“I Don’t Get It”: Looking at Art Criticism through A Blog Analysis of “Hyperallergic”

“I Don’t Get It”: Looking at Art Criticism through A Blog Analysis of “Hyperallergic”

With every step that art has taken into modernity, it has grown all the more encoded. With the passing of every movement, every art collective throughout the years, artists have found ways to imbue their creations with more meanings than one might ever expect at first glance. Far from simply being representational, art seems to have become a multi-layered labyrinth, where individuals construct complex depictions of all that is seen and unseen. And with a current generation that seems invested in awareness, be it political, social, or otherwise, there is seems to be no end to the depth which the art world is willing to reach.

Yet while we laud innovation and an increasing interest in complex forms of expression, that does not necessarily mean that everyone is on board with art becoming so ‘deep.’ Surely one does not have to be an aficionado when stepping foot in a gallery on the Upper East Side, yet much of the public might find that they require a good deal of context in order to traverse such a space.

Copyright 1956 © Punch Limited

And this sort of disconnect is in no way new. A black and white cartoon, published in the May 1956 edition of the popular English magazine PUNCH, depicts two older women looking up curiously at an ambiguously shaped, almost humanoid sculpture mounted on an outdoor podium. The older of the two women declares bluntly: “Well, whatever it is it’s bound to be rude.” Another PUNCH cartoon, this one from 1991, finds a man leaning very close to a non-figural painting, while his female counterpart explains: “It’s not untitled. It’s ENTITLED “Untitled.” The confused gallery-goer was a popular subject for the magazine’s sketchy satire. Moving forward about twenty-eight years, and not a great deal has changed. For as we travel ever deeper into the conceptual and the abstract, we often disregard the reality that the rest of the world may not exactly be on our wavelength.

Copyright 1991 © Punch Limited

But who is to blame in this scenario? Writer Amelia Rina of the art-based website HyperAllergic may well know the answer. In a review of Paul Chan’s October exhibit at Greene Naftali, The Bather’s Dilemma, Rina critiqued the severe disconnect she felt between the art’s supposed depth, and its physical presence. A disconnect, she claims, that was caused by both artist and gallery. Not only striking on the elaborate Classical names given to the air-dancers that comprise The Bather’s Dilemma, Rina also pointed out the unnecessary long press release for the show, which joins a class of what she describes as “overly-abstract, jargon-heavy texts probably hoping to prove that they [galleries] and their artists have ivy-league degrees, can quote German philosophers, speak French, etc.” Rina claimed to have enjoyed the show, even if her critique seems to allude otherwise. But just as soon as she was enjoying the fluid movements of Chan’s living sculptures, she was frustrated once more at how the work’s explanation disregards anyone who isn’t a member of the art-elite.

Paul Chan, “Khara En Tria (Joyer in 3),” 2019, nylon, fans, vinyl, polyfil, 84 x 153 x 132 inches.

“….a forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today.”

In following this critique, entitled “Airy and Affective Sculptures, Weighed Down by Contradictions,” one may question who Amelia Rina is, and where does she gather the authority to say what she does? Such questions require a more in-depth look at the site from which she publishes, Hyperallergic. Immediately from opening up the browser page does one get the same informal tone as a PUNCH magazine cartoon. And the site does not shy from such assumptions either, with large text at the bottom of the page proclaiming: “Hyperallergic is a forum for serious, playful, and radical thinking about art in the world today.” The sleek sans-serif format that emblazons the site’s name fits its modern theme. A constantly scrolling trail of articles, discussing art both in the present-day and the past, lets the viewer know that this periodical is always informed. Several other columns bearing links to recent stories sit snugly against the main newsfeed. The sponsored articles relating mostly to colleges and MFA programs, alongside advertisements for upcoming galleries, tells me that the target audience for Hyperallergic may range around young adulthood to late thirties. There doesn’t really seem to be any signifiers of a preferred age range, yet there is a more youthful feeling to how the site is presented, and how the article headlines seem like calls to action.

View of Paul Chan’s “Phenus 1,” 2019, nylon, fan, mesh, 78 x 40 x 52 inches.

From the articles I’ve read through, Hyperallergic seems to align itself away from the conservative end of the spectrum, sharing many liberal and left-wing views in what they publish, especially the political articles. They appear to be as connected to the technological present as a publication would hope to be, with social media icons lining the upper right corner of the web page. Along with articles, they also offer podcasts, displaying that they are up-to-date in not only the news, but also how they report it.

From what I’ve seen of the site, it would appear that Hyperallergic strives to provide what Amelia Rina claimed Paul Chan’s exhibition couldn’t, which is to engage with “both art world insiders and new audiences.” There is no perceivable elitism in how the site presents its articles, albeit their political decorum tends to slip in particularly impassioned articles. They appear to be a periodical invested on informing the gallery-goer, whether it is their first time around or their fiftieth. Whereas magazines like PUNCH tended to mock the confused disconnect between artist and viewer, it would seem that Hyperallergic attempts to alleviate it. And this apparently is not solely my opinion. In May 2018, esteemed art critic Mary-Louise Schumacher was quoted as having said, “I think [Hyperallergic] managed, kind of against the odds, to reinvigorate art criticism.”

“Art should, however, be generous and should not ostracize the viewer…”

In having viewed Paul Chan’s The Bather’s Dilemma, myself, I can say that I personally enjoy the complex interpretations that Chan puts to his work, even if it doesn’t necessarily line up with the air dancers flailing around sporadically. But I wholeheartedly agree that the enjoyment of art should not be something that requires years of academic training to partake in. I appreciate Hyperallergic’s intentions to educate the public at large, and I enjoy viewing the site as part of the historical progression of art criticism. Slowly but surely, sites like Hyperallergic seem to be breaking down the barriers between art and viewer, through digestable dialogue and social awareness. As put succinctly by Rina as she concludes her article, “Art should, however, be generous and should not ostracize the viewer or require them to have an advanced humanities degree to “get it.’”


Airy and Affective Sculptures, Weighed Down by Contradictions

A Conversation with Hrag Vartanian, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Hyperallergic



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