Thursday, December 03, 2009

Yokelism update: Coverage of our living artists

Sebastian Smee responds

Two weeks ago, I criticized the lack of coverage of living Boston artists by our local mainsteam media – and in particular by Boston Globe critic Sebastian Smee (pictured here). Before I posted the piece, I e-mailed Smee, but he was away traveling and didn’t respond until this week.

“They're totally fair points, though obviously I have a different perspective on it,” Smee writes. “I am excited about being in New England, but also excited - and curious - about being in America.”

Below are his responses to my questions, including: Could you talk about your coverage priorities? What is the right balance between covering locally-made art and art from elsewhere? Does coming from Australia, which is not usually seen as a major art center, help shape your priorities for covering art made in New England, which is also not usually seen as a major art center?
Sebastian Smee: “I am always on the look-out for interesting art by New England artists, but it's not at the forefront of my mind. What is at the forefront is looking for shows that might be interesting for New England audiences to see (or to read about). This makes me dependent, as any newspaper critic is, on what shows New England museums choose to put on.”

“Some - though not many - of the shows I write about might be outside New England, since my understanding is that New Englanders regularly travel to see art, and are interested in what is happening outside New England.”

“My priorities at this stage are New England museums, while my colleague Cate McQuaid focuses on New England's commercial galleries. The boundary is porous, and Cate and I are both hoping that it will become more porous over time.”

“I'm not sure I follow the logic of the connection you suggest between reviewing in Australia and reviewing in New England, but I would say that my experience working as a critic whose jurisdiction was the whole country rather than just a city or region, made me alert to the dangers of provincialism. I have been particularly excited to discover how many high quality museums there are all over New England, and I take great pleasure in visiting them every week.”

“You count the number of New England artists I have written about, but it's important to remember that my brief is not just to review artists but to assess shows (of Egyptian art, of video art, of Renaissance art, of installations, etc) as well as to write about art-related issues that come up in New England: Shepard Fairey, the Rose, the Gardner museum's expansion, Hyman Bloom, etc etc.”
Yokelist Manifesto Number 1: Boston lacks alternative spaces?
Yokelism at the 2008 Boston Art Awards.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 2: Montreal case study.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 3: Hire locally.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 4: We need coverage of our living artists.
Yokelist Manifesto Number 5: We need local retrospectives.


Blogger Thomas Garvey said...

I'll just go ahead and say this aloud, since no one else will: Cate McQuaid is not up to the task of judging cutting-edge New England art. Period. I have nothing against her personally, I'm sure she's a nice person, and she didn't deserve to be handed a job for which she wasn't qualified by temperament or training, but there you have it. For years the Globe was openly philistine about art and theatre (classical music was the only fine art that "counted" for its management), so reviewing jobs were handed out to whatever staffers were available. Cate's a holdover from that era and attitude (which still is the prevailing attitude, btw, when it comes to theatre). Yes, I know, as everyone says, she's gotten better, but she's still not good enough.

So most of Smee's comments here are a form of professional dodge: there's nothing he can do, his editors won't let him write about New England artists, thus he's forced to head off to Venice instead. I really don't think many of the "New Englanders who travel to see art" go quite as far as the Venice Biennale, but who knows?

Still, I think I should add that, like most of the Globe's newer critics, Smee is a superb stylist who can be counted on not to rock the boat: that personality trait extends, I imagine, to his own professional boat. He's not about to push his editors for a chance to review the local yokels - partly because, in case you can't tell, he's something of a snob about New England artists, too. I mean, seriously - he sees his job as being dependent on what the museums decide to show him? What real critic could be so disconnected from his supposed passion?

Still, perhaps Smee does have a point about who's really in charge of his output: he's a hired hand, so why not talk to the manager, Greg? And that would mean the editors.

December 3, 2009 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Greg Cook said...

Thomas, you're absolutely correct about asking the editors. Will do ... eventually.

December 8, 2009 at 4:39 PM  

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