Last night we went to a gallery in DUMBO to see a Times art critic get pilloried for having written some intemperate things about women and black people. We were there mainly because our friend was scouting it to see what it might be like when they have a second pillorying next month at PAFA.
In what is a funny twist of continuity for our lives recently, one of the the shows he had reviewed was up at PS1 when we were there, and so we had just been through it and had a sort of vague opinion (it was OK, with some pretty super highlights).
We had been getting an early dinner in midtown, so we arrived somewhat late and had to sit in the downstairs part of the gallery (the pillorying was happening in an upstairs room, which was packed with I guess cool kids, and anyone who wanted to show up was sitting in the downstairs, which had a bar and a bunch of tables on a kind of scaffold over a pond. I would really like to go back there if there is ever a worthwhile show, because it is a pretty sweet space and you can imagine drunk people falling entertainingly into the pond, although it has a railing. The events transpiring upstairs were being shown in real time on a big projector in the downstairs space, which added an interesting layer of distance).
The actual pillorying was a pretty mixed bag. The critic’s intemperate remarks were definitely intemperate, in a sort of Bulworth-style “older white dude believes he is expressing basic truths by finally letting himself say racist/sexist things, and feels that his credentials as a big liberal and the fact that he is expressing what he feels to be basic truths should be enough for everyone to be cool with it” mode. The panel was not very good at coherently taking this apart, and in particular there was one young artist on it who talked at length in what might as well have been self-parodic jargon. There were also some very excellent coherent people, and at a couple of points you kind of felt there was a pretty decent debate happening. But then the critic’s friends in the audience decided they had had enough of the pillorying (which, despite protestations from some of the panel, was really a straightforward case of everyone on the stage being there to at the very least give the poor old critic a pretty aggressive interrogation about what he had written) and began to heckle a bit. Here is my advice for cases where you are an older white dude friend of an old white dude critic who is doing pretty decently at engaging a semi-hostile but ultimately somewhat ineffective gang of interlocutors: you may feel some outrage, but your cause and the cause of your pal will be best served by you keeping it to yourself (you might also want to meditate on how talking unselfconsciously about marked and unmarked categories could be an indication that there is still a lot of privilege floating around).