There have been a few little dust-ups in the art world lately regarding conflicts of interest among art critics. Edward Winkleman has the skinny on a feud between art critics Tyler Green (of Modern Art Notes) and Christian Viveros-Fauné (formerly of the Village Voice). Green likes to split his blogging time between criticism and more journalistic pursuits, such as scooping the big papers on the departures of major museum directors. He also likes to call out arts writers for lacking journalistic integrity. After Green pointed out that Viveros-Fauné is a director of the Volta art fair, and an organizer of Chicago’s Next art fair, Viveros-Fauné was canned from his Village Voice position over what was seen as a conflict of interest. Of course, Viveros-Fauné then accused Green of being a self-promotional wanker (spelling Green’s name with an extra ‘e’, presumably to thank him for leaving the accent off Viveros-Fauné in an interview published on Modern Art Notes).
Now this battle has broadened a bit (the comments on Winkleman’s post give a good idea of the range of opinions), and people seem to be dividing into two camps: art critics should follow journalistic standards; or art critics should do whatever the hell they want, they will be judged according to the quality of their writing, period.
When it gets down to it, the art community is entering a phase of commercialization that makes this a very difficult issue to address. As more money flows into the contemporary art world, and as people start to see art as more of a financial investment, the problems that Tyler Green addresses become much more important. Investors want transparency and high ethical standards. However, this commercialization has met with resistance in some quarters, among people who feel that art should be free of the taint of commerce as well as the kind of compartmentalization that these ethical standards often bring.
Artists want to be free to write about art, open their own art spaces, curate shows with artists they respect (often their friends) and ultimately participate in the art community on multiple levels. Everyone who writes for this blog, for instance, also produces art, and two of us have directed gallery spaces while writing about art. The idea of keeping these functions totally separate is, for many of us, antithetical to the freedom and openness that art allows.
So where do I stand on this? Well I’ll just say that I think it’s a good debate to be having. But before addressing the ethical issue per se, we need to clarify our positions on the relationship between art and money. To the extent that art is a commercial endeavor, Tyler Green is right: we need clearly defined roles that prevent conflicts of interest. To the extent that art is about investigating new ways of seeing the world, these roles have the potential to trap us in an overly calcified artistic space.
Update: Tyler Green comments to clarify that he does not see this as a feud between himself and Mr. Viveros-Fauné.