2.23 / Best Of: Year Two

The Second Year

By Patricia Maloney August 16, 2011

Art Practical is a reactive forum and an archive. Reactive—not reactionary—because it takes as its subject the activities that unfold around us. Our writers choose what they see as relevant, and their writing frames a two-week period in the cultural production of the Bay Area. It is therefore a necessarily incomplete history but one in which the threads that loosely tie one review or reflection to another also suggest what activities might be absent. The reviews point outside themselves; they encourage readers to investigate and build an alternative narrative or to insert their own trajectory.

Art Practical is also a palimpsest; each issue erases the one before, responding to an ever-insistent now, the perspectives of two weeks ago already relegated to the archives. In an issue, the continuum of art in daily life is broken apart into discrete narratives and reassembled through an introduction and title. Instead of stacked chronologically left to right on a shelf, as my Artforum magazines are, with the color bands moving progressively farther down the spine as the year advances, the issues of Art Practical stack on top of each other, with the current one overlaying the one before. Occasionally, in the shift from “current” to “past,” a too-long title spills over into the right-hand column as a reminder that it previously belonged elsewhere.

That slight gesture, the title’s resistance to fitting into the format with which the rest of each issue so neatly complies, is important; it signals that what we produce and how we represent it are somewhat at odds with each other, although purposefully so. Art Practical’s mission is to create a historical record of contemporary artistic practices and to foster artistic production through critical writing and public programming. We participate in a continuous spectrum of activity, conversation, and critique as part of the everyday lives of artists, curators, viewers, and readers. But we are also the recorders of that activity, thus giving conversation a form; thoughts and gestures become tangible as reviews, interviews, and features. The undifferentiated events of the everyday become tagged, categorized, contextualized—they are written. As Catherine McChrystal notes in this issue’s “Best Of Year Two: Editors Choice,” Art Practical functions within a continual process by which we convert experience to form and reinsert it back into experience as dialogue while also appropriating it as history.

Germane to this publication’s existence and mode of operation is a review I wrote three years ago for Shotgun Review, when it was still an active forum and not yet a precursor to Art Practical. The review was for Kiki: The Proof is in the Pudding, which took place at Ratio 3 in San Francisco and was a retrospective of sorts for a gallery called Kiki that operated in the mid-1990s under the direction of the AIDS activist Rick Jacobsen. In it, I note that 

[t]here is the inevitability that the further one moves away from an event or period of time, the less visceral it becomes, and the more willing one is to rely on a collective narrative for recollection. Even in moments of crisis or trauma, there exists both the deep and personal defensive of what one knows to have happened, and the relief of releasing it to the past, where it can be stacked up against events of greater or lesser degree to ascertain its significance. Which is where art intervenes. It somehow ensures that what one intimately feels will be visible or accessible in the story everyone tells.

Art is the trace that marks the position of an idea in any particular moment; it gives form to the feelings and thoughts that occupy that moment. Perspectives change, the words we use change—as I note in my introduction to Issue 2.19/Hindsight, we use the words by which we understand ourselves now to describe our past, perhaps as a way to create continuity between then and now, a desire to recognize our former selves within our current incarnations. But art has the capacity to pull ghostly thoughts and feelings and ideas into the present and return their original urgency to them.

In Issue 2.4/Ghosts, Renny Pritikin reviewed the Hauntology exhibition at the UC Berkeley Art Museum, noting that “the past and the present are not two things but one, participating in a constantly evolving mutual creation of meaning.” Titling that issue “Ghosts” was an extension of this idea, as haunting plays a credible role in the production of art. It has little to do with things that go bump in the night; haunting is the residue of personal and cultural identity formation that remains with us and binds us, long after we believe its power has waned. As Leigh Markopoulos points out in her review of BAN6 in Issue 2.22/Summer Reading, some of the participating artists identify and grapple with visual markers of the past, but they continue to point backward instead of identifying the relevance of these elements in our current moment. The key for a forward-looking accounting of the past is acknowledging how the ruptures of the past continue to reverberate in the present.

During Art Practical’s chronicle of the past year, there were four moments that shifted my perception of our purpose, and whose traces I believe will remain evident in our future activities. First was the slight but significant alteration to the aforementioned mission statement: the inclusion of the words “and public programming.” If, as Michael Schreyach asserts in his essay “The Recovery of Criticism,” the critic’s “inventive task” is to convert the experience of a work of art “into one with value for those with other perspectives, in the present,” Art Practical needs to operate in the presence of other perspectives, to foster frank and open dialogue in person.1 We believe that allocating the space to voice alternative, dissenting, and conflicting opinions is not only productive but also gives those perspectives value. This year we exercised that belief though numerous programs produced in collaboration with fantastic partners. There was “Art Publishing Now,” a summit and fair produced with Southern Exposure; “Critical Sources,” a writing workshop held at The Lab; “Performing Politics,” an event and panel held at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in conjunction with a thematic issue on performance art; and “Shop Talk”, a three-part, town hall–style series of conversations produced in conjunction with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). The last was of particular significance; the collaboration with Suzanne Stein and SFMOMA’s Open Space forum created the unique opportunity for artists and visitors to speak from within the museum about their relationships to that institution and for artists to also voice their sense of agency as creative and cultural producers.

The second moment was “In and Out of Context,” a panel discussion and interview series with artists from the Bay Area and Los Angeles as part of the art fair Art LA Contemporary in January. The participating artists—Lisa Anne Auerbach, Luke Butler, Sarah Cain, Amanda Curreri, Aaron GM, Katie Grinnan, Drew Heitzler, Michael Parker, Conrad Ruiz, Zachary Royer Scholz, and Ginger Wolfe-Suarez—along with Los Angeles–based writer Catherine Wagley, spoke to how they incorporate and reflect the material, topographic, social, and political characteristics of their respective cities in their work—how they lay claim to a place and are shaped by it. In the process, they articulated why the geographical boundaries of the Bay Area as defined in Art Practical are sometimes expansive: artists operate within an ever-evolving constellation of dialogues, shared interests, and overlapping approaches that in turn suggest endless possibilities for navigating the local.

Third were the thematic issues—Issue 2.6/Food and Issue 2.15/Performance: The Body Politicand the thematic features that unfolded over the course of the year: Bruno Fazzolari’s conversation series investigating abstraction and the terms on which it is defined or negotiated in contemporary artistic practice; Elyse Mallouk’s Landfill series, which triangulates with a print journal, quarterly subscription, and website, all of which archive and redistribute the materials produced by socially engaged artworks; and Zachary Royer Scholz’s series about the historical and contemporary economic, political, technological, and cultural factors that shape the visual arts in the Bay Area and its possibilities for the future. The thematic issues broke open Art Practical’s format to dismantle the silos that too frequently form locally around cultural production. These issues exposed us to new audiences and pinpointed numerous intersections where the visual arts overlap with food, social criticism, performance, and political activism. We have an expanded sense of what our subjects are because of these thematic issues and the thematic features; through them, we offer a richer, more nuanced portrait of the Bay Area visual arts community. 

The final moment that altered my perception of our trajectory was one of protest. Much space was allocated this spring in our issues, news feed, and on our social media pages to the global demonstrations protesting dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s detention by the Chinese government. But more significant to my understanding of how Art Practical might itself make a gesture of opposition was the was the sudden and inexplicable censorship of David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 film A Fire in My Belly from the Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington, D.C. For three days, from December 16 to December 18, 2010, in protest of the Smithsonian’s act, Art Practical replaced all the images intended for inclusion in Issue 2.7/Production and Value  with a still from Wojnarowicz’s film and called it 2.7W/In Protest. In using that image, our goal was to express solidarity with the nationwide screenings taking place at the time. But ultimately, in foregrounding what others want to obscure, we reminded ourselves that art’s great power lies in creating what needs to be seen.

Ultimately, that is the goal: keeping track of the words and images that are necessary, regardless of whether or not we can readily anticipate what we need for our future intentions. As we shift our attention away from the art and exhibitions, conversations and events, and ruptures and protests that shaped this year to look toward other preoccupations, the pages of Art Practical continue to give shape to the collective narrative that we’ll stack up against the efforts to come. Enjoy.


  1. Michael Schreyach, “The Recovery of Criticism” in The State of Art Criticism, James Elkins and Michael Newman, eds.(London: Routledge, 2008), 6.

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