Above: Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project, 2003, Tate Modern. Credit: Tate.

Critical Texts

Genius in contemporary art is sui generis and beyond interpretation. Works like Olafur Eliasson's The Weather Project (from 2003), Koons's Hanging Heart (from 2006), or Chris Burden's Metropolis II (from 2011), require no explanatory text, essay, lecture or hand-out notes. The work is utterly self-sufficient and the viewer does not need any prior intellectual engagement with contemporary art whatsoever. (Such artworks can be described as having a force.) No work of interpretation could possibly add to the enjoyable experience of entering the place of display and engaging with the work directly. And it is for this reason that many artists have got no time for art critics and art writers. If they (the artists) are doing their job correctly then the critic is redundant--the intellectual critical-text is seen by many artists as a crutch or device used to aggrandise art which doesn't get that close to genius level. This same relationship (between genius and critic) can be seen in the everyday in TV broadcasts of football. When Messi, or Willian (or another striker you prefer), scores a wonderful goal, the genius is inherent in the audio-visual material at hand. And the commentator's reaction--What a strike! What a superb goal! Incredible! Unbelievable!--underlines this: at the moment of the highest achievement of the player, the commentator is reduced to empty cliches. The expert interpreter is not needed to comment on the highest levels of human achievement--and in fact their presence in such moments is always a glaring annoyance. Over the past near-twenty years, since 2001, this fact has become more recognised in art, and the critic has dropped out of significance in art appreciation--what a critic thinks, or an intellectual writes, about art, is of no interest to most gallery visitors (especially texts which require a Ph.D to understand). The same is increasingly true for the critical theory of cinema--the film is there to be watched, and that's about it. These days, rather than effectively bolstering a contemporary artist's reputation, the grand intellectual critical text, is often taken to be the hallmark of the marketeer.

(19 September 2018, revised 1 October 2018)