Continued from MAN’s review of “Since ‘45: America and the Making of Contemporary Art,” by Katy Siegel.
Katy Siegel’s new book, “Since ‘45: America and the Making of Contemporary Art” (Reaktion) is an argument in favor of considering American contemporary art less within the context of art movements and masterpieces and more within the context of what has happened in the United States and in the world between 1945 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s essentially a call for art critics and historians to stop thinking about art after other art — to get beyond the art-world bubble — and to think about art and artists as an active participants in a broad, national discourse. [Image: Roy Lichtenstein, Magnifying Glass, 1963. Collection of the Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein.]
To put it another way: Siegel wants her peers to examine what art happened, when it happened, why and how it happened. It sounds like Siegel is suggesting that her field increasingly take an approach to art that is close to, well, journalism.
True: Journalism and history are closely related disciplines. One is the first rough-draft of history, the other is a broadening and an editing of that draft. But given the precipitous decline in art journalism — in recent years virtually every American newspaper and magazine has cut its coverage of art, only a few newspapers still have a dedicated, full-time art critic, and mainstream reporting on art, artists and art museums is effectively dead, limited to one or two publications that do it increasingly rarely — Siegel’s book doubles as a call for re-establishing journalism as a way of considering art and artists.
Instead of urging more explicitly journalistic coverage of art — both reporting and reported criticism — Siegel’s thesis occupies the Venn diagram overlap between art history and journalism. As a result, she doesn’t address how any of this would happen. It won’t be in newspapers, magazines or in the art press, all of which increasingly focus on the business of art rather than on the content of art. (Witness a headline recently offered by MAN’s own publisher, Artinfo.com: “Appreciation of John McCracken: In the wake of the Los Angeles sculptor’s passing, a look at his iconic life’s work and the arc of his place in the art market.”)
If journalism about art is to rebound, it’s clear that it won’t be traditional, mainstream newspapers and magazines that take the lead. They are not adding to their staffs, and they’re especially not adding cultural journalists. (It even seems possible that the Washington Post, the newspaper of record in America’s No.3 art city, will become the next paper to downgrade its ‘art critic’ to a position with more than that one responsibility.) It may be that art journalism’s best chance is the broadening of the academic approach to contemporary art history that Siegel proposes. If the academy moves in that direction, it could make an important contribution to helping America better understand the way artists engage with our times and why art and artists are important to a free society. Americans take that kind of thing for granted. We shouldn’t. Ask Ai Weiwei.