Momus Best-Of Volume 3: 2016-17

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I confess to experiencing regular doubt, lately, about what art criticism can contribute to the fray when the conversations we need to be having, right now – the energy we need to be expending – is on a world order being tipped into disarray. (I write this in the midst of the horrific acts in Charlottesville, for instance, and the US President’s inability to mouth the words “white supremacism.” But what worries me most is that by the time you read this, something far worse will have taken root). I take comfort and strength in remembering, however, that just as art history provides the all-important subjective lens for parsing our histories, art criticism performs a similar function. In writing and publishing art criticism, we hold the contemporary moment up to the court of history, and lay claim to a stake for how we, and our time, will be understood.

Momus writers wield this responsibility and challenge with an embodied understanding of the urgency of writing cogently, clearly, and bravely about our contemporary moment and the art – and politics – it’s coming to represent. Their voices have led our publication into a different tonal register, this year – a ratcheting up of meaning, a growing impatience with pat, tacit political understandings, or obscurantism of any kind. In this register, Aruna D’Souza grapples with grief over Jimmie Durham’s legerdemain; Mitch Speed rides the subway with Zoe Leonard’s heralding, heart-rending “I Want a President”; I move through a vulnerable social landscape in Los Angeles, following Trump’s election and its protests; Kimberlee Córdova and Andrew Berardini confront the shaky ethics of contemporary art; Casey Beal struggles with his desire for “the now-ubiquitous high-decibel, all-frequencies static of political outrage”; Tausif Noor demands better transparency between art and capital; and Saelan Twerdy asks, “in this political-economic configuration, can we say that ‘contemporaneity’ is ending, too?”

Our writers have taught us, in recent months especially, that the work of a critic is less and less what 1860s critic Matthew Arnold said “to be a free play of the mind on all subjects which it touches,” and more and more what contemporary critic Peter Schjeldahl argued for: our “trying to move the world over and make it more habitable for [our] own sensitivity.” So, criticism is not selfless. But, increasingly, it cannot waste space. I’ll heed this and simply say that, in a year where Momus’s readership crested 600,000, and saw us launch a podcast, and begin production on our first print publication (out this October), here is some representative writing from our strongest inning yet: ten writers speaking truth to power, in history’s court.

– Sky Goodden, Publisher and Editor, Momus

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