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Kalm Before the Storm, Responses to “The Ethics of Aesthetics”

It seems my March column “The Ethics of Aesthetics” induced some urgent replies from a couple of the article’s major players. In keeping with the Brooklyn Rail’s tradition of encouraging open discourse, these two letters are being published in their entirety. Because of their individual eloquence I believe there is no need for a further response from myself. In keeping with the column’s roots in cyberspace, the second letter, from Christian Viveros-Fauné, is here published in the email form in which it was received.

—James Kalm

Dear Editor:
I appreciate James Kalm’s attention to the ongoing shift in arts journalism from dull, academic, little-read art magazines to nimbler, smarter, internet-based publishing as discussed in his March, 2008 article “The Ethics of Aesthetics.” Unfortunately his article was riddled with errors and sloppy reporting.

Mr. Kalm makes two arguments: first he asserts that the New York art world has no ethics, so how can we possibly expect an art critic to behave ethically? Next, he broadly disapproves of the influence of writers who publish on blogs.

It is not clear to me why Mr. Kalm is wasting so much time writing about the ethics of the art world when they’re not at issue. Mr. Kalm defends former Village Voice art critic Christian Viveros-Fauné’s behavior by claiming that “the art world always has been nothing other than one giant knot of conflicting interests.” That may be true but it’s a non-sequitur. The issues I raised about Mr. Viveros-Fauné were about the ethical standards in journalism. When a critic or writer such as Mr. Viveros-Fauné leaves the cozy bubble of New York art-world back-slapping to write for a newspaper or magazine, he is expected to comport to the ethics of that journalism organization. As I said on Modern Art Notes, nothing is more devastating to a newspaper such as the Village Voice than the revelation that it employs someone who may be using the newspaper as a front for that individual’s private interests. Obviously the Voice (belatedly) agreed.

In fact, mainstream journalists overwhelmingly and uniformly wrote in support my position. One of them was New York-based Time magazine critic Richard Lacayo, which demonstrates that not all of the “New York critical community just grumbled and circled the wagons” as Mr. Kalm claims. (As part of this Gotham-centric harangue Mr. Kalm confesses that he is a chauvinist because he thinks that people who don’t live in New York are too clueless to write about New York. Finally I agree with him: he is certainly a provincial chauvinist.)

Regarding Mr. Kalm’s disapproval of the influence of writers who publish on blogs, it was disappointing to see that he repeatedly undermined his position through slipshod reporting and inaccuracies. Mr. Kalm reports that my posts on Mr. Viveros-Faunédrew “thousands of eyeballs” to my blog. That sounds authoritative, but it’s not: Mr. Kalm never contacted me to see what kind of effect on readership my posts on Mr. Viveros-Fauné had.

Mr. Kalm asserts that “it wasn’t till [sic] last fall that a valid possibility for the blogosphere evolved: that of a moralistic watchdog” and that this episode is representative of a “new blogger enforced code of ethics.” No: This is merely a blogger applying decades-ago-established journalism ethics to a journalist. While it is apparent that Mr. Kalm was not paying attentionuntil last fall, internet-based writers have been asserting critical authority for many years. I’ve broken dozens of stories on MAN and some of them have focused on the intersection of ethics, art and journalism. Given that Mr. Kalm seems to be primarily interested in incidents that are “local” (to him), here is such an example: in 2006 my reporting led to New York Times freelancer Grace Glueck resigning from the board of the Clark Art Institute. (I had revealed that her board service was in direct conflict with the Times’s ethical standards.)

Mr. Kalm is incorrect about plenty else, including the “near-impossibility of generating income from a site,” about how writers who publish on the internet build audiences, and in his assertion that writers who blog are “lesser talents.” (Mr. Kalm included this phrase in his opening salvo. With each succeeding paragraph it seemed increasingly ironic.)

Of course the final problem with “Mr. Kalm’s” article is that it was not written by “James Kalm.” I’m not sure why Loren Munk is afraid to put his name on what he writes, nor am I sure why the Brooklyn Rail thinks he should be allowed to hide behind a false byline. Perhaps Mr. Munk was so ashamed at his carelessness and his inability to understand the issue at hand that he was unwilling to sign his name to his article. As Granny said, don’t believe everything you read in the Rail.

Tyler Green

Subject: Re: FW: letter
Thanks Loren. Yep, read your piece, and thanks, insofar as I think it’s largely fair to me, but most importantly to criticism, which as I’ve tried to point out to Greene in his role as self-appointed watchdog, is not journalism, and vice versa. People read critics for their insights and judgements, not because they’re breaking news or doing gotcha pieces, like the unedited and totally un-transparent Greene (where’s the money, or rather the interest, come from to fund his 24/7 self-advertisement of a blog?). The record, and a fine one it is, of people having more than one interest in the world of culture is legendary: from Rimbaud to Pound to Kenneth Tynan to nearly the entire NY Review of Books to, say, Robert Storr (a writer, an art commentator always, and recently the head of the Venice Biennial, an event with nuclear effects on the market as opposed to the two new young fairs I contribute to). The other distinction that Greene won’t see for all the self-righteousness clouding his vision is that everyone, perforce—and this was a point I tried to make in the ambush of an interview I stupidly agreed to, though, mind you, I did not agree to the last part of the interview Greene sprang on me, which should seriously put his journalistic ethics into question—lives with possible conflicts of interest. For critics, as for Op Ed writers, it is a necessary evil. Every one of the writers he quotes (and who gleefully piled on when they had chance to make a little hay with an art world that largely ignores them) are journalists or art writers, not critics, Lacayo included (if you don’t believe me, read a piece of his vs. any Time article by Robert Hughes, then blame Time Warner). On the other hand, I’ve never pretended to be a journalist, and can only stress, as I did to Greene, that my writerly ethics are a matter of record. Again, the discussion w/me has always been that my writing for VV represented the possibility of a conflict of interest (see even Tony Ortega’s letter to this effect) not oneper se, which is a distinction Greene rather unethically, self-servingly and repeatedly has tried to obscure. The idea of his absurd posturing as some kind of crusading policeman of the art world couldn’t be more risible, except a not-very-acute if well-intentioned editor-in-chief of VV bought it. Appointing him watchdog of the art world would be like asking Roy Cohn to watch a kindergarten class in Costa Rica. What’s more obvious even is that, like Hilton Perez (or maybe, come to think of it, Hilton Perez crossed with Elliot Spitzer), blogging for Tyler Greene aims principally to effect one single change above all others: to promote Tyler Greene, whose sole, obsessive, one-note, pulingly censorious idea recently had him objecting to the participation of folks like Jerry Saltz and Peter Schjeldahl at an Obama rally. Really! Now what can you say about that? That Greene is for people expressing their opinions, political, artistic, or otherwise? Or that he’s the Mickey Mouse version of a bully, squealing to high heaven for a fight in the hopes that the full playground will actually protect him from the effects of one. That actually reminds me of something: Geoff Edgers, another so-called art journalist from not exactly the center of the art world (Boston) with a lowly opinion of how things are done where they are actually done, emailed me the minute “Christiangate” broke to ask me, quite textually, to give other examples of art world folks who had possible conflicts
of interest and to “name names” (his words). It goes without saying that I didn’t deign to answer such a foul request as I haven’t, till now, bothered to answer Greene’s chest-thumping, self-promoting charges. I’ve wanted, frankly, to put some distance between myself and this whole gross episode. But seeing as it keeps coming
up and especially as Greene insists on flogging the subject for the purposes of his faux-career (what does he genuinely do, anyway, except provide an unedited, unasked for, largely irrelevant and ill-informed version of MySpace?), I guess I decided, here, to respond. One additional but important detail. I find it nothing short of hilarious that Greene should try and upbraid you for “errors and sloppy reporting,” seeing as he got scores of quotes wrong from our interview—and later admitted it—starting with the FIRST SENTENCE OF THE INTERVIEW, which was a Kenneth Tynan quote he didn’t hear, I suppose, but later Googled and got absolutely wrong in both spirit and content. He could have always called me before he published that and words to the effect that I admitted to writing mostly positive reviews for VV (I said the opposite, though the record is at about equal positive and negative reviews). But he didn’t. What goes on w/Tyler Greene is what has always gone on with bullies, and yellow journalists and muckrackers of his sort: he won’t, in this case or in others in his tiny precinct, ever let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Christian Viveros-Fauné

P.S.-I also think it might be nice for Greene to publish letters he doesn’t agree with in his blog and am officially asking for Greene to step down from his position at MAN. I know he can find someone who can be fairer and, certainly, write better. Oh, and by the way, up yours Greene.


James Kalm

JAMES KALM has written extensively on the Brooklyn art scene.  In 2006 he began posting video reviews of local art exhibitions at his two YouTube channels that have generated over six million views.


The Brooklyn Rail

APR 2008

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