When an anonymous art critic appears in a community that has been begging for an art critic and an artist responds with a project to reveal the critic’s identity, folks are likely to get a little pissed off.
That’s what’s happened here, creating the line to blur between brilliant endeavor and shameless, self-centered art project.
The anonymous critic arrived this month on the website, criticalcorrespondence.com, posting reviews of select local shows. The reviews were penned as hand-written letters on notebook paper and presented as such online with the original letters being sent to each gallery owner hosting the exhibits.
On March 11, the day the first reviews were posted, speculation abounded over the identity of the critic. Mostly, there was a sudden excitement in the air. People were happy to know that someone is out there, critiquing shows. Even those who disagree with the critiques were happy.
And why not? The reviews are fairly well written (except for one blatant love letter to the Casey Weldon exhibit) and speak to the art in a relaxed, personal style (this is, after all, a letter). Various camps confided in one another that they hoped the critic would remain anonymous, so that the reviews might continue.
But almost immediately, the tide shifted and the scuttlebutt over the new critic turned to artist Michael Barrett, who having received a letter himself reviewing (unfavorably) Casino Capital at the Momas and Dadas studio where he lives, decided to have the letter dusted for fingerprints under the realm of an art event, titled Critical Crap(s) – Las Vegas Online Gaming Platform.
The event, presented on Facebook under the Momas and Dadas group, was posted March 17 with instructions: The public is invited to place bets on the supposed identity of the critic (affectionately known as “C.C.,” an abbreviation of Critical Correspondence). The bets will be matched by Momas and Dadas. When the fingerprint analysis is complete, winners will receive their bet in twofold.
Amid the comments were carnival barker-style reminders and quips from Momas and Dadas:
“Place your bets here.”
“The plot thickens”
"A real life CSI: Las Vegas!”
It’s brilliant, so it seems. It keeps the conversation going, continues it, morphs it into something else, outs a critic who's hiding, proves that art can be fun, bitchy and full of commentary. But then there is the possibility that it’s none of those things, that Critical Crap(s) is a way for someone to insert themselves as PR, maybe even a sign of weakness in the way the project’s description vilifies the critic as the “denigrator” and “deprecator.”
The most common complaint to Critical Crap(s) is that this will scare away criticism in a city where some sensitive types become insanely unglued at the mere hint of a critique.
Some of the concern is posted by critics of the project on Momas and Dadas event site:
• “The moment a person says anything critical—this happens? Are we going to drag them under the 18b sign and stone them for their honesty? I don't get the point. Also, it seems to be one person, and hardly worth the effort to unmask them. Part of being an artist is having a tough skin, not everyone is going to agree with or celebrate what you do, but so it goes …”
• “These are good. Why do you want to violate this person’s anonymity?”
• “Whoever created this blog (criticalcorrespondence.com) did so because our community has such an adverse reaction to critique. Finally, someone has weighted opinions rather than reviews scathed in the in fear of how people will react if they don't "like" their work. We want to be a grown-up community, right? We talk about how we're tired of cheerleaders. Whether we agree or not, they are solid critiques. Fingerprint samples? Really?”
• “I'm torn, I love puzzles but I also love anonymity. Can we have our turd and eat it too?”
And so on.
Meanwhile, bets have been placed on artist Matthew Couper, who was out of town during a couple of openings where the critic was clearly in attendance, artist Jevijoe Vitug and photographer Mike Korn. Some argue behind the scenes that Momas and Dadas is the art critic at criticalcorrespondence.com and that this is all part of its project.
Some have also championed Momas and Dadas' effort. But several people contacted say they don't want the identity of the new critic to be revealed.
"What I really like about Critical Correspondence is that the anonymity doesn't allow the audience to project the tastes or ideas of the critic into the review," says artist Brent Holmes, who is listed as a Momas and Dadas "player," but says that he's not part of the Casino Crap(s) project. "Instead, you can only read the critique and see if you identify with it. That's why the reviews are so powerful. It's so beautiful.
"When I read a Josh Bell movie review I now think about Josh Bell and who he is before I think of the review. But I have no idea who this is so it becomes about what they're saying and not who they are."
Although I contacted Michael Barrett through his personal Facebook account and his personal voice mail, the response came from Momas and Dadas' Facebook account, rather than Barrett: "For the record, although Artist Michael Barrett retains a studio space at Momas and Dadas, he is by no means the founder, creator, or face behind our concept. Momas and Dadas has existed for years, extends the boundaries of Las Vegas and many people hold the passwords to our social media accounts."
More importantly, he (or they) stated this: "Kristen, This is not a series of critiques by C.C.! This is a performance under the guise of a critique series. With that being said, the performance (art) deserves the right to be critiqued in the same manner as the press interviews artists, with questions similar to, 'Who are you?' 'Can you tell us more about your work?' 'Is your work connected to your identity?'
"Momas and Dadas understands the performative nature of a handwritten letter."
"Momas and Dadas understands the performative nature of crossing out sentences to reveal the thought processes connecting the mind and the hand."
"Momas and Dadas understands the performative nature of hand mailing a handwritten letter."
"Momas and Dadas understands the performative nature of connecting missing links in relation to identity."
"Momas and Dadas understands the performative nature of extending outside the art box and blur the line between art and life."