Yelping Chelsea: The Freakish Lows and Unexpected Highs of Crowdsourced Art Criticism
Yelping Chelsea: The Freakish Lows and Unexpected Highs of Crowdsourced Art Criticism
For years, we have relied on Yelp to bring us smug appraisals of "authentic" ethnic restaurants and cautionary tales about surly bartenders and bad dentists. But could everyone's favorite aggregator of cyber-kvetching, which went public to much ballyhoo on March 2nd, become a sanctuary of amateur art criticism as well? From Institutional Critique to Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page and the rise of art journalism and the eclipse of traditional, authoritative criticism, the last half-century has seen a backlash against the authority of the dispassionate art reviewer. Could the death of the critic mean the birth of the Yelper?
Like most Yelps, Art Yelps are usually motivated by unchecked anger or unchecked enthusiasm. Yelp might not give us the best art writing, but it gives us art writing from the hysterical poles of the emotional spectrum. Recently, the professionals have begun to get in on the action — Artforum’s Brian Droitcour began Yelping regularly last month — but in general, Yelp is the Mecca of the unreliable narrator. So far, the reviews and listings site has aggregated commentary on 127 Chelsea galleries, and authors range from a satisfied art collector to an incoherent drunk to a righteously bitter gallery-goer who got shafted outside of the David Zwirner's recent Doug Wheeler show (class anxiety is a frequent trope in Yelp criticism).
Irreverent, hyperbolic, and rife with creative spelling (note: sic throughout), the Art Yelps we have surveyed range from the disgruntled to the ecstatic, from the insipid to the inspired. See below for the best, worst, and weirdest of this brave new medium.
Most Popular Galleries
The highest-rated galleries on Yelp are the now-closed high-end design boutique Moss Gallery, the street art go-to Jonathan Levine, and the DIY-inflected art book nonprofit Printed Matter. Below this seemingly random collection of spaces are the predictable heavyweights Pace and Gagosian, which most Yelp reviewers appreciate as venues to see large, museum-quality exhibitions free of cost.
Most Helpful Review
Lisa jane C., Brooklyn, NY (on Mary Boone):
The current exhibit by Ai Weiwei, an artist and human rights activist, has millions of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds arranged in a rectangle in the main gallery. The seeds symbolize people, and it's a huge display - perhaps eight feet wide, twelve feet long and two inches tall. During my visit, many people were mesmerized by the seeds, which are beautiful. Each one is unique, just like people.
Drunkest/Least Helpful Review
Ro N., New York, NY (on Hpgrp):
Came here for Fashion Week - the venue was a bit confusing, but the show was FANTASTIC! Elevators were extremely slow and there are only two unisex bathrooms on the main floor. I was pretty gone by then, since I partied the whole day for my birthday and by the time I got here - this is all that I remembered! Congrats to my friend - xoxoxo Loves you!
Most Pretentious Review
Kuv S. New York, NY (on 303 gallery):
The art game is about instincts - and your search for truth is only as good as your tour guide contextualizing the aesthetic. 303 is a good place to start out, maybe a little safe in what they choose to show, but important nonetheless. Thought provoking and consistently well shown, you will have something to talk about over drinks at Pastis this spring...
Erica R., San Francisco, CA (on Claire Oliver):
Julie Blackmon photography exhibit 'Domestic Vacations' felt a little like Elle Décor-meets-mental-institution. With a Royal Tannenbaums flair. The works showcased a uniquely disturbing montage of children hanging upside down from antique couches in architectural, crisp, white rooms with grandfather clocks.
Jon. S., New York, NY (on Gagosian):
Going to an opening at Larry Gagosian's gallery is like going to a Steve Jobs apple keynote presentation. Meaning, some fancy new thing is revealed to the world and there is often oohs and aahs followed by coordinated group masturbation.
Best Gagosian Takeaway
Jer. D., San Francisco, CA (on Gagosian):
Most Prolific Reviewer
Mo P. of Brooklyn is the author of some 24 reviews. She is also the author of the Most Annoying Review (on Metro Pictures, see below):
Sad, so sad. Such a great space and so little being done with it. The artwork was a series of pieces duplicated and rearranged from room to room.... and wasn't good enough to be seen 3...4.... 5 times. The only intriguing piece I saw was an video/sculpture installation on the upper level, but it was the only piece by that artist. A two level, huge gallery.... falling short of its potential in my book. It also had about four employees that I saw, not a single one who made an effort to greet me. Their postcards/statements were also out, so even if I had wanted to read up on the artists, I wouldn't have been able to. The show featured artist Louise Lawler and I believe it's up until June 7…
Bitterest Anti-Hipster Sentiment
Gino M., Brooklyn, NY (on Printed Matter):
The 'Cute Art Guy' was an asshole to me…This place is oozing with hipness it's disgusting....BUT GODDAMN I SAID GODDAMN! For me, browsing Printed Matter is a Matter of thinking very deeply...otherwise I'm just some douchebag trying to look cool because I know of this place that houses dilettante art. And Dilettante Art would be the very threat that keeps me awake at night... 10CC said "Art for Art Sake! Money for God's Sake!" They weren't talking about the stuff at printed matter...however they didn't have to put up with some of the culture that surrounds a place like this. I rated it 5 stars...OK. I love it. It's makes my nipples firm...OK. I just can't condone slumping on the nearby steps while I smoke homemade fags and polish my v-neck. THINK DAMMIT THINK.
Best Mashalling of Populist Anger
Jess J., Manhattan, NY (on David Zwirner):
I just saw the Doug Wheeler exhibit. It was surprising and transforming. Another surprising and transforming thing -- the staff's treatment of people who are not "friends of the gallery" or "friends of the artist." Evidently it's fine for people to wait 4 hours outside in the 40 degree weather. All the while VIPs walk in without any wait. And when mere plebians finally get inside, they still have to wait another hour. 5 hours, and we're supposed to eat it because there's no chance that we're going to be paying customers. We might not be clients, but we're human beings. And at the least, the gallery should treat us as such.
Most Heartwarming Story
Mathew T., Brookline, MA (on Yossi Milo Gallery):
The exhibitions never let me down and the service is absolutely top-notch. I always enjoy coming here with my girlfriend. In a sort of "it'll never happen but I have to do this to at least tell her i tried it out" kinda way, I asked the gallery to let me put up my own personal photo to propose to her. I was surprised when they called me back the same day and said it would be fine and they would call me back again to work out the details. The next time it was Mr. Yossi Milo himself that called. Everybody was incredibly nice and accommodating. They really went the extra mile for me and I can't thank them enough.
Most X-Rated Review
Steph C., Los Angeles, CA (on David Zwirner):
…Did you know that clit rings existed in the early 1900s? Because they did, they were the size of wedding rings, and Alice Neel painted them.
Most Irrational Fear Expressed in an Art Review
Amy S. Brooklyn, NY (on Westudio):
This is an eerie stretch of street, this part of w.28th. we approached westudio as night was falling and i felt like a zombie army was about to creep out of one of the side lots and eat our brains…
Best (and Only) Review Written by a Collector
Laurence H., San Francisco, CA (on Chambers Fine Art):
Chris Mao, owner of Chambers, is one of the most plugged in participants in the growing market of Chinese modern art. He represents some of the most highly regarded artist today and consistently brings together some of the most interesting exhibitions. I've bought two pieces from him and have received good attentive service from his staff. I highly recommend getting in touch with Chambers or paying a visit to his gallery in Chelsea. Chris is opionated and speaks his mind and I credit him with helping me buy my first piece.
Sassiest Student Review
Alyssa S., New York, NY (on Margaret Thatcher Projects):
Don’t get it. Why did my professor send my class to this gallery? Was it to show me that using the banal/ordinary life as subject matter, though already done in the 1950s/60s, could still me done? To assure my peers that their lackluster painting skills would enable them to be accepted into a gallery? To see how much I could write about "the most interesting" painting while in stuffy, non air-conditioned room? To confuse in showing me that work I obviously have a low opinion of could be the recipient of the Krasner-Pollock grant? Or was it to amuse me in sending me to a gallery that attracts the types of people who touch the artwork? I'm not sure. Oh and I'm giving this two stars because I looked up a past show of theirs that featured a photo of a girl in pink sweatpants that say ‘Sexy’ on the back and I think that's funny.
The Groupon-Zooey Deschanel Award for Most Adorably Quirky/Annoyingly Twee (Depending On How You Want to Look at Things) Review
Jennifer H., New York, NY (on I 20):
Unicorns vs. Mermaids Most people upon hearing this agree that a unicorn has more built-in weaponry (i.e. a horn) and could spear a mermaid in battle. But really, they're both mythical creatures, who knows what powers they have? Maybe mermaids can call upon all the force of the sea and its inhabitants or MAYBE unicorns can shoot lasers out of their eyes. But I digress. The name of this art exhibit is not a literal one. I know because, as an art neophyte, I had no qualms about asking one of the gallerists "what does the name of the exhibition mean?" The exhibit was exploring the subjective definition of beauty, with an interplay of "pretty" and "ugly" works, and there's also a reference to Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes in there somewhere. Unbeknowst to me, W. 23rd has been a gallery row for many years. I-20 has floor to ceiling windows, white-washed walls and ceiling, a cement floor, and a labyrinth of cubby rooms. It feels open and airy, with a few pockets of intimate space. The current exhibition is provocative, featuring a mix of video art, sculpture, and I think I saw some art just hanging on the walls as well. I still think the unicorn would win.’
The Billy Joel Art Writing Award (For the Review That Most Successfully Integrates Singer/Songwriter Billy Joel Into Discussions About Art)
Lisa jane C., Brooklyn, NY (on Stephen Haller):
"Nobu Fukui: We Didn't Start the Fire," was inspired by the Billy Joel song, but it's incredibly cool, no matter what you think of the Piano Man. Paintings of pop culture icons are used in collages which are colorful, vibrant, and beautiful. The references include figures from politics (Golda Meir, John Lindsay, William Clinton, Winston Churchill), movies (Monroe, Brando, Audrey Hepburn, Dietrich, Julianne Moore), music (Judy Garland, John Lennon), cartoons (Homer Simpson, Wonder Woman, Daffy Duck and Spiderman), art and anime. The works have many layers and are clustered. As in the most popular music videos, attention is easily diverted because so many images are eye-catching. The collages have many layers, with circles as the geometric, which "bulls-eyes" the image. The circles are many colors, and some have circles in the main circle, like telephone dials, so each painting is quite different. The colors are all vibrant - no ho-hum pastels here - which makes the works even more stunning. The paintings have beads on them - hundreds, maybe thousands on each - and each one has the tip painted white. It adds to the overall layering. The paintings are true to their mission - referencing and honoring the Billy Joel song while existing as amazing works of art on their own. Note: The gallery is at 542 West 26th Street. Closes February 18, 2012.
Most Sexually Frustrated Review
Joy Y., Princeton, NJ. (on Friedrich Petzel):
I am obsessed with the current exhibition by Robert Heinecken. The vintage prints and collage fashion really turns me on.