Critiquing the Critic

"Winter Stories #49" (2008). Digital C-Print, 40 x 50 in.

"Winter Stories #49" (2008). Digital C-Print, 40 x 50 in.

Often when I read reviews by seasoned art critics, I’m struck by their own profound take on the art. It’s as if the critics themselves have an ethereal power to bring a piece of work to life, to move it beyond the place at which the artist even “sees” it. Maybe the impact of the art is partly predicated on what the reviewer has to say about it. Which, if you are an art critic, is a pretty powerful place to be in.

So I was clicking through my sites this morning and fixated on one particular piece describing Paolo Ventura’s works. I was musing over his dioramas (he creates the dioramas by hand, scrapping together random bits of material, and then photographs the display), which are surreal, and my mind kept wandering back to my own idea of fantastical places, like carnivals, foggy vistas, smoky lampposts. So I thought that I had been struck by the art on my own volition.

But then I realized it was the title of the review that really struck me from the get-go, and probably snagged me: “The Invented Worlds of Paolo Ventura.” (Twenty seconds later, after a few more sips of coffee, I realized that the “invented world” was actually Ventura’s characterization of his art, not the critic’s. But regardless, the description certainly takes you to “that place.” At least the reviewer was smart enough to latch on to that unique characterization in the interview with the artist.)

Anyway, I started jumping around to the critic’s powerful phrases: “startlingly evocative tableaux”  “distorted the commonplace” “precise way the light and shadow play out” “faded carnival.” The critic’s review was able to evoke the artist’s world, to take us into his mind, then back to ours, then bounce all around in regions inexplicable.

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