Visual Arts

Big-city art critic will review your work in just 25 minutes

Lori Waxman, right, at a performance in Kassel, Germany, as part of Documenta 13, in summer 2012.
Lori Waxman, right, at a performance in Kassel, Germany, as part of Documenta 13, in summer 2012.

Need an art critic? Institute 193 will have one from Thursday through Saturday.

And we aren’t talking just any art critic. Lori Waxman is a Chicago-based critic and art historian who has been published in a variety of art publications, including Artforum, and she has a bi-weekly column in the Chicago Tribune. At Institute 193, she will accept submissions of work from artists, and she will write a 100- to 200-word review in 25 minutes that will then be posted in the gallery.

She has done this in more than a dozen cities over the past decade.

“At the time, I was starting out as an art critic, and I was writing as many short reviews as anyone would take from me, for very little money,” Waxman said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I learned to write a lot, very fast, and it had to be not redundant and kind of intelligent.

“At the same time, I knew a lot of artists who were just graduating from school and trying to make it, and they seemed really befuddled by the review process: How do you get a review? Who are the reviewers? How do you get a show if you don’t have a review? The process seemed really opaque to them, but also really tied to their value as an artist and the trajectory of their career.

“So I kind of put it all together and said, ‘What if you could have a review for the asking, but the trade-off is it’s not going to be very long, and I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on it because then not enough artists are going to get reviewed? So it’s sort of a tongue-in-cheek balancing act between quantity and quality, and also how much a review is worth if you can have it for the asking.”

When you’re out in a regional city, you don’t have somebody from the New York Times coming by to see your gallery show, but you’re hungry for feedback too.

Lori Waxman, 60 wrd/min art critic

Initially, she presented the event called “60 WRD/MIN Art Critic” in major cities where she lived: New York and then Chicago.

But then she had a revelatory experience when she went to Knoxville.

“They didn’t even have an art critic,” Waxman says. “They had artists — most places have artists. But there aren’t always art critics, especially not anymore.”

Since then, she has concentrated on taking the project to areas that are more regionally than internationally significant and critically underserved.

“I find that it does more, it’s more exciting, it has more of an impact, and I get a much broader range of artists who participate,” Waxman says.

In New York and Chicago, all she saw were professional artists and people going through the art school system. But when she got to Portland, Maine; Columbus, Ohio; and even Detroit, “then retirees who do watercolors come, and there’s always someone who brings their 8-year-old. ... When you’re out in a regional city, you don’t have somebody from the New York Times coming by to see your gallery show, but you’re hungry for feedback too. There is something interesting and equalizing that happens in these other places where there’s not a glut of people trying to make it in the professional world trying to take advantage of the project. It’s anyone who’s making art, and that’s exciting to me as a critic, because it’s not part of my regular day job.”

What I promise is to take the work seriously.

Lori Waxman

The project, now financed by a Warhol Foundation | Creative Capitol Arts Writers Grant, has improved Waxman’s critical work for the Tribune and other outlets, she says. It has made her open to a broader spectrum of art and it has simply made her quicker and more efficient, steeled by project dates when she is perpetually on a 25-minute deadline. She does the 25-minute art critic presentation twice a year. In addition to artists submitting work, spectators are welcome to watch the process. Waxman’s computer screen is projected on a monitor, so people can see the review as it is being written. Reviews and art will be displayed in the gallery.

Waxman was directed to Lexington and Institute 193 by a graduate student she worked with in her job of teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The grad student had studied the art scene in the South and put Lexington at the top of a list of destinations. It will bring her to the type of city she says she likes, with an active art scene. The Herald-Leader has not had a regular art critic for years because of staff and budget constraints. Some local online publications have run art reviews.

The project does raise the question: What kind of review can an artist expect from Waxman? Are the artists setting themselves up for a written takedown by the big-city critic?

“What I promise is to take the work seriously,” Waxman says. “I’m not harsh. I’m harsh in the newspaper, but I’m not harsh in this project — not because I’m being dishonest, but because I realized, it’s not really appropriate. Unless someone is a professional artist or aspires to be a professional artist, there is no reason to expect them to meet certain professional criteria. I try to take the critical faculties I have and just turn them to be more receptive and constructive than judgmental.”

Follow Rich Copley on Facebook and Twitter, @copiousnotes.

If you go

“60 wrd/min art critic”

What: Chicago-based art critic Lori Waxman reviews art work on request. Observers are welcome.

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. March 23, 25; 2-8 p.m. March 24

Where: Institute 193, 193 N. Limestone

Cost: Free

Make appointment: email, state date and time preferences