February 19, 2012
Seward Johnson's is the career that could take place only in America; I don't
think Jeff Koons is quite as bad, but then we're debating the merits of dog
shit and cat shit." (link)
In a recent post entitled "Is Robert Pincus a real person?" a blogger suggests Pincus somehow suffered a "dehumanizing" act, by omission, in an editorial piece published by the U-T (San Diego Union-Tribune) in favor of keeping J. Seward Johnson's public sculpture "Unconditional Surrender" right where it is. Pincus of course, was the former art critic for the San Diego daily who was unceremoniously laid off in June of 2010 - much to the chagrin of many. He was also the sculpture's most adamant detractor. Pincus is currently employed as a Senior Grants and Art Writer for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
So what's the big deal, y'a pas mort d'homme as they say? The concern the blogger has is that "Such casual dehumanization of an arts professional is newsworthy, and merits the attention of anyone with a personal commitment to the arts in San Diego." Further stating, "When contemplating the U-T they [the public] must now ask themselves: Am I real? If I am, then how precisely is it that I'm real while Robert Pincus is not?"
Oh boy. First of all, I've never seen so much digital ink being spilled in favor of keeping such blatant mediocrity as is Steward's sculpture in a city that already suffers from public art banality. Not to be outdone by an equally "boring swamp" of artistic platitude such as the proposed "Wings of Freedom." Secondly, what is the problem here, both the U-T and Pincus seem to have moved on for better or worse. The real tragedy is not addressing decisions made by the San Diego Unified Port District and/or its Public Art Committee for bringing "Unconditional Surrender" here in the first place. Not whether Pincus was left out of an editorial by a newspaper with an agenda that includes keeping the Chargers here, renovating the waterfront, and restructuring Balboa Park. A vision, some say, which also encompasses monitoring the comment section and employee attire.
Clearly Pincus was intentionally omitted. Yes, a pithy and crappy thing to do, but one hardly dehumanizing or even tragic for that matter.
Which brings up a damning point by art critic Dave Hickey in his essay entitled Air Guitar:
"Colleagues of mine will tell you that people despise critics because they fear our power. But I know better. People despise critics because they despise weakness, and criticism is the weakest thing you can do in writing. It is the written equivalent of air guitar- flurries of silent, sympathetic gestures with nothing at their heart but the memory of the music. It produces no knowledge, states no facts, and never stands alone. It neither saves the things we love (as we wished them saved) nor ruins the things we hate."
Hickey goes on to explain how he has made peace with himself for being a critic and the process necessary to keep it relevant:
"I would write about works of art, then, about pieces of architecture and recorded music- objects that would continue to maintain themselves in the living present subsequent to my transporting them out of it. In this way, I might stop destroying that which I wished to celebrate and cease celebrating myself in ways I had no wish to- for even though my writing about art might momentarily intervene between some object and its beholders, the words would wash away, and the writing, if it was written successfully into its historical instant, could never actually replace the work or banish it into the realm of knowledge. If the work survived, the writing would simply bob after it, like a dinghy in the wake of a yacht."
Let's face it; Pincus' criticisms will continue to bob after some mute debate about art that truly is innocuous. They will surface from time-to-time to bolster the ranks and attacks of those who detect a weakness in a field where there are so very few (good and decent) critics left or read, let alone touched by a work of art (through the senses) by what Hickey might call a certain "organizational energy." Painting as well as critics it seems (their roles that is), are still largely misunderstood by a disinterested public. Helas.
Pincus' criticism of "Unconditional Surrender" has already washed away, this is good. We should stop worrying about him so much. This debate is not about him. The U-T has bigger fish to fry; a former employee is not one of them. For those of us with a "personal commitment to the arts in San Diego" our attention should be on serious matters that affect our arts community whether it be public or private. In case you haven't noticed, we can do far better than "Unconditional Surrender."
Hickey says it the best, "Police mentalities will always strive to impress correct readings, to align intentions with outcomes, and couple imaginary causes with putative effects, but we always have a choice."
That choice is yours San Diego, the art made as well as the art publicly displayed. Choose wisely.
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