by Leonie Huber

The fourth issue of dis/claim is an Art Criticism Special featuring exhibition reviews, artist interviews and reflections on the topic. With the intention to intervene in the status quo – where art criticism has lost its discursive potential in the independent scene – I’ve invited critics and artists to review shows past and present. Their contributions demonstrate that critical thought isn’t solitary, but entangled with and dependent on private and professional relationships.

       It is the intention of dis/claim to address text production in contemporary art on three levels: to present different forms and functions of art writing, unhide professional and private relationships within the field and reflect on the influence of online platforms on writing practices. Questioning the potential and limits of art criticism for the Viennese scene in the fourth issue, all three aspects are at play.

       An abundance of exhibitions opens and closes throughout this city day in, day out. Institutional shows are usually accompanied by a curatorial brochure, while exhibitions in galleries and off-spaces rely on a commissioned “exhibition text” to … and here it already gets tricky. The bread and butter of many young writers, both the function and form of these texts is ambiguous. Are they in service of the artist, the audience – or the author themselves? What they are definitely not – by virtue of their transactional nature and structural position within the exhibition – is a place for critical analysis of the respective artistic position. While institutional and gallery shows are sometimes reviewed by national and international magazines, exhibition texts are often the only thing that is written “about” off-space exhibitions. For the independent scene, the only form of publicity are posts on Instagram, making it into the PW “Impressions” or submitting your show on Contemporary Art Daily et al.[1] The digital reproduction is usually the first and, more often than we’re willing to admit, only impression of a show. In the end, this creates a situation where the affirmative exhibition text is not only reduced to a mere image caption, but the only thing young writers and artists engage with on a day-to day-basis. What effect does this – a status quo I provocatively summarised with the statement, “There is no art criticism in Vienna” – have on my cohort?

       The fourth issue of dis/claim aims to revitalize the discursive potential of art criticism for the independent scene, its readership. For this Art Criticism Special, I’ve asked the contributors to write about an exhibition in Vienna or one of relevance to the city. The usual constraints of the review format were lifted: No character count, no necessity for good image material, no need to be current. I encouraged the seasoned art critics on the roster to write about shows they wouldn’t otherwise pitch to their editors. It was exciting to ask them to elaborate on their personal views and to expand on points that would normally be cut short in service of the review’s brevity. The invited artist-writers picked shows whose relevance for their own artistic practise can be traced between the lines. Focusing on the underbelly of the works, they demonstrate not only a detailed, yet selective account of the respective exhibition, but also the qualities of close inspection and curiosity. These exercises in art criticism are flanked by two essayistic texts on the practice of review-writing and a certain Viennese attitude.

       A recurring motif in the contributions to this Art Criticism Special is both the physical and social moment of an exhibition. Working within the arts, one rarely visits a show or meets an artist on neutral ground. For the most part, these encounters occur within a network of professional and private interests and dependencies. While the relevance of art criticism is up for debate, gossip prevails. We might not put our hot takes in writing, but we’re happy to spill them out in the bar after the opening. Swallowing one’s insecurities with another Spritzer is only a temporary fix, taking a step back from the need to pay rent and the desire to be accepted is hard work. It’s a laborious task, carving out a space to formulate an opinion or even to voice criticism in a web of economic and personal relationships. In my experience, it requires a lot of bravery and often feels very solitary. dis/claim aims to provide a space for writing within and through all these entanglements, as they are declared in the introductory disclaimer to each text. It takes trust to speak your mind and I’m thankful to the contributors of the fourth issue that they granted me theirs. At the same time, focusing on these hardships runs the risk of overlooking the companionship we can and do afford one another: a firm hug, an honest compliment, a conspirational glance or simply sincere interest in how somebody is doing. But companionship isn’t limited to individual signs of affection. Taking the work of another artist or writer seriously enough to critically engage with it is, in my opinion, the sincerest form of flattery.

[1] Aggregator sites like these are fed a steady drip of installation views and press releases making sure that the next version of AI-tools is able to create even more accurate and generic artworks and texts based on this data. I’ve been known to lose my breath arguing about this after three beers, so let’s stop here.