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Petition Protesting Ken Johnson’s NYT Reviews Triples in Size, Adding More Big Names

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A petition expressing concern about two New York Times reviews by art writer Ken Johnson has more than tripled in size since yesterday. The letter, which asks the newspaper to address the broader issues raised by recent articles about women and African-American artists, currently boasts 964 names (just short of its 1,000-signature goal). Some of the new additions are quite well-known.

Artists Emily Roysdon, Clifford Owens, Lucy Raven, Mary Mattingly, AK Burns, Dread Scott, Andrea Bowers, Anton Vidokle, Lorraine O’Grady and curators Chon Noriega, Brooke Davis Anderson, and Dan Cameron have all signed their names (though ARTINFO has not yet reached out to them directly to confirm). The letter has also prompted some interesting discussions on Art Fag City and Hyperallergic about the nature of reviewing art that doesn’t reflect the life experiences of the critic.

Some signatories are leaving their two cents on the issue within the petition itself. According to some, Johnson’s review of “Now Dig This!” and his preview of “The Female Gaze: Women Artists Making Their World” were not his only pieces of “irresponsible” criticism. Critic Barbara Pollack noted that Johnson’s review of Lin Tianmiao’s exhibition at the Asia Society “completely goes along with these examples of cultural short-sightedness.”

A similar observation comes from Chon Noriega, the director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center: “This is by no means new. In a review in 2010, Johnson dismissed Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement because the concurrent Whitney Biennial — which had no Latino artists — had apparently solved the diversity problem. His presumption was that a ‘Chicano art’ exhibition is by nature about identity, and therefore bad, whereas our show was an attempt to question identity without at the same time giving up an investigation of both difference and inequality.”

We’ll leave you with a comment from Orange County Museum of Art chief curator Dan Cameron. “I feel strongly that this is not about ‘punishing’ an individual critic (Ken Johnson) for a poorly researched & sloppy review,” he writes, “but about drawing attention to the fact that the NY Times apparently feels that a certain cavalier attitude is OK in reviewing visual artists of color, while they wouldn’t dream of permitting the same lax standards in their performing arts reviews.”

Julia Halperin

(Photo via Psychedemia.)

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  1. by Joseph Lawrence

    Negative reviews of art exhibitions are rare in the New York Times. I haven’t read the reviews in question. They may have offended some people. However, I doubt that a negative review by a critic would really make any difference in the long run. In most cases, reviews only function as part of a galleries or an artists public relations campaign. Many galleries and artists would be happy to be mentioned in the New York Times, even if negatively since it is often said “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”

  2. by david frankel

    if you think negative exhibition reviews are rare in the new york times, you haven’t been following roberta smith.

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