On writing in art museums

I’m not the only one who has apparently noticed the poor writing in many art museums. The Wall Street Journal writes:

When the show opened last month, artist and critic Carol Diehl blogged about the “impenetrable prose from the Whitney Biennial.” As examples, she offered “random quotes” about individual artists and their work taken from the exhibition’s wall texts and catalog. Among the gems:

• “. . . invents puzzles out of nonsequiturs to seek congruence in seemingly incongruous situations, whether visual or spatial . . . inhabits those interstitial spaces between understanding and confusion.”

• “Bove’s ‘settings’ draw on the style, and substance, of certain time-specific materials to resuscitate their referential possibilities, to pull them out of historical stasis and return them to active symbolic duty, where new adjacencies might reactivate latent meanings.”

Ms. Diehl’s complaint was quickly taken up by others. Richard Lacayo, on a Time magazine blog, likened reading the show’s introductory wall text (“Many of the projects . . . explore fluid communication structures and systems of exchange”) to “being smacked in the face with a spitball.” To combat such verbiage, he recommended banning five words long popular with critics that nonetheless say nothing: “interrogates,” “problematizes,” “references” (as a verb), “transgressive” and “inverts.”

This is nothing compared to the placards at the Experience Music Project in Seattle, which, at least when I visited two years ago, were so vapid as to make me wonder if they’d been written by a high school intern. I wish I’d kept some examples.

More on Richard Price from the NYRB

Michael Chabon opines on Richard Price in the New York Review of Books. As usual regarding that publication, the essay is too long and digressive, but it’s worth reading anyway. A sample:

Lush Life is a good, worthwhile, and in many ways satisfying novel. No matter how routinely and highly praised it may be, Price’s ear for dialogue, his ability to capture and reproduce the rhythm, tone, and evanescent vocabulary of urban life, cannot be overpraised: with all due respect to Elmore Leonard, Price is our best, one of the best writers of dialogue in the history of American literature. Resorting with miraculous infrequency to the use of dialect spellings and other orthographical tricks, Price gets his characters’ words to convey subtle nuances of class, occupation, education, even geographical gradations of neighborhood, while also using them as a powerful vehicle for the transmission, in fits and starts, evasions and doublings back, of their interior lives. He is a perfect magpie for slang, and like its predecessors this novel is rich in fascinating bits of law-enforcement and street-criminal argot.

I’m on the record praising Lush Life. I still hold that Leonard is the better dialog writer, however, although Chabon’s position is entirely defensible. And I also hold that you don’t need to spell “dialog,” “dialogue.”

Harry, Revised arrives

I’m finally back from Vermont and Massachusetts and in shape to work again: Alaska Airlines cancelled my Wednesday flight and left me stuck in a Boston hotel Till Thursday. The good news, however, is that I found Mark SarvasHarry, Revised:

In good company, of course.

He’ll be in Seattle on May 8 at the University Bookstore—7:00 p.m. Expect to see us there!

EDIT: I wrote a full review of Harry, Revised here.

%d bloggers like this: