In a recent post, I celebrated the fact that the illustrious Queen Bee art critic of the New York Times, Roberta Smith, had written a review, and generally pretty positive one, of the exhibition “William Wegman: Hello Nature” at my new home museum, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (I myself reviewed it before I officially started there). For the sake of fairness, I should also write about a not-so-positive review, by Sebastian Smee, the chief art critic of the Boston Globe.
First of all, you can’t read the whole thing online unless you register and pay a weekly fee (99 cents for the first 4 weeks, $3.99 after that). Even the Times allows you 10 free articles a month, down from 20 (though I’m lucky enough to use my parents’ subscription, and take the luxury of unlimited access to articles for granted). So, I’m sticking it to the man by posting the whole thing for my readers here.
And, of course I’m going to feel defensive about a negative review. It’s not that I don’t see Smee’s point–it’s not completely unlike my own evaulation. Except that, what I take for Wegman’s refreshing lightheartedness, “his refusal to take himself or his art too seriously,” as Roberta Smith put it, Smee takes as an overly cynical irony, a too easily cute exploitation of dogs in costumes, of Maine outdoorsiness; he calls it “pathetic.”
I do believe a critic’s job is to weigh the negatives and the positives of whatever they are viewing, and that’s what I try to do in my reviews for this blog. I also think, based on the handful of reviews I’ve read by him, that Smee perhaps tries too hard sometimes to find and emphasize the negative, which can be a way to feel smart and superior. Certainly he’s not the only critic to do this, as Mel Brooks knows: