Is artist Ryan Trecartin any good? Who can tell?

Honestly, this is the kind of thing that drives an art lover mad.  In the New Yorker this week, the immensely influential critic Peter Schjeldahl writes of video artist Ryan Trecartin’s exhibit at P.S.1: “To put it simply, Trecartin…is the most consequential artist to have emerged since the nineteen-eighties, when Jeff Koons inaugurated an era of baleful glitz.”  Well, that’s quite a claim, but in the two pages that follow Schjeldahl barely makes a feint toward fleshing it out or buttressing it with anything more than his own authority.  Indeed, the most consequential thing Schjeldahl mentions is that Trecartin releases his videos free on Vimeo — but, really, who doesn’t these days?  At one point, Schjeldahl despairs and says “Am I not being terribly clear about what happens on the screens at P.S.1?  I’m sorry, but you have to be there…” That is certainly a novel approach for an art critic, but not a persuasive one.

This reminds me of Michael Kimmelman’s infamous authority-parading claim, made when he was the art critic for the New York Times, that Matthew Barney was “the most important American artist of his generation.”  This came in 1999 and was similarly unsupported, save for some hazy talk about playing with gender and identity — which is just about how Schjeldahl describes Trecartin’s work, suggesting that consequentiality in the art world hasn’t changed much in 12 years.  And since Schjeldahl has ostentatiously elided the period from Jeff Koons to the current day — that is, the years encompassing Barney’s career — I have to imagine that this all just some sort of art-critic throwdown that has less to do with the merits or demerits of Trecartin’s work, or Barney’s, than it does with trumping Kimmelman.

So, we’re left to figure out the relevance of Trecartin’s work for ourselves.  Here, then, is an excerpt to start us off — personally, I believe Schjeldahl has some explaining to do:

Update (19 July 2011): Click here to read my own gentle evisceration of the Ryan Trecartin exhibit following a visit to PS1. Or here to read about Roberta Smith’s more robust (though still unconvincing) review of the Trecartin exhibit.


One Response to “Is artist Ryan Trecartin any good? Who can tell?”

  1. @betwittbetween says:

    I don’t find the prospect of figuring out the relevance of a work myself to be particularly daunting, at least in this case. Thank you for linking me to it, I think it is brilliant. If you are looking for clues, I think it touches on work, politics, gender, music, design, malaise, cultural norms including capitalist/bourgois concepts of beauty, coming of age, info-density, among many other themes.

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