Based on the reviews we read and our discussion in class, a typical review would contain information such as the following however, there are no hard and fast rules, the information does not have to be in this particular order, all the points do not have to be covered and the categories are not mutually exclusive. What is most important is that you write a response which is appropriate to the art you are speaking about. Of course, giving the reader certain information before other points are made makes more sense— for instance a physical description of the work should come before interpretive points, which rely on a knowledge of the physical description of the work.
Remember: reviews are relatively short, make every word count, choose your adjectives and adverbs with great specificity and economy. For example think of the different connotations which arise if you describe a way of working as “traditional” rather than “common” or “usual”. Don’t fall into banality, be interested in the work. You do not have to be “objective” — the reader understands you are putting forth your own opinion—choosing to write about a specific exhibition already indicates a certain investment in it. You should, however, be as informed as possible about the artist, the contemporary and historical art context, the specifics of the work (its topics and particular cultural/social/historical/material references) and the curator and gallery (if this is relevant). Talking to the artist or curator directly is how a majority of reviewers glean important information—however their opinions/intentions are not “the truth” or necessarily more authoritative than your own. Be prepared to spend some time at the gallery, take notes, make sketches, ask for reproductions if they are available, ask if you can take some photographs if you want to refer to these while writing. If you are going to publish photographs ask for permission (this is unlikely to be a problem, the gallery will often supply you with an image, they WANT reviews). After you write your review make sure to follow up and send a copy to the gallery, they will pass it on to the artist and keep a copy for themselves.
Local Context (start your review with some inclusion of Name of Exhibition, Name of Artist, Name of Curator, Location of Exhibition)
“The Sydney art world is notoriously factionalized and combative....For outsiders or new arrivals this generally bitchy atmosphere is both surprising and highly entertaining. It was inevitable that when Anthony Bond, Head Curator of Western Art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, opened his long-awaited “BODY” exhibition, it would be met with a response colored by entrenched histories of antagonism and partisanship...” ( David McNeill, Body, Art/Text 60, 1998)
(Physical) description of the work: this doesn’t have to exclude all other descriptive/interpretive language but forefronts a relatively basic description of the art, rather than conceptual interpretation, this lets the reader imagine the work. Remember you can’t assume the reader has seen the work. The author below offers characterizations such as “seemingly ordinary” and “frankly visionary” which add to his description of the work, but do not overwhelm the reader with interpretation (this is in the first paragraph of his review) while they are just beginning to “picture” the work through the description.
“...is a compendium of 65 different projects—each ascribed to a different fictional persona—for the improvement of the self or of mankind in general, or simply for the generation of more projects. The nature of the projects ranges from the seemingly ordinary “street choral performances,” “open air toilets”—to the frankly visionary— “a universal system for depicting everything,” “a common language with the trees, rocks beasts....” Each project is presented at its own wooden table and chair, where viewers can study photocopies of the project’s written and drawn description, along with models and other illustrative materials. Some of the projects have already been executed as full-scale installations in themselves, such as Treatment with memories (here ascribed to “M. Selikhova, Pensioner, Moscow”), which occupied a considerable portion of last years Whitney Biennial. To realize the rest could in itself be a lifetime project.” (Barry Schwabsky,Ilya and Emila Kabakov, Art/Text 62, 1998)
In Insercoes em Circuitos Ideologicos: Coca-Cola Projeto (Insertions into ideolgical circuits: Coa-Cola project), 1970, the artist transferred oppositional messages (e.g., “Yankees, go home!”) onto redeemable glass Coke bottles before they were refilled and recirculated.”
(David Joselit, Cildo Meireles, Artforum, Feb. 2000)
Art historical/theoretical contextualization: “Conceptual art is often associated with a dematerialization of the art object, but contrary to myth, few of its practitioners sought to eschew materiality altogether. In fact, most engaged in what might be more accurately described as a rematerialization of aesthetics, wherein images composed of paint and canvas were displaced by the different materialities of photographic and textual information. In lie of discrete artworks conceived and produced according tot he model of the commodity, attempts were made to reveal social form by visualizing networks of power or ideology—a difficult project indeed, since power and ideology, which function best when hidden from view, manifest an inherent tendency to veil their operations. [the next paragraph begins to talk about the artist who is the subject of the review, “Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles...”] (David Joselit, Cildo Meireles, Artforum, Feb. 2000)
Information about the artist: Make sure this information is relevant to the work you are discussing. Many reviews say little or nothing about the artist’s biography. The review is primarily concerned with the work. For instance, we don’t need to know where the artist was born or went to school unless this bears directly on their work.
“This brings me to Omar Lopez-Chahoud, an artist-curator whose work weaves in and out of the successive distinctions between art-and-curating and art-and-life. A trickster of sorts, bearing the name of a part-Syrian, part Cuban migrant who arrived in New York via Miami and London, Lopez-Chahoud held his first solo exhibition, “Running Man,” at DeChiara/Stewart Gallery in Chelsea...”
(Regine Basha, Omar Lopez-Chahoud,Art/Text 62, 1998)
readings, interpretations of the work: what is the work “about”.
“Through his parasitical appropriation of the coke bottle or the dollar bill as the medium for an oppositional form of political speech, Merieles brought into focus the fundamental paradox of money and commodities: that despite their astounding mobility, both are founded in a kind of centralization and repetition produced by the concentration of economic (and artistic) power in imperial centers such as the United States.” (David Joselit, Cildo Meireles,Artforum, Feb. 2000)
“And because each project—”the subjective embryo of a developing object,” as Schelgel said—throws a bridge between the real and the imaginary, its “author” is essentially an artist. In many of the projects the fact that the essential issue is one of art becomes quite explicit...”(Barry Schwabsky, Art/Text 62, 1998)
“The transposition of object into flow and ordinary furnishings into blood suggests the critique of global circuits of capital that Meireles later accomplished through a different articulation of object and fluid: the Coke bottle and its ever-replenished effervescent contents. Red Shift implies that everyday worlds are accomplished only at the price of violence and exploitation.”(David Joselit, Cildo Meireles, Artforum, Feb. 2000) (the installation involves a room full of domestic furnishings all painted blood red)
Observations, assessments, critiques of the work : the review need not be uniformly “positive” or “negative” in fact the aspect of “judgment” or assessing the “success” of the work might be secondary to a more general outlining or interpretation of the project or aims of the artist. That is, I am trying to offer a caveat that a good reviewer doesn’t boldly proclaim success or failure of the work, but enters the work into a conversation with readers, theory, history etc. by focusing on the work and making it public though the publication of the review.
“Today, two hundred years after the birth of Romanticism and a century after that of Stalin, we know utopianism, contra Schlegel, to be regressive and progressive simultaneously; every project for the future already exists as a ruin from the past.”(Barry Schwabsky, on Ilya and Emila Kabakov Art/Text 62, 1998)
“The pleasure here, however, is not in the revealing or critiquing of anything, but in the sheer abundance of stuff. Yet though one identifies here and there with particular objects, the multiple readings do not allow nostalgia to take full effect.”(Regine Basha, Omar Lopez-Chahoud,Art/Text 62, 1998)
“If these works capture the uncanniness of ordinary things, the show’s three other works stress color’s indebtedness to light” (Sue Spaid, Thomas Demand, Art/Text 64, 1999)
“Kho’s neo-modernist interest in flouting the establishment and in art-for-art’s-sake sets him apart from the rest of the Korean art world. Perhaps this will to be different explains his public appeal at a time when “make it new” has become Korea’s national mission. ( Robert Fouser, Kho Nak-beom, Art/Text 62, 1998)
Important references in/for the work: Sometimes there are references in the work which are not readily available from observation alone. These may be gleaned from discussion with the artist or curator or from didactic materials presented in the gallery. (In a review sources such as these do not have to be footnoted, they do have to be accurate how ever, or if you are speculating, make that clear, by saying, “the colours are reminiscent of, or one is reminded of the colours in,” etc.)
“The stripe paintings at art Space Seoul were based on green tones from Caravaggio’s Sick Bachhus: those at the Sonam Gallery on the yellow tones in Delacroix’s The Goddess of Freedom.”
( Robert Fouser, Kho Nak-beom, Art/Text 62, 1998)
Assessing the curatorial objectives of the show (these objectives may be different than the artist’s intentions)
a)For a solo show, one might consider why a certain body of the artist’s work is brought together:
““Immediately after the Mirror Pictures [1962-1973] I multiplied works and styles as if I were twenty different artists at the same time,” Pistoletto stated in 1994; but Michael Trantion’s skillfully curated Oxford show proves that Pistoletto was a hybrid creature long before he abandoned making the “Mirror Pictures.” (Rachel Withers, Michelangelo Pistoletto,Artforum, Feb. 2000)
b)For a group show, one might consider the relationship between works in the exhibition, specifically in relation to the theme, or selection criteria of the curator:
“...the McMaster Museum offers an intelligent and lucid group show of Canadian women artists. What makes this show is not the works’ uniform strength—several pieces plainly fail—but the way in which each is given the space to operate. Think of a group exhibit as a conversation. under the wrong conditions, it can be stilted, one-sided; at its worst, the participants ape one other. This conversation, however, is animated and difficult....”(Ryan White, Points of View, Art/Text 62, 1998)
“...In showing the work of just three artists, Huang Du’s professed intention was to locate in Chinese video an avant-gardist strand of art practice existing outside the dictates of social realism...”
““BODY” offers a revisionist history in which late nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century portrayals of the body are read through contemporary corporeal theory. Works have been selected on the basis that they anticipate or exemplify bodies which are fragmentary, performative, abject, affective and so on...” ( David McNeill, Body, Art/Text 60, 1998)
critiquing the success of the curatorial practice:
“One of Meireles’s most impressive accomplishments is the dialectical relation he establishes between circuits of capital and architectural space—a fundamental dynamic that the New Museum completely fails to grasp. The two main floors of the exhibition are taken up with a jumble of installations, configured in no particular chronological order, while the commodity an currency-oriented projects and other significant pieces are isolated in a basement gallery behind the bookstore. As a result, the dialectic at the heart of the artist’s practice falls apart. This strategy does a serious disservice to Meireles...”( David McNeill, Body, Art/Text 60, 1998)
Including other references without footnoting, as you are not writing an academic essay, but a review (ostensibly for publication) different rules of citation apply. In “real life” you might ask the editor about a particular publication’s style, but the in the example below the author finds a way to include adequate reference (although not specifics such as page number or publisher) within the body of the text:
“Probably only a Russian could have invented this particular project of projects, and not only because, as Gogol once wrote, “in Russia everything likes to be on a vast scale whatever there is.”” and later in the text “...Stalin, who (if historian Boris Groys is correct) saw the country as his “total art work,” as no doubt Peter the Great did before him, provides a cautionary example of this...”
(Barry Schwabsky, Art/Text 62, 1998)
How to Write a Review of an Art Exhibition
Galerie Michael • July 08, 2016
TIPS FOR WRITING AN ART EXHIBITION REVIEW
Are you attending an upcoming art exhibition and interested in writing a review of your experience? Whether it’s for publication, a class assignment, or your own personal blog, here are some tips to ensure that you make the most of your experience and write a review worth sharing.
DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE ATTENDING THE EXHIBITION.
If you’re only going to take one piece of advice away from this, let it be this one. As soon as you know you’ll be attending an exhibition, start researching the exhibition, the artist(s), and the pieces of artwork that will be featured. See if you can find out the history behind some of the featured pieces of artwork, the artist’s inspiration for the artwork, or the curator’s inspiration for the entire exhibition.
WALK THROUGH THE ENTIRE ART EXHIBITION BEFORE WRITING DOWN ANYTHING.
There will be plenty of times to take notes while you’re there, but as soon as you walk in isn’t one of those times. Take a moment to walk through the gallery, letting yourself take in all of your surroundings. Absorb your environment and take a mental note of how the exhibition makes you feel as you’re immersed in it. Do any particular pieces of artwork jump out at you?
CLOSELY EXAMINE THE PIECES OF ARTWORK YOU PLAN TO WRITE ABOUT.
Which of the pieces stood out to you on your first walkthrough? Go back through the gallery and get a closer look at each one of them. Write down everything you can think of, everything that you can observe about the artwork. Keep in mind, you shouldn’t be talking about whether you liked a certain piece or not. Rather, keep an open mind and analyze each piece a little deeper. Take notes on the medium, the subject matter, the tone of the piece, the theme, and whatever it was that made it stand out to you.
WRITE UP A DESCRIPTION OF THE EXHIBITION AS A WHOLE.
While each piece of artwork can evoke a different feeling or make you think a certain way, the entire exhibition, as a whole, could elicit an entirely different reaction. How did you feel when you first walked through the doors? How about after you finished walking through the entire exhibition? Write down your thoughts and feelings about the exhibition. It can help later to compare your reaction to the theme and goals of the entire event.
INTERVIEW OTHER VISITORS AT THE EXHIBITION.
If you’re going for a more well-rounded look at the exhibition, see if you can get the perspectives of other people at the event. Talk to a few people around you about specific pieces or the exhibition as a whole to see how their thoughts and observations compare.
TALK WITH THE CURATOR, GALLERY OWNER, AND/OR ARTIST.
If you get the chance, it can be a great opportunity to talk to whomever put on the exhibition. Ask about the inspiration behind the exhibition, the theme of the whole event, whether they have a favorite piece in the collection, etc…