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Art review, in a new avatar

Pushed out of print, art writing turns to blogs, websites, e-zines, reports Mayank Tewari.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2007 01:22 IST

The extinction went completely unnoticed. Art reviews and criticisms disappeared from mainstream newspapers and magazines without much of a fight. Their fossil remains can be found in the daily city supplements — once a week.

Johnny ML, a young art critic, dates the death of art writing in mainstream newspapers to 1999, the year when Internet began asserting itself in editorial meetings all over the world. “Indian journalism changed to suit the new media. Critical art writing made way for snippets,” he told a group of art history students at a workshop in Delhi recently.

The timing of the demise couldn’t have been more ironical. The art market was picking up in India and an increasing number of Indian artists were finding fame both at home and abroad.

So, Internet killed art writing in newspapers. Or did it give it a fresh lease of life and an even more exciting incarnation? Just google around for some art e-zines and blogs to discover the fantastic transition art review has made. Anoop Kamat will tell you about it. A former design artist for various media organisation, Anoop didn’t just witness the death of art writing in print, he — metaphorically speaking — cried at its funeral. “I was aghast.

There was a time in the early 1990s when even financial newspapers had begun dedicating a full page to art reviews and criticisms. But it was all over at the turn of the century. I wanted to start a monthly art magazine but couldn’t afford it,” he says.

That’s when he thought of an art website. “I started mattersofart.com and realised that Internet has changed art writing forever and for the better,” he says. There was no need for the boring art correspondent, who wouldn’t let a young art history graduate write till he retires. “Internet gives an excellent chance to young art critics to express themselves,” says Johny ML, who runs art e-zine www.artconcerns.com.

Currently mattersofart.com is holding an online exhibition of the works of Hassan Al Saidi, while artconcerns.com has put up a photo exhibition based on a recently concluded workshop on light-based art at Delhi’s Khoj International Residency Studio.

Exciting as it may be, diehard critics still mourn the death of the print review. “The younger generation may adapt to technology quickly, but at 46, I find browsing for art reviews tedious,” says art critic Dr Roobina Karode.

Even so, she is keen to write for the new media. “I am exploring a possibility for writing exclusively for a web-based project, but I still hold that websites are not a substitute for newspaper art reviews.”

Bhawna Kakkar, publisher of art magazine Art and Deal agrees: “In the West, a newspaper review can make or break a new artist. Sadly in India, a newspaper at the most can report on an art opening if the artist is clever enough to invite some celebrities.”

She plans to soon publish an online version of her magazine for a wider international audience and better management of subscription requests. “The site will only supplement our offline journal,” she says.

Everyone agrees on the death of the art review in print.

The debate perhaps, is about the extent of its online rebirth and not about the quality of reviews and calibre of the artists involved. A happy thought indeed for the young artist, his followers and the ever so clever critic.

Email Mayank Tewari: mayank .tewari@hindustantimes.com