Friday, April 13, 2007

Peter Schjeldahl reviews Women's Work, at the Brooklyn Museum:

"The market selects art that people like to look at, whatever it may be about. This is bound to exasperate partisans of any particular aboutness, whose goal is not case-by-case approbation but blanketing justice. The conflict cannot be resolved, because the terms on the two sides—politics versus taste, virtue versus pleasure, aggrieved conviction versus disposable wealth—sail past each other. The agon’s usual form is an assault, by the party of politics, on the complacency of art lovers. It draws force from the unexceptionable truth that justice is more important than artistic quality. Activists enjoin a suspension of fun-as-usual until urgently needed reforms are in place. In consequence, social movements are always aesthetically conservative (as the great Russian avant-garde of the revolutionary era learned, to its sorrow). They siphon off creative energies to pragmatic ends. Of course, no movement will admit the inferiority of its art. It will redefine the field to make pleasure appear to be at one with virtue. Many art lovers, for their part, like to imagine a socially salubrious tendency in their takings of joy. Both are wrong.

Genius and vileness can cohabit an artist’s soul as comfortably as mediocrity and rectitude. The Sackler Center faces incommensurable choices: to advance what women corporately want or to promote what a gifted élite of women does. It will opt both ways, probably, with attendant anguished debate."