This afternoon we had to present our research into the reviews of a show we had not seen. I looked at ‘Take Care of Yourself’ Sophie Calle’s project for the 2007 Venice Biennale. The project was a reaction to the artist being ‘dumped’ by her boyfriend in an email. She did not know how to react:
I received an email telling me it was over.
I didn’t know how to respond.
It was almost as if it hadn’t been meant for me.
It ended with the words, “Take care of yourself.”
And so I did
She sent the email to 107 women and asked them to respond to it as professionals. She then realised that much of the response was in the form of text in French and therefore not accessible to much of the public in Venice. She therefore documented the piece using photography and video. Due to the lack of reviews for the 2007 Bienale show I also used the reviews for later shows of this project and therefore the writing was responding to different installations of the show. I also used 2 interviews which is probably not ideal but in the lack of other depth at least they showed the artist’s voice.
Slide 2 – Jonathan Jones in the Guardian19/10/09
A very short article with very minimal details and compares the project to ‘ a brilliant contemporary novel..’ The review starts with an ’emotional roar’ and tails off. No details of what was exhibited or how. Nor depth of analysis.
Slide 3 –Up close and (too) personal: A Sophie Calle retrospective –Hannah Duguid in The Independent
This review did not take the work very seriously. It was in the form of an interview and did not explain or address the questioning title in any way. Duguid starts of by questioning whether Calle is mad and confirms that she is not using her physical appearance as evidence. Another annoyingly unquestioned comment is that Calle ‘does not make her own work as such’. I thought the Independent was better than this and was obviously mistaken.
Slide 4 –Conceptual artist dumped by email gets revenge on ex-lover -Henry Samuel in the Telegraph
Another very short piece with provocative title. Samuel does not mention the exhibition but does point out the vous – polite form in the title. He also uses emotive language but article too short to go into any depth.
Slide 5 – Jonathan Haber in Personal Blog – To the letter
I was not going to include this as it is a blog but after reading articles like the previous ones I was pleasantly surprised. Haber actually takes us around the 2009 New York show and asks some questions about the work.He not only takes it seriously but also seems less scared to give an opinion. ‘Sophie Calle is not giving anything away’. He points to the division between Calle as a private individual and her personal life, through her work and distances her from ‘confessional’ artists such as Emin. Haber is the first example which feels like a review and there is a personal voice who is not scared of speaking.
Slide 6 – Louise Neri ‘Interview’- Sophie Calle
I found this interview interesting and included it because the writer is, or was, an editor, curator and director of the Gasgogian Gallery in NYC. She therefore comes from a different part of the art world. Neri is gushing and the tone of the writing very different. However, in spite of returning several times to Louise Bourgeois in the interview, she does allow Calle her own voice to explain some significant ideas which give insight into the process of curating the show. Once again however there is no real review of the exhibition of ‘Take care of yourself’
Slide 7 – She’s lost control – Fisun Gűner in The New Statesman
This could also be a provocative title but is a more thoughtful article. Guner describes the images as sumptuous and takes on the nature of the text and imagery combined in the show. Describing Calle as a detective she declares the work as much more than confessional and in spite of the strength of the images it is.. ‘the text and the deconstruction of the text that draw in the viewer and sustain HIS attention… Apart from the gender address this is general but a helpful comment to the reader. The review stays very much with the general and does not go into great depth.
Slide 8 – Roberta Smith in the New York Times –
A very confident voice speaking to the culturally educated describes the exhibition as an ‘Operatic monument to late capitalism’. The style is much more assured than any of the other reviewers it is educated but non academic. It’s weaknesses are the generalisations and lack of detail. While it does not shy away from depth it is a short piece there are no examples of curation or images of work. There are some insights which would make me curious to see the show. The last two sentences merit quotation as they are daring and unconventionally well written:
‘Underneath, it is larded with issues of lifestyle, class and privilege, not to mention stereotypes of age and beauty. And it is deeply, enthrallingly, and at times annoyingly French.’ This is the most critical sentence in the reviews. I wish this one had been longer.
Slide 9 – Cora Fisher for The Brooklyn Rail
What makes this my favourite review is the desire to question. Crucially this piece goes into more detail about the exhibition. It looks at how the work is presented. It not only goes into details of various of the 107 responses but also analyses some of them in this questioning way. Fisher does not have Smith’s confidence or authoritative voice but she does have many ways of engaging the reader. For example: describing the responses she talks about the ‘humour, expertise and empathy of the women uplift and entertain the viewer. I think Fisher would reach more people as she uses varied but open language. This does not mean she is afraid to give opinions and be critical or use theory. But she draws on theory in an accessible way. Quoting Wittgenstein whilst summing up by saying..’ the limits of my language are the limits of my world…..then Calle’s work translates the broader feminine experience into a formalized world of possibilities. The “answers” are less important than the forms of engagement and investigation, the invitation to construct meaning’. The writing is accessible but not dumbed down. Making the work more accessible to us.
- Overall I had a great disappointment in the reviews I found. There was a lack of depth or even description of what was on show and how it was shown in most examples. Given the display of this work was crucial to the artist’s role this is odd. Most reviewers merely listed a few of the participating professionals and outlined the concept.
- the use of images in the reviews was poor and there were 3 reviews which used images of Calle, quite why this was necessary or helpful I do not know. There were no images of the installed work.
- There felt like a reluctance to criticise the work. There were sweeping statements but no rationed critical depth. The display was never evaluated.
- in the worst cases it felt the reviewer had not really grasped what the show was about. this was combined with a fear of critique, it did not feel like I was reading criticism.