The language of art reviews can be enigmatic, dense, and obtuse. It can also be complete bullshit.
I read a lot of modern art reviews and have researched historical reviews to get a sense of how art was received over time. A lot of what we consider classic or masterpieces were panned or ignored when they debuted. A great example of this is Vincent Van Gogh. He got no respect for his art while alive and producing, but years later he is lionized in art history books.
Cultural criticism is tricky. It is a whole genre of writing unto itself. Beyond just an opinion, it has to provide context and some kind of grounding for a reader to connect with. Recent (past 50 years) art criticism is deep in theory and analytic constructs. When done well, it can be enlightening and useful. At its worst, it’s a bunch of made up gibberish with strategic name dropping and references to better thinkers.
I took 50+ years of art criticism from a famous art magazine and trained a GPT-2 language model with it. I thought it could be an interesting tool to analyze trends and patterns in cultural language. It absolutely serves as that, but it can also be fun to feed it prompts and see what it comes up with. It generates reviews word by word, algorithmicly, not randomly or by using real reviews.
I have a show of tech art that will be coming down soon and thought it would be interesting to see what kind of review the generator would give me. I came up with some probable ledes that a reviewer might start with and finished with a fully automated approach. The results were fascinating and sometimes insightful.
The actual show, Refactor
I have a small grouping of tech art at a local gallery called Kaleid in San Jose, CA. It ranges from glitch art on a recycled screen to a wind driven interactive piece that simulates embers of a fire.
The reviews are in…
The tool I built is called Art Review Generator and accepts a text prompt of 5 to 150 words to generate an art review from. I wrote a detailed blog post about the creation of that a few months ago. It returns 5 reviews for each prompt, along with a permanent link to the results.
I started out traditionally:
A recent show of tech art by Lucidbeaming explores a range of humanistic themes, from aging to social collaboration. The combination of glitching screens and traditional materials is disarming and intriguing. Ultimately, the verdict is
is in the artists hands. But the question remains: Are the tech art works entertaining? There’s a particularly sexy, sexy quality to the flow of the world through which we travel.
still to be made. Is it a medium to engage in a serious conversation about the nature of art? Or a more passive form of entertainment? The answer is a resounding no. Lucidbeaming is a truly inspiring endeavor.
out. Its a satisfying show.
Well, that’s positive and weirdly flirtatious. Let’s try something more descriptive.
Using found materials and modern electronics, San Jose artist Lucidbeaming has created a wide range of interactive sculpture that ultimately
lends itself to a range of social and cultural meaning. The artists early work was performed by groups of people who were not intended to be fully autonomous. He uses found objects and found images to address specific social issues, such as the fear of violence in the face of poverty, and the challenges of belonging in a world that has changed. In a series of photographs, San Jose’s Department of Public Safety has been forced to submit to a government-sanctioned request to provide police officers with body cameras.
ices over any attempt to resolve the conceptual conflict between art and technology. The works are accompanied by a text, a video, and an audio tape.
Interesting contrast of references. How about something more ambivalent?
Teetering on the edge of spectacle and genuine artistic exploration, the latest show of multimedia art at Kaleid Gallery is
ersatz. Despite the apparent naïveté of its premise, the show is, as its title suggests, structured to attract attention. Using the most avant-garde of means—including the cinema of projection, video, and sound installations, as well as photography, drawing, and painting—Kaleid invites the spectator to enter his or her own private cinema of projection. It is a movie theater, an enclosed gallery, and an exhibition space, each with its own subjective and critical boundaries.
ersatz—albeit masterfully botched. Its not the smart thing to do, either. Instead, the show should be seen as an alternative to the years of febrile art-world machismo—the years of art school put on by young artists, like the artist/curator of this show, Tomoko Murakami, and the late, great Noguchi—and as an attempt to correct the balance between the deadpan and the smart.
This generator loves the words “ersatz” and “vernacular”. Let’s try a combination of detail and context.
Refactor is a small show of recent interactive and video art by San Jose artist Lucidbeaming. It combines found materials with high tech sensors and medium sized computer screens. Titles such as Obsolete, Tintype, and Embers evoke nostalgic and humanist connections. But, buried under the veneer of glitchy techniques are problematic
vernaculars that are at odds with the technical sophistication of the works. The works range from the modest to the whimsical. One piece is a video projection of a woman dancing, a half-naked woman with a plastic bag over her head, a red ball on her head and a green one on her hand. The video is looped and the video is repeated ad infinitum, as if the video were a dance. Another piece consists of a video of a woman using a large-brimmed hat as a mask and a small video monitor that shows the person using the hat as a mask. The hat is a toy, a projection of a toy, and the video is looped, making the hat a puppet. In one of the videos, a woman uses a small screen to make a face. Her face is a puppet, and the video is looped, making the face a puppet. The video is looped so that the face turns into that of the woman who is using the hat as a mask. The video is looped so that the woman becomes a puppet, and the video is looped so that the woman becomes a puppet. The puppet becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The video is looped so that the hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The video is looped so that the hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The video is looped so that the hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The video is looped so that the hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask. The hat becomes a projection of the woman using the hat as a mask.
There’s that word “vernacular”. Not a very coherent review, but I really want to see the video it’s describing get made. So how about something really negative?
A pointless and derivative show of so called “glitch art” is thankfully ending soon at Kaleid Gallery in downtown San Jose. Besides the low quality execution and realization, the work itself is crushingly obtuse and fake.
It’s like the material evidence of a murder, but done with a look of a cop-out. The art world is catching up to the curve, and the police are finding their quarry. The police are also catching up to the curve, but this time they’re using a more sophisticated approach to their quarry, they’re making a mistake. The artists are being followed, photographed, photographed, photographed and photographed again. The art world is being used as bait and trap, a game of game-show host, playing the game of deception. The artists are being followed by the police. In the end, its all a game of distraction. The police are using the art world as a trap, and they’re winning.
The show has been subjected to a highly effective and lucrative critique by Leonard Bernstein, who has written of the art-world hypocrisy of hoping that something will change. In his recent essay for the catalogue, Bernstein continues to work against art, saying that he hopes to see art that is just as useful and important as other kinds of things, but not so easy to get and use. His hope is that such a thing will happen.
It is a failure to consider the problem of artistic glitch art. The work is often sloppy, overworked, and often perfunctory, and it does not relate to any real conceptual or esthetic problems. The work is often a combination of high art and low art, an art that is neither art nor a thing. The work is usually poor, and yet it is an art of low quality, a low art. This is a shame, for it is a shame that is so obviously, and intentionally, wrong. The work is often amateurish, and yet it is not amateurish, for the work is an art of high quality, and its subject is art.
Wow, more police references. Probably because it used the phrase “cop-out”. These aren’t as biting as I hoped. I doubt there were as many truly negative reviews as legend describes. Now, time for some name dropping theory.
Marxist historian Eric Hobshawm argued that the technology of cinema had superceded anything traditional art could accomplish. The latest show of multimedia art by Joshua Curry at Kaleid gallery tempts fate by
turning into the opposite category: the art of the artist as mere instrument. Curry has never been quite as daring as he once was; his works are sometimes too clever and too sly. But he is still able to make you laugh, and you’ll be happy to see him again.Curry is a video artist who knows the difference between illusion and reality, and he knows the difference between the real and the artificial. He knows that the real is always a lie, but he cant be too precise. He also knows that the artificial is always a lie, but he can’t be too precise. Curry shows us the limits of the lies he tells, and he has the nerve to call attention to them. His work has always been ambitious and deeply ironic, but it is not cynical. He knows that the lie of art lies in the capacity to tell the truth, but he doesn’t take the risk of being too strict. He has been the first to call attention to the problems of the lie of art. He knows that art, like a lie, can be a tool of power and that it can be used to control people and to exploit them. He knows that the lies it tells are a lie, but he doesn’t care. He knows that when art is used as a tool of power it can be used to control the public, and that it can be used to exploit people. He knows that art is a lie, but he doesn’t give a damn.
turning art to offer a simulacrum of the non-art world. Curry has often sought to redefine non-art via his performances (often choreographed by the artist), which use space and language as interactive agents in which the viewer becomes part of a narrative and/or nonhuman system of transmission. A video installation with its accompanying text, Transmission: A Conversation with Maia in 21 Photos, 2017–18, plays out the techniques and cultural norms of the viewer through the processes of transmission itself. Each of the 21 shots is projected onto a wall of the gallery, and these texts can be read as a text for the installation itself: AN EXHIBITION, THE BOXER IN MEAN TIME, ARISTOTHEI, OBSERVATION, CONVERSATION, DISCO, PERCEPTION, PROJECTION. The texts are constructed from a series of mirror images of various letters, including a list of things a person looks at when she ponders about a text, words of utterance such as HOW DID I NOT KNOW IT WAS THE POWER OF GOD, AND HOW DID I NOT KNOW IT WAS THE POWER OF FAULTY, AND WHAT IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT?
That first one is pretty good, even with the insult. But that second one — I want to go to whatever show that is.
How about fully automated? I used an image auto-tagging service called Imagga to yield descriptive words of the photos of my work in the show. Then I ran those tags through as a prompt. This is getting close to submitting images of an art show and getting an automatic review in return. That’s a possible future project. But, let’s see if it works.
The show by Lucidbeaming has frame, binding, furniture, interior, room, home theater, theater, building, petal, wall clock, clock, timepiece, monitor, and liquid crystal display.
There’s a big box of Legos, a box of chess pieces, a small refrigerator, and a drawer filled with all manner of knickknacks. There’s a portable, wooden crucifix with the word sinet. A set of 14 vintage televisions—one for each year of the show—possess individual CRT monitors. There’s a wooden box with a radio and a cassette deck. There’s a small, semitransparent plastic case. Its the one-half of a cross. A real crucifix—topped with a heart—and a mirror. There’s a gray box filled with money. A heart is carved into the back of the case. There’s a picture of the gallery space with a big white cross.
It is not a conventional presentation; rather, it is an exhibition of the moments that shaped Lucidbeaming as a person, and that have shaped his art. At the same time, Lucidbeaming does not present a conventional display of his art; rather, it is a display of the moments that have shaped his life. Perhaps this is why Lucidbeaming has become a favorite of critics and artists. In his interviews, he has spoken of his appreciation for the importance of the past and of the ephemeral nature of the past. His work is much more than the sum of his words; it is a microcosm of the past, a time capsule, a chronicle of the artists relationship to the city and to himself. His work is not only about the past, it is also about the present, an exhibition of the present that can be read or studied. And it is not about a mise-en-scène, its a display of the present.
Its a vast, dizzying, dizzying show—just what you need to get in the morning, and as long as you are a morning person. The show was set to run through the evening, and Lucidbeaming even built a wall of mirrors in the gallery, from which a tape played on loop, a reminder that you would be well advised to visit this show early in the morning. Of course, the exhibition is not over yet: a dozen or so artists have offered more shows—shows, in other words, that the eye will never get to seeing. Lucidbeaming has responded with an admirable, lighthearted, and entirely unpretentious installation. His artistic is such that it becomes the most direct and persuasive form of communication—and a possible new form of communication for art as well. Lucidbeaming is not as profound as some of his colleagues, but he is a capable artist who will keep on working in a lighthearted, humorless, and irreverent vein. He is also a very American man.
The tags were not very accurate but these reviews are pretty good. Different services from Google or Amazon would probably nail the tagging effectively, but I avoid their ecosystems.
“Lighthearted, humorless, and irreverant” is awkwardly accurate. I might start using it my insta bio.