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Dispute Within Art Critics Group Over Diversity Reveals a Widening Rift

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Questions about the future of art criticism and how it will survive another season of layoffs and corporate mergers are plaguing the International Association of Art Critics, a Paris-based nonprofit organization. This nonprofit organization represents more than 6,000 art writers around the world, including approximately 500 critics, art historians, and artists. American scholar.

Six board members, nearly half of the leadership team, have resigned from the organization’s U.S. chapter in recent months, most of them in response to enacting a diversity plan that members have championed since the 2020 George Floyd protests. I am listing my failures. The plan also included awards and fellowship opportunities. for writers of color, as well as a revised mission statement that reflects the organization’s commitment to social justice.

“No part of that plan has yet been implemented,” critic Seph Rodney and art historian Aaron Levy wrote in a joint letter of resignation to the AICA-USA board in January. “All signs point to it being essentially shelved.” He was loyal to the point of death,” he added. We argue that this need not be the case. ”

The International Society of Art Critics was founded in 1950 to revive cultural discourse after World War II and has since become a force with influential members including: door ashton And John Perrault. But the organization has been weakened by decades of media cuts, which have reduced the number of art critics on staff at newspapers and magazines.

Each chapter is responsible for vetting new members and proposing internal policy changes, which are ultimately decided by the International Committee in Paris. Seven U.S. members said tensions between the group’s conservative leaders in Paris and liberal critics in the United States were hindering progress on diversity efforts.

“This resignation letter raises some valid points,” Judith Stein, author and curator and executive vice president of the organization, said in a phone interview, adding, “Thanks to this resignation letter, AICA- It reaffirms our desire to make USA work better.” It reflects the company’s existing values, which are rooted in a sincere commitment to diversity and inclusion. ”

“We look forward to bringing the international commission closer to the realities of our art world,” she added, noting that the organization’s prominent critics have celebrated many writers of color in recent years. pointed out the lecture series.

Over the past three years, the art world has faced reckoning with its historical lack of diversity while also dealing with the challenges of COVID-19. And while AICA-USA has not fully implemented its diversity plan, other arts sectors are also taking action. For example, some museums have hired new executive leaders with larger budgets. Some companies have appointed managers to devise equity plans and strategies to increase the diversity of art they display or collect.

The need for change in museums is 2022 Burns Halperin Report, published by Artnet News in December, analyzed more than 10 years of data from more than 30 cultural institutions. It found that only 11% of the collections in U.S. museums were by women artists, and just 2.2% by black American artists. (The museum’s research ends with his year 2020, the last year for which data is available, but before the effects of change from the Black Lives Matter movement were felt.)

Julia Halperin, one of the study’s organizers, who recently stepped down as Artnet’s executive editor, said the industry has an asymmetrical approach to diversity. “While the artist base has become somewhat more diverse, the critical staff base has not become more diverse,” she says.

However, the issue of critical diversity is further complicated by the fact that opportunities for all critics are decreasing.

Although most editors recognize the importance of criticism in helping readers understand contemporary art and the multibillion-dollar industry it has spawned, The space for such writing is shrinking.. Newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Miami Herald have been cutting back on the work of critics for years. In December, Penske Media Corporation announced that it has acquired Artforum. was a contemporary art journal that brought the title under the same ownership as two competitors, ARTnews and Art in America. Our sister publication, Bookforum, was not acquired and ceased operations. The pandemic has also shut down other media outlets. Among them are SFMOMA So is a small magazine called the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. astra and elephant. (National newspapers with art critics include the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and Washington Post.)

Artforum Editor-in-Chief David Velasco said in an interview that he hopes the acquisition will improve the magazine’s financial position. Velasco said the magazine publishes about 700 reviews a year. About half of them are done online, and he pays $50 for about 250 words. “No one I know who knows anything about art does it for the money, but I want to get to the point where people can do it,” Velasco said.

Noah Dillon, who served on the AICA-USA board until he resigned last year, was reluctant to encourage anyone to follow his path to becoming a critic. Not that you can. The graduate program in art writing he attended at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan also closed In the midst of a pandemic.

“It’s crazy that the ideal job these days is writing catalog essays for galleries. It’s basically just a sales pitch,” Mr. Dillon said in a phone interview. “Critical thinking about art is not valued economically.”

Large gallery – including gagosian, Hauser & Wirthand pace gallery — Currently producing its own publication with interviews and articles written from time to time by the same freelance critics who act simultaneously as curators and marketers. AICA-USA’s membership includes many writers in all three categories.

Lily Wei, a longtime AICA-USA board member who recently resigned, said the group was exploring different ways to protect writers in the industry. Plans to transform the organization into a trade union never materialized. Some wanted to create a permanent emergency fund to help financially struggling critics survive. The organization has instead discontinued initiatives such as a program that recognizes the nation’s best exhibitions, she said.

“At the end of the day, there wasn’t enough money,” says Terence Touillot, senior editor at contemporary art magazine Frieze. He served on the AICA-USA board for nearly three years, retiring in 2022. He said efforts to revitalize the group were “too slow.”

The organization’s annual membership fee is $115 and provides free access to many museums. But some members complained that while the fees were too high for young critics, they were not enough to support important programming. So the leaders behind the Diversity Action Plan were frustrated when AICA-USA hired an outside consultant. Buff Kabelmanreview your own work.

“It was a limping exercise,” said Rodney, who is also a contributor to the New York Times.

Efforts to revive AICA-USA continue. In January, Jasmine Amussen joined the organization’s board of directors to rethink what criticism means to young people.

Amssen, 33, burn outfocuses on criticism of the American South and frequently features young black artists. (The magazine was launched in 2008 in response to layoffs in the cultural department of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and now has four full-time employees and most of its budget from grants.) It is operated as a non-profit organization consisting of

Amussen said the nonprofit model has allowed Burnaway to experiment with art criticism through summer writing boot camps and a recruitment drive that brings non-traditional writers to the magazine’s digital pages. Recent contributors include landscape architects, rap scholars, comic book illustrators, and more. Our goal is to expand the appeal of art writing.

“I’m in the art world because there’s no other option for queer people who want to write about cultural things,” Amussen said in a phone interview. “And I’m concerned that unless something is done to remind people why art and criticism matters, this industry won’t survive.”

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