Press Releases

I’ve been collecting press releases from art spaces for the past six years, taking them home or to the office after an afternoon of seeing shows in Chelsea, the Lower Eastside, Bushwick or wherever. I dutifully 3-hole punch each one of them and stick them into a binder in case I need to refer back to the name of an artist, or to remind me of a noteworthy show. Many of these press releases are crumpled or folded, dingy with pocket lint.

In spite of its flimsy, cheap substrate (usually photocopied onto letter size paper), the press release is durable and easily produced by galleries that operate at a high speed, churning out month-long shows in an art world calendar that’s absolutely packed with them. First and foremost, these texts aim to catch the attention of art critics and their editors. And because of that, the language skews towards a kind of pop academicism. Much of this writing style, derisively referred to as “artspeak,” has been thoroughly debased by the very critics they hope to attract as being meaningless and unnecessarily opaque. The writing is formulaic, and worse, amateur art theory they argue. In many of these releases, artists “problematize” or “interrogate” subjects.

But looking back on texts from 5 years ago, there’s a certain charm to the whole ritual of writing and producing press releases, especially in the almost outdated formality in announcing that, for instance, “Greene Naftali is pleased to present an exhibition of “Yellow Movies” by Tony Conrad, a legendary New York underground filmmaker, composer, and artist.” I saw this show in January 2007 and reading this text now makes me think of the profound rebelliousness of Conrad’s gesture to, as he states in the release: “dismantle the authoritarian boundaries of film culture…”

Press releases get emailed out to critics and editors in advance of a show’s opening, but most galleries also make them available for free in a self-serve stack at the front desk. And though this writing can easily be found on gallery websites with full color photos, I still like having these papers around without images, just naked words on a page trying to describe, elaborate, elucidate, convince and sometimes hide the intentions of artists.

For a show by Douglas Boatwright in 2006, the defunct Silo gallery states in its press release: “Although seemingly elusive and tangential, Boatwright’s work is focused in its concentration on sensuous light and aesthetic pleasure. One work could serve as both introduction and summary, a multi-layered projection onto the gallery’s curved wall consisting of the text: ‘I know this to be true.’ But the authoritative-sounding statement literally wobbles. The words reach the wall through a stencil that acts as an intermediate screen and hangs by threads in front of the light source, a projection of found footage and home movies.”

This is language anticipating the experience of art and trailing in the wake of that experience. But 5 years later, I can at least read this old document and faintly remember having seen this work, wondering what it was about.


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