“I have never invented anything. I have only, perhaps more than others, shown or brought forward that which is already there.”
Anselm Kiefer, 16 November 1990
Cited from the first page of an RA booklet on Kiefer’s exhibition, words summarize my first impression of art critics. What does it mean to be an art critic rather than a mere journalist, producing some articles for weekend newspapers read by the pretentious and elite art enthusiasts? Well, much to my surprise, whilst roaming through a bookstore in Marylebone this book caught my eye.
The book ‘A is a Critic’ is like a bag of assorted sweets; a collection of interviews with artists and opinions on art related issues and exhibition reviews, all written by Andrew Lambirth, a respected art critic and contributor to ‘The Spectator’ art column. The classification of the book itself could cause a great deal of confusion as I found it lying with biographies of businessmen and politicians, not with the beautifully-printed exhibition catalogues. Maybe the cliché explanation of this misplacement is the almost jokily executed cover art. Its hideous shade of gold and depiction of the art critic in profile almost immediately turns the visual readers away.
However, turning away from the superficial, Lambirth’s neatly executed and humorous lines have a certain magic of transporting readers to the exhibitions or interviews, as if you are in situ seeing the artworks through his eyes, or experiencing the diversity of characters, from Sir Peter Blake to Frank Auerbach, within the action of interview. It is cleverly written in plain English, leaving out elaborate adjectives, and unnecessary sentiment.
I passionately believe that Lambirth did a great job for those gallery visitors who are no longer paying attention to the ‘inside’ of art; in other words, he gives the art works enough time to grow and cultivate powerful impacts on their viewers. Through his visually analytic language and profound knowledge of artists and their creations, the readers are able to see the artworks again in their memory with the help the writer.
“In the Royal Academy’s courtyard are two large glass cases or vitrines containing model submarines. In one the sea has recorded, dried up, and the tin fish are stranded on the cracked mud of the ocean floor.”
Abstract from ‘All my doubts about Anselm Kiefer are blown away by his Royal Academy show’ by Andrew Lambirth, 11 October 2014
Last, I would like to share a description of Kiefer’s installation from A. Lambirth’s article on the exhibition and encourage the readers to immerse and set their minds to his words and view the artworks again with a fresh eye. Perhaps, that is the role of an art critic: a gentle reminder of the inner world of art works beyond physicality.