« Art Critics' Reading List


Kristina Olson is associate director of the School of Art and Design at West Virginia University, where she teaches modern and contemporary art, architecture and theory. She has been an exhibition reviewer for Art Papers, Art in America, Sculpture Magazine and the former New Art Examiner. She is a contributor to the forthcoming The ART of Critique/Re-imagining Professional Art Criticism and the Art School Critique, and Kartoon Kings: The Graphic Work of Simon Grennan and Christopher Sperandio (2007), and she was co-editor of Blanche Lazzell: The Life and Work of an American Modernist (2004). She is exhibition reviews editor for the Southeastern College Art Conference Review.

The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Edited by Hal Foster. Port Townsend, Washington: Bay Press, 1983.

This slim volume, with essays by Habermas, Owens, Jameson, Baudrillard, et al., was a ubiquitous presence when I was a graduate student in the art criticism program at Stony Brook University in the late 1980s. Kenneth Frampton’s, “Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance” was essential to my understanding of postmodern architecture and urban planning, and the rigor of Rosalind Krauss’ argument in “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” presented an enviable model for a beginning writer. I still think Foster’s introduction provides one of the most succinct definitions of postmodernism ever written. Always one to judge a book by its cover, I loved the Richard Prince photo set on a lavender ground and marveled that this important compilation was published in Port Townsend, a harbor I knew well from my childhood sailing in the San Juan Islands.

Paul Goldberger. Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York. New York: Random House, 2004.

Goldberger’s account of the original scheme for Minoru Yamasaki’s World Trade Center and the drama over rebuilding that ensued in the immediate aftermath of the Towers’ demise was riveting. The insider information about the political and real estate forces driving construction in Manhattan was eye-opening. I will always see developer Larry Silverstein, Governor George Pataki and architect David Childs through Goldberger’s revealing profiles. His reporting captured all of the emotion that fueled the debates over the design competition that selected Daniel Libeskind as master builder for the contested site. Goldberger’s enduring enthusiasm for the civilizing and symbolic power of urban architecture puts the compromised designs now nearing completion at Ground Zero into disheartening relief.

Kerr Houston. An Introduction to Art Criticism. New York: Pearson Education, Inc., 2013.

It might seem that another book offering advice regarding the process of writing about art is unnecessary. Terry Barrett’s Criticizing Art (1994, 2000 and 2012) provides clear guidance to the beginning writer, and James Elkins’ What Happened to Art Criticism? (2003) makes a thoughtful analysis of the state of art criticism today. However, Houston’s new guide accomplishes both tasks in addition to including a historical overview of art criticism, brief critic profiles and a selection of essays. It appeals to my practical approach to writing reviews with sections devoted to the key elements of description, interpretation and evaluation. His concise chapters about critical theory and development of an individual voice make this a useful tool for teaching writing to advanced students. Most of all, it is encouraging to see the activity of art critical writing presented as a creative endeavor of continued cultural relevance.