30 Art-Writing Clichés to Ditch in the New Year

Nancy Rubins. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Erich Koyama.
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It’s a new year, which is a fine excuse as any to ditch old bad habits. Here below, I have assembled a not-at-all exhaustive list of art-writing words that I could do without in 2015. I admit, I’ve been guilty myself of abusing some or all of – but of course that’s what New Year’s resolutions are for.

1) assembles

As in, “This exhibition assembles works from throughout X’s career …” Why use this universally accepted but fairly stilted convention? Perhaps it makes putting together an exhibition sound excitingly technical – but it also makes the exhibition in question sound as if it were put together from a kit.

2) Borgesian

Jorge Luis Borges is the most overused of all literary references in art, and calling something “Borgesian” has essentially come to mean “mind-bending.” In some cases, the art in question may also include 1) mirrors, 2) labyrinths, 3) dictionaries, 4) very-detailed invented worlds – just like the works of the Argentine author.

(Long side note: I once saw Lawrence Weschler interview Open Veins of Latin America author Eduardo Galeano at the Society for Ethical Culture. Weschler just kept coming back to the idea of “mirrors,” and asking Galeano about his relationship to Borges. After maybe the third time, Galeano had to shut him down by saying, “I love Borges. Borges was a great writer. But he was a racist.” Which is true. And his politics stank too. Think about that the next time someone calls something “Borgesian.”)

3) businessman/woman

This is an oldie but a goodie that comes to me from the Art + Auction copy desk (and could be supplemented by the even vaguer terms “millionaire” and “billionaire”). As in, “For this interview, we sat down with businessman and art collector X….” If the person is – oh, I don’t know – an arms dealer, maybe just say that.

4) challenges

Particularly in these usages: “challenges the viewer…” or “challenges ideas of….” Very few things are genuinely challenging, particularly when the art crowd is so very blasé about being challenged.

To read the rest of Ben Davis’s list, continue to article here.

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