Monday, 23 January 2012


This weekend I had the great opportunity to meet Oliver Basciano, assistant editor at ArtReview magazine, at Vilma Gold gallery in Bethnal Green. Very nice guy, very relaxed. He gave some general pointers on art criticism which I have compiled as ten points to share with you here!

1. The thoughts and analyses of the artist will be outlined in the press release; a review doesn’t need to service these. If an artist hasn’t put across his intended ideas, it doesn’t mean that they have failed. You are offering an explanation of the work, not the explanation.

2. Criticism needs to have teeth, but not for the sake of it. Even if you’ve hated an artist’s work in the past, try as much as possible to have an open mind – you may be surprised.

3. It is unadvisable to read press releases before visiting an exhibition, though it is advisable to look at them afterwards in case you have made a glaring error.

4.Take a note book. Write down everything that comes to mind in as much detail as possible. Some ideas can be dismissed later.

5. Address the details of the work. See what the artist did and didn’t do. Don’t be put off if a show is quite minimal - this means that you are freer to make your own associations.

6. Sometimes it is helpful to look at other people’s reviews to see the ideas and themes that they explore. 

7. Situating the work within the entire body of the artist’s work can be useful/informative.
The title can also be a starting point: some artists use the title to describe the work’s ‘meaning’. This said, some don’t – use them with discretion.

8. Occasionally it is useful to focus in on one piece of work that will bounce off the rest of the exhibition.

9. Think about audience in terms of the accessibility of the language you use. Try not to think about the galleryist or artist who might read the review – it isn’t for them. Make it interesting.

10. Be prepared to argue your case if questioned on your ideas; written pieces are somewhat collaborative with editors and may be discussed with up to three people within the magazine.

Now I've got to write a short review for him on Brian Griffith's show at Vilma Gold, for which Oliver's advice about minimal exhibitions is going to have to be at the forefront of my mind...

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