Friday, April 10, 2015

Going public (not)

By now, many of you (six copies have come to OTN for a start!) will have read the critical letter Christina Barton sent to EyeContact about John Hurrell’s recent review of her exhibition Billy Apple: the artist has to live like everybody else, currently on view at the Auckland Art Gallery. The copies we received showed that the letter had been sent to at least 11 people including Creative NZ,  a dealer gallery and the senior staff of public museums. In her opening paragraph, however, Barton makes it clear that her letter is personal and that she does not feel it is ‘appropriate for a curator to respond to a critique of their own exhibition’. The result is that a topic one of our senior academics feels is worth a dense and passionately argued two-page letter is removed from open debate. To date John Hurrell has followed Barton’s instructions and not published.

Barton makes a number of contentious assertions:

Conflict of interest. Serving as EyeContact’s founder, editor, commissioner and regular contributor all at the same time is a conflict of interest for John Hurrell.

Photographic access. As the Auckland Art Gallery doesn’t publish photographs of its exhibitions, search engines will feature EyeContact as a key point of access to the exhibition along with Hurrell’s review.

The record. EyeContact serves as ‘the record’ so Hurrell is in a privileged position. That also gives him the responsibility to exercise ‘some level of editorial judgment’ and to consider his larger responsibilities to the culture.

Public responsibility. As EyeContact is funded through Creative NZ, it operates in the public sphere with public money. What larger responsibilities, if any, does this entail?

The role of EyeContact. Barton asserts Hurrell doesn’t understand that his role is to ‘perform at a high level’ and ‘lift debate’ and ‘set an example’ and ‘develop talent’ and  ‘shape the discourse’.

So a puzzle within a puzzle. If John Hurrell wants EyeContact to encourage ‘spirited discussion on art and visual culture in Aotearoa New Zealand’ (as he says on the site’s front page), why hasn’t he published Barton’s less-than-private letter? That would be a surefire way to get some spirited discussion going. And, if Barton feels her harsh critique is worth sending widely enough to ensure that at least a 100 people will get to read it, why not take on one of the duties she asserts EyeContact has and lift the debate?