Fare Assessment: Gopnik Visits Baldessari at the Met, NYC Galleries
There are plenty of reasons for an arts critic to leave town—say, vacation. OK, OK, all critics should see what's animating the national conversation from time to time—it can broaden and inform their perspective. But sometimes it feels like The Washington Post's reviewers are spending a bit too much time consuming art in other cities, especially New York—this despite the Post's 2009 reorientation as a paper focused on politics and local news. With editorial budgets tight and plenty of in-town art that escapes the Post's eye, we offer this regular series, in which we determine how much of the Post's travel budget ought to have gone to an individual review. At one end of the budget spectrum: Acela. At the other: Hitchhiking.
Reviewer on the Road: WaPo art critic Blake Gopnik with a double whammy. On page 1 of today's Style section, he reviews "Pure Beauty," the John Baldessari retrospective currently on view at the Met. Inside the section, he tours a handful of November shows in New York Galleries.
Invoice Argument: Baldessari—with his work that plays with notions of art and language and ownership—has been a vastly important conceptual artist for decades, and his Met show is probably worth trekking to New York for, if that's the kind of thing you do. As for the galleries: Gopnik checks out the latest show of John Gerrard, who had an exhibit at the Hirshhorn last winter. Plus, don't forget! New York galleries are Important, and this month their shows might speak to the national mood. Gopnik writes: "Right now, what they're showing is more substantial than usual, with less of the normal market-driven fluff. Whether because of our recent elections or our generally dour times – or just because it's in fashion – there's a political cast to a lot of the best work."
Budget Hawk: If you're the type of person who would travel to New York for an art exhibit, then you're probably paying attention to what that city's critics are saying. As for galleries, the shows Gopnik checks out feature some heavy-hitter names—Anselm Kiefer, most notably—but there were plenty of shows that opened this week in Washington, too. WaPo gallery critic Jessica Dawson hit those up, and by the way, her column this week marks her 10th anniversary writing it. In it she fondly recalls when, early on in her tenure, some readers formed a "Dump Dawson Committee." But my from-a-medium-distance view is that plenty of D.C. art-scene types still resent the Post's art coverage—for starters, because the paper's chief critic doesn't seem to devote much ink to local names.
The Verdict: Tough call. Gopnik has a fanboyish appreciation of Baldessari, but in a good way, and his piece feels like a close reading of the artist's career-as-a-single-piece-of-art. Can't argue against smart writing on an important show, even if it's in New York. The gallery visits feel like a waste of print real estate. Gopnik gets to fly, but the Post shouldn't splurge for baggage check. If Gopnik wants an in-flight cocktail, it's on him.