Critic's Choice: Patricia Bickers, Sarah Kent, Mark Lawson & Tim Marlow

  • 11 February 2005 - 3 April 2005

The exhibition Critic's Choice profiles a range of international artwork selected and curated by four of the most renowned and respected critics from the British arts media: Patricia Bickers, Editor of Art Monthly, Sarah Kent, Arts Editor of Time Out magazine, Mark Lawson, Guardian critic and presenter of BBC`s Late Show and Radio 4's Front Row and Tim Marlow, Director of the White Cube Gallery and TV and radio broadcaster, including FIVE Arts, BBC TV and BBC World Service.

Introduction by Ceri Hand, Director of Exhibitions

The exhibition Critic's Choice profiles a range of international artwork selected and curated by four of the most renowned and respected critics from the British arts media: Patricia Bickers, Editor of Art Monthly, Sarah Kent, Arts Editor of Time Out magazine, Mark Lawson, Guardian critic and presenter of BBC`s Late Show and Radio 4's Front Row and Tim Marlow, Director of the White Cube Gallery and TV and radio broadcaster, including FIVE Arts, BBC TV and BBC World Service.

Their wide ranging breadth of experience within the arts ensured the critics considered the whole of FACT as the context for their final choices - from our specialism in film, video & creative technology to the galleries, audience demographic and public nature of the building, through to the role of the critic and the relationship between artist's film, video and cinema. Their selections reflect these considerations and their different areas of interest, expertise, concerns, networks and relationships, providing us with an insight into their lines of enquiry and working methods.

The resulting exhibition is a highly personal snapshot of contemporary practice from these key figures on the British cultural scene and includes some of the most interesting, influential, exciting and challenging artists and artworks - a number of which have not been seen in the UK or outside London before.

We are delighted to have this opportunity to present work by some of the artists who have influenced, and are influencing, the development of film, video and digital media, from Abramovic and Ulay, Carolee Schneemann and Bruce Nauman, through to Sarah Morris, Mohamed Camara and Joonho Jeon.

This is the first exhibition in a series in which established experts from the field of contemporary art are invited to select and curate existing work by international artists. The series aims to highlight the chain of activities and events inherent in the art world, inviting the people who are responsible for making, supporting, collecting, interpreting, writing on, selling and promoting artwork to curate work they think is interesting. It also aims to draw attention to the factors that influence how opinions on art are made.

Mark Lawson's selection of films for cinema on or by artists highlights these ideas and frames the show perfectly - here we are reminded how the artist's life and work has, and remains to, attract and intrigue directors and audiences alike, (particularly when male and dead!). From the portrayal of Van Gogh in the now infamous film Lust for Life by Vincente Minelli to Pollock by Ed Harris, much of how society remembers, reveres and relates to its artists is due to these director's visions and representations of them.

In this guide you will hear from the critics themselves on why they made the choices they did. Interestingly, their selection differs from the final choices you will see in this exhibition, not due to any omissions made by FACT, but due to the processes of exhibition making, which include securing film rights, loan agreements and artist's permissions. The text they have included here, therefore, refers to their original selection, the final list of artists included in the show can be found at the end of this guide.

On behalf of FACT I would like to thank Patricia Bickers, Sarah Kent, Mark Lawson and Tim Marlow for their fantastic participation, contribution, help and support on all aspects of curating this exhibition. In addition I would like to extend this thanks to Brian Dillon, who has contributed to this guide, all of the artists nominated and selected for exhibition and all FACT staff who have worked hard to help realise the show.



Image credits:

Sarah Morris, AM/PM, 1999. 16mm, DVD, 12'36". © Parallax, courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London).

Alan Currall, Message to my best friend, 2000, installation view. Courtesy the artist.

Mark Wallinger, Angel, 1997. Projected Video Installation, 7'30" (loop), edition of 10 + 1 Artist Proof, courtesy Anthony Reynolds Gallery.

Fiona Banner, The Nam Suite, 1997. 


Brian Dillon is a writer and critic based in Canterbury. He is UK editor of Cabinet magazine, and a regular contributor to FriezeModern Painters and ArtReview. Here Dillon reflects on the implications of being a critic and the considerations that these critics will have undertaken.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a critic. Imagine, as you start to take stock of this particular set of 'critic's choices', that your chosen métier involves a lot of careful questioning of the art in front of you and a good deal of laborious effort to express adequately the answers you think you've heard there. Imagine that you have mastered this process, fed your curiosity and schooled your delivery until handing down well-formed judgments has become second nature. Still, each time you set to shaping your verdict on the latest artwork to accost your attention, you're startled by an insistent query. The voice in your head might be the artist's; it might be your public's; it might, if you're feeling especially unsure of yourself, be the stern tone of posterity. But wherever it comes from, it always asks the same question: who, precisely, do you think you are? By what authority do you presume to pass off your prejudices as eternal verities? Or even to claim them as valid for the duration of an exhibition, or the fragile half-life of a newspaper or magazine?

In a playful dialogue entitled The Critic as Artist, Oscar Wilde once attempted an answer. He imagines an argument between two leisured young men, Ernest and Gilbert, about the proper function of art criticism. The first, as his name suggests, is in favour of rigour and fidelity: the critic is a mere adjunct to the art itself, and criticism consists in representing the work as accurately as possible, becoming its voice in the wider world. But Gilbert has other ideas: nothing is as dully insensitive to the wonder of art as this sort of intellectual monogamy. The critic ought actually to be allowed to wander, to invent, to conjure novel ways of seeing the world out of a glancing, flirtatious encounter with the art in question: 'artists reproduce either themselves or each other, with wearisome iteration. But criticism is always moving on, and the critic is always developing.' In truth, quips Gilbert, criticism is the art of seeing the object as in itself it really is not.

As a contemporary art critic, you are bound to have read Wilde's essay and wondered where, along a continuum from meticulous witness to cavalier aesthete, you might place your own efforts. Maybe, secretly, you like to think that you embody the best of both models: you're accurate and inventive at the same time; your public admires your ideas as much as your careful attention to what you see. These days, however, you have little time for such ruminations. Deadlines are pressing: it seems your verdict is required even before the canvas is on the wall, the installation in situ, the projector plugged in. You've taken the phone off the hook in the hope that well-intentioned PR people will go and bother some other harried soul. You're wondering whether their latest wünderkind will turn out to alter your whole notion of what art might be, or whether, once more, you'll catch yourself straining to see just what it was that so exercised the gallery owner, the curator, your impatient editor. You wonder, in fact, whether you might not be better off in one of those roles full time yourself. Criticism pays badly, and you're already completely imprecated in an art world from which you sometimes imagine you ought to be able to affect some 'critical' distance. You've heard it said (you've said it yourself) that the critic now is no more than a gatekeeper: there is simply too much art for the public to assimilate, and so they look to you not for interpretation, complexity, polemic, but for simple guidance. You're an over-opinionated porter, nothing more.


Critic's Choice: the title suggests that you, the critic, are not normally in a position to choose (or that somebody else, who is not a critic, does the choosing). Here, for once, you get to pick your partners, to take a turn before a public, and an art world, who have chosen to indulge you for a moment, to flatter you that you matter. But the whole performance is deceptive: for years you've been masquerading in the guises of several professional personae. The entirely independent critic is almost unheard of: you moonlight as curator, editor, academic, broadcaster. Asked to corral your own enthusiasms into the space of a single show, how can you not let slip your allegiances, your debts, your affiliations? At the same time, the institution, which provides you with a space and a budget, makes certain demands: the works will be primarily in film and video, and you - the metropolitan critic - will be asked to pay attention, in your choices, to cultural and geographical diversity (and to gender balance).

How do you respond to such an invitation? You can make, as it were, a full disclosure of your interests and choose, like Tim Marlow, an artist with whom you have a professional relationship (Sarah Morris is represented by White Cube Gallery, of which Marlow is a director). You may, as in the case of Patricia Bickers, want to question the very nature of the relationship between art and the written word: Fiona Banner's Trance replicates in sound the text of her earlier work The Nam, itself a rendering in the artist's own words, of six Vietnam War movies. You could, like Sarah Kent, situate yourself in relation to the artistic lineage your choices establish: Mohamed Camara and Yael Bartana work in media which the critic herself was personally involved with at their outset. You can choose, as Mark Lawson does, to question the representation of the artist in the adjacent visual cultures of film and television (but there will be no films which mythologise the critic in quite the same fashion). You will have chosen, so you might insist, from your own personal tastes and prejudices. But you will also have prompted your audience to ask what you, the critic, are doing when you choose.


© Brian Dillon


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