Procreating With Dead Artists

The role of the art critic in L.A.: a public discussion
Betty Ann Brown, Peter Frank & Michael Duncan

Butterfields (an eBay company), formerly Butterfield & Butterfield

This event was organized by the Art Dealers Association of Southern California, for what purpose it can only be imagined. A gentleman rises with a microphone and begins: is he Mr. Butterfield or Mr. Butterfield? Neither; he is an ADASC representative. One by one the critics identify themselves and explain the critical basis of their work: "all criticism is subjective," says Betty Ann Brown, "and anyone who disagrees is ignorant." In this, if in nothing else, L.A.'s art critics are agreed. An advantageous position: if criticism is not objective, it is what you or I say it is, let alone art. Clement Greenberg realized that there was something which was kitsch and something which was something else again, and this was a major discovery; "quality," however, says Betty Ann Brown, "is a dangerous word," because it keeps down the socially disadvantaged. Indeed, this self-described "feminist" critic holds that self-expression itself, the "means of production," is too narrowly held, and it is her role as a critic to expand its holdings. If you have read Betty Ann Brown's reviews in ArtScene, you know her. She talks very much the way she writes.

Now, you or I may say that a critic with no grasp of his trade may well throw up his hands and say "all is good" with a Druidical blessing, or we might dismiss the whole business as a somewhat antiquarian vessel of wrath. You or I have not been asked yet. First all the participants must address, for some reason, the County Museum's Made In California show, and this includes the moderator, who is the West Coast man for the American Art branch of the Smithsonian Institution, a polished individual who justifies his expertise in these matters by describing his championship of R.B. Kitaj, who lives in Westwood. He, the West Coast SI man, has mixed feelings about Made In California, and so do they all, at some length. Much work that ought to have been done was not done, points out Michael Duncan.

Here the question is thrown to the audience. One fellow asks if Peter Frank meant that "co-creating with dead artists" precluded the work of the living. Not at all is the reply, but as Betty Ann Brown says, none of them is a professional journalist; they all have other jobs.



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