Interview with Peter Frank, an art critic for the Huffington Post and formerly for LA Weekly, Village Voice and SoHo Weekly News. Peter has organized exhibitions for Documenta in Kassel, the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, and New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Mr. Frank, do you remember when you decided to leave New York for Los Angeles?
In 1986 I decided to leave and I did it a year later.
What was the main reason?
Artistically speaking, New York had become too commercial. I realized that nothing new could be born in this city.
And this opinion is still valid?
So where can I find new art?
In many places. In Los Angeles, Berlin, India, but not in New York.
What are the reasons for the collapse of the supremacy of art in the city?
The emergence of a global market of art, but the emergence of other large and important centers of artistic production as well as commercial exploitation. To this we must add the growing importance of trade fairs. Even the dynamics of the Internet make it less necessary for the physical presence of an artist in New York. The Big Apple is no longer the epicenter of contemporary art, that’s all.
Many years ago, the Village Voice, wrote: “The spirit of the avant-garde is dead because of an over-theorization of art from the critics.” This axiom is still valid today or have critics been joined by others in the death of the avant-garde?
If academization and over-theorization killed the spirit of the avant-garde, the art market has shot itself in the vanguard. Artistic productions are produced according to demand rather than by the free creative impulse. The context in which an artist works is to monetize their ideas as well as their own identity, whereas someone who buys and sells art was able to gain an authority much higher than any artistic discourse.
The records of the last auctions are to be considered good or bad news for the world?
At the point where we are, a new record price does not add anything. These purchases come from a tiny world of multi-millionaires and have the rest of the world as spectators. If anything, the issue is the fate of the works purchased. If these disappear in the mansions of remote mysterious oligarchs, then the acquisition turns into a loss for the community. However, if the work is there on display at various public institutions, then it is only right to recognize a kind of aesthetic philanthropy for all of us.
Financially speaking, art seems to split into two distinct worlds: the richer and more powerful mega-galleries, Madison Avenue and the auction records, and that of the other galleries in daily crisis and insecurity. Could museums and art critics mitigate this break?
All we can do is to recognize this consideration as a fact and give primary attention to artists, galleries and institutions that are not on top, but they often struggle to survive. In the meantime, at least in the United States, the museums themselves are always at the mercy of mega-powers; that the mega-galleries are getting close to the museums themselves with their expensive and well-groomed shows.
What is the future of art criticism, or rather, does the art critic still have a future?
The art critic has a future as long as people will want to talk about art rather than do it or watch it. And talk will continue to serve at least to those who continue to have a desire to make art and to go and see it.
Finally, where does a good art critic operate? The Internet should be considered an ally or an enemy?
Good art criticism comes from love for reflection and writing; writers who consider their work seriously as a public service and not just a personal obsession or to support some power. In regard to this, the Internet can help in the dissemination of art criticism, although, admittedly, unfortunately, it also gives space to authors who are irresponsible and ill-informed.
Interview by Alessadro Berni