During the Art and Reality forum in Saint Petersburg a review of the latest trends in contemporary art market was presented by Judith Benhamou-Huet, a French art critic, writer and blogger, author of ‘The Worth of Art’ which has been translated into a number of languages. Arterritory.com asked her a few questions regarding the direction in which art criticism is developing, the new favourite place of residence among French artists and whether a purchase of a contemporary work of art could be considered a sound investment.
You spoke about the fact that the discussion at forum was transforming into an endless line of monologues...
Yes, it is getting a bit boring already. People do not listen to each other. I think it is a general problem among art critics. With them, ego always comes first.
So lack of respect for a different opinion is not just a Post-Soviet problem?
I can’t say I know that much about the Russian character and mindset. What I like is that people are spontaneous here. The problem is, they are not that keen to exchange opinions. Each of the speakers does his best to refute the previous one. They want to speak, they want to show off – which would seem a trait more suitable for artists... The good thing is, people do speak here; inFrance, it may well turn out by the end of a symposium that there is no-one willing to take the floor.
What was new for you in the debates of the forum?
A somewhat pessimistic point of view was proposed here to the effect that there is no longer avant-garde art, no good taste... Who has the right to make statements of this sort? As for me, you know, there is very little pathos in me mentally; it is simply that I am curious, I want to feed my brain.
In your presentation, you said that art criticism should change. In what way?
I think it should become more sexy (laughs). Just joking... I think it should be more appealing. If the art critic is an old professor who uses words no-one can really understand, then it is a genre for which there is no demand. We have to discuss contemporary problems from the point of view of contemporary citizens. The new art critic is quite possibly someone who also goes skateboarding and listens to the latest and hottest records. Who is able to look at things from a new angle – not someone who produces pages and pages of narcissist expatiation. After all, who is an artist? It is someone who spends most of their time in introspection, examining themselves in relation to people around them. An art critic, on the other hand, is someone who examines the artist from without, from the world around them. And that is why an art critic needs a direct link with the world. The only thing left to us now is being super creative. And that goes for art critics as well.
In what way can an art critic be super creative?
In the ways in which they show art. Interestingly, many people speak of art here without showing any. Ours is a civilisation of images, and these people think they can make do with words alone. Isn’t it a bit strange?
Do you use a lot of visual material in your art blog?
Yes. I take the photographs myself. And I try to tell stories. It is a blog, I do not get paid for it. I get paid for writing articles. And this is why I don’t spend oodles of time on it. I try to write in a light and professional manner. I also hold small monthly conferences – ‘spoken blogs’ of sorts – at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. It is attended by lots of people and I simply tell them my life. I am not telling about my latest lover or anything like that, of course. For example, I went to Tel Aviv to attend the unveiling of the new building of their museum of art. So I show people the exhibited works of art, I show them the building and also pictures of the local beach which I also visited. And why not? It is also part of my impressions. If you are telling stories in your texts, they become more informative and interesting, because everything is linked.
There have been some opinions voiced at the forum to the effect that art has taken the wrong route, a mistaken one. I find it strange to hear people speak of art going this way or that way. It is generally a somewhat more objective process than that.
And we are surrounded by a diversity of art! How can someone say that artists have chosen the wrong path or that there are no longer people who would swim against the tide? It’s absurd, really. There is so much of different art and so much of things we haven’t even discovered yet, because many artists work away from the general process and commercial success. And when people say things like that, it only goes to show that they are not informed. Van Gogh worked in complete solitude; only a handful of friends knew about him. American art collectors were buying Picasso’s works in the early 1900s; nevertheless, he was not particularly well-known at the time. We have to be very humble as we build our concepts of what is taking place in art today. The generally accepted view of our time might turn out to be very different fifty years from today. >>