“The Critic as Artist” Reading International at Reading Museum, Reading

Including work by Miles Aldridge, Stephen Buckley, Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Lucienne Cole, Dexter Dalwood, Kaye Donachie, Donna Huddleston, Travis Jeppesen, Gareth Jones, Scott King, Linder, Bertie Marshall, Malcolm Mclaren, Katrina Palmer, Alessandro Raho, Simeon Solomon, Cally Spooner, and Katharina Wulff.

‘The Critic as Artist’ is an exhibition at Reading Museum about and for the Irish writer and dramatist Oscar Wilde, who had been a visitor to Reading prior to his imprisonment at Reading Gaol, and whose ideas and legend remain startlingly contemporary.

Appropriately, the museum in Reading is housed in a building partially designed by Waterhouse which opened in 1883, the year Wilde set sail to ‘declare his genius’ to America. Rather than focus on Wilde’s sensational and tragic downfall, as is too often the case, ‘The Critic as Artist’ examines the author’s theories of aesthetics and art criticism, which advocated freedom from moral restraint and the limitations of society, as well as the creative ability of criticism to reach beyond the limitations of the work of art. These were and remain radical, integral to a developing idea of ‘the modern’ and above all joyously balanced between seriousness, ironic play, provocation, poetry and paradox.

With this in mind, the exhibition is titled after Wilde’s celebrated essay of 1891, in which he lays out the central points of his aesthetic and art critical theories. Wilde subtitled his essay, ‘With some remarks upon the importance of doing nothing’ – championing indolence as necessary to artistic cultivation, and pose, repose and contemplation as elevated modes of existence – very much in the lineage of what Kierkegaard had previously defined as the ‘glittering inactivity’ of the aesthetic state.

Combining the historical and the contemporary, notions of the cult of the beautiful with the role of the critic, symbolist fantasy and the many-layered relationships between life, morality and art, ‘The Critic as Artist’ aims to combine substantial homage and renewed interpretation of Wildean aesthetic theory, while remaining very much in the spirit of his own serious play – the ‘new Hellenism’ of artistic ideas.

Curated by Michael Bracewell and Andrew Hunt.
Reading International

Reading International is Reading’s new contemporary visual arts organisation promoting and commissioning major solo exhibitions, group and thematic shows, a programme of events including performances, film screenings, workshops and talks as well as offsite projects and temporary public artworks. Lead by the Reading School of Art at the University of Reading and hosted by a rich mixture of partners within the town, Reading International produces several major projects each year, in which artists and curators are given a platform to make new work in response to the unique social and historical context of Reading and wider Berkshire.


“The Critic as Artist: A Manifesto” (2017)

‘The best account of a picture may be a sonnet or an elegy, or another picture’ – Charles Baudelaire

It has been evident for quite some time that contemporary art is being high-jacked by those wishing to promote it as urgently ‘useful’: by worthy careerists, bureaucrats, mediocre narcissists, dullards and the doctrinaire, those who move towards the reductio ad absurdium of practice. In contrast, we advocate a different approach that believes we should RELAX and shift towards that creative space of the useless, the unemployable, and precocious stylistic finesse, one that’s both perverse and criminal in criticism and curating. Oscar Wilde’s theories of aesthetics and art criticism remain key to this position, and above all, promote a radical and joyous balance between seriousness, ironic play, provocation, poetry and paradox. ‘The Critic As Artist’ after Wilde’s celebrated essay of 1891, subtitled ‘with some remarks upon the importance of doing nothing’, champions indolence as necessary to artistic cultivation, and pose, repose and contemplation as elevated modes of existence, in the lineage of what Kierkegaard previously defined as the ‘glittering inactivity’ of the Aesthetic state, a serious play in the spirit of Wilde’s own the ‘new Hellenism’ of artistic ideas.

Therefore, the Critic as Artist (TCAA) advocates that:

  • …INDOLENCE becomes the highest form of criticism. We believe in aesthetes and troublemakers.
  • …aesthetics is a higher sphere than ethics; and that perversion and criminality are a perfected form of art.
  • …sin is an essential element of progress – it helps assert individuality and avoids the monotony of conformity. Rules of morality are non-creative and, thus, evil.
  • …all criticism must be creative and is obliged to contain a fiery-coloured existence, through grand gesture, fatuousness, fine-mindedness and easeful leisure against a dull, participatory realism.
  • …the critic should not seek to explain a work of art but should seek to deepen its mystery.
  • …the critic creates a work that performs the highest criticism by filling with wonder a form or concept, which the artist may have left void, or not understood, or understood incompletely.
  • …the primary aim of the critic and curator is to see the artwork in itself as it really is not.
  • …art and beauty are their own justification, and act in the same manner or rhetorical register as an indignant cultural dissident who has got hold of the pulpit.
  • …modern journalism justifies its existence to the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the vulgarist.
  • …we must enact a satirical roar against the literary taste and judgment of the day – TCAA creates difficulties everywhere as a corrective to self-satisfaction.
  • …learned conversation, a career in curating, or a tendency towards useful art is the affectation of the ignorant or the profession of the mentally unemployed.
  • …we see the end of ‘useful’ art, ‘useful’ ideas, ‘socially engaged’ art and ‘sustainable models’ for art institutions. These paradigms are like sweepings from a Middlesbrough or Eindhoven Omnibus: as long as a thing is useful, it is not art. The destruction of false education constitutes art’s primordial re-beginning.
  • …most contemporary art today struggles even to be infantile and at best exists as gothic advertising.
  • …any artist, critic or curator to whom the present is the only thing that is present, knows nothing of the age in which she lives.
  • …if it is true that revolutionary art abandons all goals and enters a potentially infinite process that the artist does not and cannot bring to an end, then similarly, TCAA slips into an endless loop of reverie and joy in a newly decelerated flow of DILATED TIME.
  • …TCAA, as a creative force in her own right, discovers herself as an active yet disinterested negative ‘nothing’ in relation to the world. As such, TCAA’s uniqueness in the world – as a reversal of neo-liberal cultural conventions and restraints, as well as class-subjugation after the disappearance of class-consciousness – becomes a point of emptiness inside the fullness of the world; a radioactive emptiness that devours the world, destroys, consumes and annihilates all useful things, turning them into productively unemployable elements.
  • …the present status quo is already dead, already abolished.
  • …if the Dadaists were for ‘nothing, nothing, nothing’ and succeeded in ‘nothing, nothing, nothing’, then TCAA – as a medieval pre-Raphaelite death-cult, or proto-modern, post-postmodernist genre that pole-vaults over mid-twentieth century critical theory to equate nineteenth century literature with twenty-first century criticism-as-art – aims at nothing less than a revolution of contemporary art through slowed BPM or a temporality of sustained contemplation in the beautiful after Argos, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Théophile Gautier, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Pater, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Kazimir Malevich, Virginia Woolf, Francis Picabia, Edith Sitwell, and T.S. Eliot.
  • …the telling of beautiful untruths, pre-post-truths or pre-post-erous lies is the proper aim of art and the final revelation.
  • …all true art is built from rhythm and style and music. And so not built at all. And therefore built forever.
  • …with TCAA, through superficial profundity – or pure surface, which is as tall and as deep as Mount Olympus – everything is possible.

Andrew Hunt


at Reading Museum, Reading
until 27 January 2018

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