One of the most interesting uses of the Internet within artistic discourse lately is New York Magazine art critic Jerry Staltz’ Facebook page. Saltz, who, alongside New York Times reviewers Holland Cotter and Saltz’ wife Roberta Smith, is one of the most well-respected art critics in New York, has basically opened an art discussion club on his Facebook page. In a recent interview with New York newspaper The Observer, Saltz stated that it was an “experiment,” and that he felt like it was having 5,000 people in a room, all discussing art. (Saltz currently has 4,177 Facebook friends, and he is constantly revolving who is his friend because of the cap Facebook has on the amount of friends you can have.) It’s unclear when or why this all started, but Saltz has made his page an open forum where he posts a question or comment and people from all walks of the art world respond, sometimes jokingly, sometimes passionately. Important curators, gallerists, and artists like Ashley Bickerton, Kara Walker, and Rob Pruitt join the discussion or simply “like” his comments. For some, it’s an open line to a critic who is so highly thought of; for others, it’s simply a place to vent their displeasure with the current state of art.
What Saltz’ Facebook page does is provide a democratic art talk zone for anyone who can prove to Saltz why they should be one of his friends. His recent mini-rant—Saltz is known for his tirades on what he doesn’t think is right in the world—about the 2010 Whitney Biennial elicited 92 responses (and 24 “likes”). A discussion about the lack of women in the MoMA’s permanent collection spilled over into his column for New York. He uses language such as “WTF CURATORS!!” and is a surprisingly bad speller. Lately, others have taken to posting on his page, and the responses keep coming. Some even post galleries of images of their works, hoping for critique or simply fishing for compliments. Jerry Saltz’ Facebook page has become a new sort of art salon.
It’s not as if Saltz’ Facebook page is the only game in town. There are websites dedicated to technology and web-based art, such as Rhizome, the New Museum’s new media website, which offers a blog (of which Michael Bell-Smith and fellow artist John Michael Boling, who runs the website “53 o’s,” which actually, rolling-on-the-floor laughingly, resides at the web address http://www.gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooogle.com, are editors) as a forum for new ideas and news about art’s relation to technology. The blog is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining—an idea that pops up often when thinking about art and the web. And Rhizome is quite careful about making sure that the blog is open to discussion in the comments section, which often proves to be the great democratizer of the site.
And there are, of course, artists who primarily use the Internet. With “53 o’s,” Boling explores the possibilities of creative computer programming through simple ideas like taking a found YouTube video called “Twenty Years Ago Today 03-28-87” and sending it careening across the screen to further confuse the panoramic video. There’s Harrell Fletcher and Miranda July, whose Learning to Love You More project promoted participation by those who happened upon the website through assignments like “#61 Describe Your Ideal Government: Describe in a paragraph or two how your ideal government would function.” There’s Rafaël Rozendaal, a young Dutch artist, who creates pithy, sometimes interactive, animations to be viewed on the web, housed in their own domains, such as “LeDuchamp.com” (2008), where you can literally spin the wheels of the father of conceptual art’s “Bicycle Wheel,” or “Nosquito.biz” (2005), a completely black webpage that makes the wheedling sound of a mosquito as you drag your curser across the screen. There are hundreds more artists exploring the Internet’s capabilities, both directly and indirectly. As artists, it is almost necessary and natural to utilize the Internet, as it is a very important aspect of our world, which they are attempting to make sense of.
There’s also serious websites like UbuWeb, home to a catalogue of hundreds of avant-garde video and sound art, everyone from legends like John Baldessari and Marina Abramović to works from younger artists such as Ryan Trecartin (whose I-Be AREA (2007) is a must-view). This makes for a fantastic resource for study, or perhaps research for curation, or simply seeing that which is limited (though inevitably everything ends up on YouTube). Vvork is an artist run “exhibition space” blog that posts one image of a new artwork every day, with the work in some way relating visually or conceptually to the preceding day’s featured art. And there are dozens of art news web magazines, such as ArtDaily and ArtSlant, and the sites of print publications such as ArtReview, Art in America, Frieze, Flash Art, and Artforum.
Jerry Saltz’ Facebook page lives somewhere in the middle. It is a place for artists to pose questions to a man who can legitimize their art, to ask him what he seeks from the art experience. It is entertainment, as some of the questions can veer towards the absurd or intentionally funny (over 800 responded to: “Sean Capone asks ‘What are the Best/favorite [sic] artist names?’ Man Ray. Cory Arcangel. Bruce LaBruce. Steve McQueen? Leo Castelli after meeting Jasper Johns said, ‘... and that name.’”)
For Facebook to ostensibly be the most open and exciting discussion space for art criticism is a strange idea. Does it portend the end of art criticism as an academic field, and move it into a more wiki, open-sourced milieu? Perhaps stuffy art criticism has lost its footing the way music criticism has recently. Maybe it will even make Saltz obsolete (he already laments his paltry paychecks despite his fame as a critic). No matter which direction criticism goes, for the time being, Saltz’ homepage remains the go-to venue for both populist and academic views on art, mashed together on one social network.