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tom moody

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There's been quite a bit of ruminating on various artblogs about "the role of criticism" recently, but the topic remains frustratingly vague since specific examples are avoided. As a case study--surprise, surprise--let's look at the critical reasoning behind the "Infinite Fill Show" (which we've been discussing here lately), as articulated in the exhibition materials and the New York Times review of the show.

Press release/call for entries theory: "The only rule is that [work submitted] has to somehow use black and white repeating patterns" (from the call for entries). "The curatorial concept was inspired by [MacPaint], the 1984 software application with varied 16-bit monochrome patterning that could be picked and dropped into areas of the screen to denote color and depth. For Cory and Jamie Arcangel, this rudimentary precursor to Photoshop's draw and paint functions provides a creative tool to explore multiple perspectives within a unifying aesthetic." (from the press release)

The "nostalgia factor" associated with old programs I addressed in an earlier post. Still worth considering are (a) how did pattern substitute for color and depth in MacPaint, exactly? are "bricks" a color? who came up with those patterns? how well did/do they work in actual practice? to what extent were artistic prerogatives usurped by engineering prerogatives? (b) MacPaint is a precursor to Photoshop, which is pixel-based, but how does it relate to vector programs such as Illustrator, which use defined curves rather than rectangular blocks? If the show is a form of ancestor-worship, whose family is being feted? are pixel-based programs more "important" because they've been subsumed into html and web design? (c) to what extent was MacPaint old news, incorporating pre-1984 print conventions such as Ben Day dot patterns (also frequently alluded to in "Infinite Fill"), zipatone, or letratone?

New York Times theory (i.e., everything but the purely descriptive parts of the review): (1) "How many different ways can a work of art combine black, white and repetition? An answer is essayed by 'The Infinite Fill Group Show...'" (2) "The show is intended as a homage to [MacPaint], an early computer application (released in 1984) that enabled the user to click and drag a range of black-and-white patterns into images of any kind." (3) "[T]he show resembles a photo-negative of the floor-to-ceiling, color-saturated conventions of the so-called 'bedroom shows,' those showcases for collaboratively minded young artists that reached an apotheosis of sorts in Dearraindrop's extravaganza at Deitch Projects in SoHo..."

The "youth culture" and "psychedelia/color saturation" issues were raised here earlier. Perhaps "Infinite Fill" was also a "photo-negative" (inversion) of the teenager's bedroom shows because if included artists of all ages? What was the kid-to-geezer ratio? Does it matter? Item (1) slightly restates the show's premise (as a way of saying how diverse it is): but did each work in the show in fact use B&W and repetition? (No.) Black & white schemes are sometimes used by curators (not naming any names) to unify group shows of quite disparate work but disguise the lack of a thesis. Is that the case here? (No!--but why?) Does the fact that MacPaint was monochrome and used fill patterns justify the inclusion of works such as needlepoints, enlarged newsprint images, and zebra rugs? How is the political work in the show justified by a formal premise? Is the premise "merely formal"? The Times doesn't answer these questions with specitic examples (and neither have I in this short post); unless or until someone does so, a gap between theory and description remains unfilled.

Returning to the point raised in my first sentence, I submit that the "role of the critic" is to answer questions and plug gaps such as the above. (Not holding my breath, though.) As long as there is work to be done you don't sit around bemoaning what you're supposed to do.

UPDATE: This post has been reworked a bit to take into account the wording of the Arcangels' call for entries. I also added the links about historic fill patterns (zipatone, letratone).

- tom moody 8-07-2004 8:15 pm [link]