working knowledge of the artworld ') in order to set about "good" artmaking? it thus attempted to engage in or provoke a discourse that defined the limits of art by the problematising of a sedimented artistic "look".

Put differently the curators attempted to put Wittgenstein's 'game theory' to the test: is art only possible when, and only when, arbitrated by rules and strictures, media and milieux. The Wittgensteinian art critic, Richard Wollheim remarked that Monet, while being called 'all eye' and said to possess a sharpened perception of particular variations of light, was as much influenced by simply looking at pictures and observing their canonical relations to each other as he was by 'natural' stimuli.

But to confine art to a game and a look and to use a very specific angle of what is an uncircumscribable theory is truly cynical for it questions whether art is a mere quid pro quo, a clever effect extracted out of a set of rules. However provocative, one wondered whether the question was worth asking, and, if so, whether it was worth giving it such grand scale in one of Sydney's most respected galleries.

I am sure most critics are willing to concede that to look at a particular work of art from a critical capacity is to see both the preceding oeuvre of the artist as well as to look at the work on its own merits, observing new divergence. Art is about knowledge and it is prey to history however much it tries to absolve itself from these. That aside, rules and their functioning are arbitrating facets of history, climbed or traversed, and a "style" is in fact arrived at after gradual, perpetual experimentation and development. That this "style" can be lifted like the icing off a cake is well enough but it never excludes history, for such style immediately begs a genealogy, a grounding. What would happen if these critics were asked to logically determine and carry through the questions they began to ask in their work? By the same token, what if the artists in their critical report were asked to supply a bibliography and to extrapolate their salient theoretical suppositions into a thesis. Art, writing, is never a vicarious experience, rather it acts within the limitations of the viewer or reader. Both art and writing are the result of a conglomeration of what are often conflicting processes and the end result of each such process gives the artist or writer the occasion to stop, contemplate, determine direction and to modify faults. Not that a critic qua critic could not devise a coherent show, nor an artist mount a rigourous academic project, it has all been done, but such matters operate within the light of ideas different from those which underpinned Everyone's a Critic.

Art's visual idiosyncrasies, as questioned in the exhibition, actually gave way to the idiosyncrasies of the choice of critics themselves, rather than to the choices they themselves made. All have, broadly speaking, a close connectedness to each other, either by way of artists in common whom they choose to support, or the publications in which they help. Perhaps the best works were those of Messer/Duloy, Rex Butler and Pamela Hansford who 'enacted the limbo' of the critic qua artist with wry disbelief. Modest and witty, they were sensitive to the fact that they had far less at stake than an exhibiting artist (qua artist).

Although usually a far cry from it, theoretical and/or hypothetical propositions must lay claim to some kind of objectivity for credibility or even interest. If not, the dialogue becomes literary, which is another matter no less valid. But when you boast the right to the cake and the munch you can hardly talk with your mouth full.