Most art reviews disappear when the magazine or newspaper in which they’re printed gets shelved, stacked up, or thrown out, causing the loss of both the reviewer’s critical essay and the record of the artist’s work in the exhibition. Rarely, the art critic’s work is preserved in book form, but usually it’s the longer-form essays rather than reviews, per se, that get published in the book.
Matthew Kangas’s new collection of reviews is the exception (and many of these reviews were first published in Sculpture magazine). In 113 chapters, Kangas arranges his reviews by artist (rather than in the strict chronology of publication), giving the reader a chance to survey the artist (and Kangas’s engagement with the artist) over time in many cases. There are shorter and longer reviews included, depending on the requirements of the publication in which they first appeared.
There are art-historical “stars” here, as well as artists primarily known in the Pacific Northwest (where Kangas has been most active) and artists who have “emerged” on the national scene only in the most recent few years. Return to the Viewer is valuable for preserving a record of these artists’ exhibitions, as well as the evidence of the critic’s voice.
Also particularly interesting is Kangas’s short introduction, which serves not only to give a sense of his own critical style but also a model for criticism that respects both the reader and the artist.
Return to the Viewer
By Matthew Kangas
New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 2011
462 pages, $28.00