How Soon is Now?

The Editors

View through the window of Nour Mobarak’s studio in Los Angeles, May 2, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

May 3, 2022

On the evening of the first preview day of the Venice Biennale, I had dinner at the house of a friend who lives in the city. The writers around the table were, as always, worrying about how they were going to find the time to see everything in the exhibition, formulate an intelligent response to it, and file their reviews before their deadlines in the coming days. Which prompted the host, having sympathized with their predicament, to direct her next question to me, the only editor present: “What’s the rush?”

The implications of the question were clear (at least to someone who spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about these things). When everything is on social media within minutes of the exhibition’s doors opening anyway, and the preview is spent dodging people taking selfies to post alongside snap judgements, why not give critics more time to consider their opinions?1 However useful they are for people running around Venice, the proliferation of listicles with titles like “Best Five Pavilions at the Biennale” and “Standout Works from the International Exhibition” contribute to a discourse which is more about identifying winners and losers in the snakes-and-ladders of professional art than reflecting on how this work might change the way we see the world.

Feeling on the spot, I blustered my way through the evasive kind of answer that I normally reserve for awkward questions from the audience following a panel discussion. But I’ve been thinking about the question ever since and have come to the conclusion that the best argument for stress-inducing deadlines is—stay with me here—that they force critics into getting it wrong. This counterintuitive finding is based on the principle that nothing is worse for the practice of criticism than aiming to articulate the consensus opinion. That normally takes about a week to form around a biennial, after which it can feel that everyone is saying the same thing (“x was the best work” and “on balance the show was good/bad”). Not only is this an absurdly reductive take on a citywide festival featuring several thousand art works, but—and this is the important point—the consensus rarely survives for long.

At every biennial you meet people who tell you that this one is a shadow of the brilliant edition six or ten years earlier, even though you distinctly remember them telling you at the time how much they hated it, or vice versa. These retrospective shifts in opinion reflect changes in the wider culture (in light of greater awareness around representation, for instance) as well as the subsequent rise or decline of the curator’s reputation and the fact that people are allowed to change their minds.2 And so it’s useful to be able to refer to the record and see how wrong, against today’s opinion, the critics were. Not to expose writers as frauds, but to be reminded of how our reading of art is inflected by the times in which we are living, to reconsider what we mean by “wrong,” and to wonder whether it’s such a bad thing anyway.

Because art criticism is, fundamentally, the practice of failure. Not only is the writer tasked with communicating in words an effect that was expressed in another medium precisely because language was insufficient, but they must pass an opinion on it that must, at some stage, be wrong. It might reflect the opinion of the majority (or the “right people”) now, but it will no doubt be judged wrong in ten years. Or you might be wrong now and right later. Or right now, wrong later, and then right again. The point is that writers and artists must have the courage to contradict the prevailing sentiment. Or be given deadlines that force them into it.

Like other biennials, Venice tends to eclipse other forms and scales of exhibition. At art-agenda we aim to cover shows in ways that are appropriate to each, working on different timescales—we might even revisit Venice or the Whitney when the dust has settled—and at varying lengths. All of this hopes to upset the idea that there is a single authoritative take on any significant body of work, and perhaps ask readers to consider whether art should articulate received wisdoms or challenge them. During the opening of the Venice Biennale, when the rhetoric is so frequently and so startlingly at odds with the reality outside that particular floating world, we are inclined to believe the latter.

To accompany the editors’ letter we are publishing a series of photographs taken by artists of the view through their studio windows. This month we feature Nour Mobarak, a Lebanese-American artist based in Los Angeles whose interdisciplinary practice excavates violence and desire as sources for metamorphosis. Recent exhibitions and performances include Miguel Abreu Gallery, New York (2021); KIM? Contemporary Art Center, Riga (2021); Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (2020); The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2019); and forthcoming at Rodeo Gallery, London and Athens (2022); MIT List Art Center, Cambridge (2022); and Amant Foundation, Brooklyn (2022).


These “snap judgements” very often amount to publicly congratulating people (artists, curators) with whom the poster would like in the future to work.


In her review of the international exhibition at this year’s Venice Biennale, Quinn Latimer questions whether the current edition will come to seem like “a kind of dream—that form we are normalized to forget”:

Editorial, Art Criticism
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May 3, 2022

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