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)
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.
"Infinite" is a loaded word. If I was a computer, creating a endlessly repeating pattern would be A: easy, and B: uninteresting. As a human, the attempt is A: challenging, and B: requires motivation. My take, based solely on the documentation on this blog, is this: The curation of this show is a head-to-head competition between the Arcangels and the non-coporeal robot called MacPaint. The room equates to a bounded shape. The art works equate to elements (bricks, say) of a repeated pattern. The repeated elements of the artists' own works could equate to pixels. The software fills the shape and fills any other at any time on someone else's desktop, and also fills any size of shape with infinite ease. The curators fill just one shape (the room), in one instance of time and place, but fill it with infinite depth of content. Each "pixel" in the computer is a finite dot, either on or off. Each "pixel" in the artworks is a referent, a node that serves as a conduit to infinite potential content. Without seeing the show, I cannot declare a winner in the infinity face-off (but my guess is that it's a tie).
I hadn't thought about the punning relationship of the title to filling up a tiny room (and neither did the Times!) When the press release first went out there were 50 artists in the show but the final tally was about 94. One nice touch was the curators left one wall unfilled, or tapering off into unfilled white space--you can see it in James Wagner's top photo. Even with that breathing space, they surpassed the limit of data (sensory, sound, verbal, historical) anyone could take in and make sense of--unless you had infinite time. Or at least more time.