How Gallery Press Releases Could Be Better

Last week I interviewed Rob Storr, curator and dean of the Yale School of Art, for my piece about bullshitting in the art world, and one of the things we talked about was the gibberish that so often shows up in gallery press releases—those things they send out to media before a show opens and give out to people who are visiting the gallery so they know what the work is about. Often these press releases inform the decisions of collectors, critics and editors. Here’s how the editors of Paper Monument, the n+1-affiliated journal about art, explained the phenomenon in their first issue:

The press release and the five-paragraph review bookend the textual life cycle of an average exhibition. The former attempts to induce a state of receptiveness in the audience, while guiding its interpretation of the work in a particular and sympathetic direction. The latter reports on the actual experience of viewing the exhibition. If the exhibition were a trial, the press release would be the defense’s opening statement; the review, the prosecution’s closing. In an ideal world they would read differently. It’s no wonder the jury has fallen asleep.

Mr. Storr’s point was that galleries shouldn’t be letting just anyone write these press releases, because too often “just anyone” turns out to be an illiterate whose only recourse is to read old reviews and cut and paste stuff into vaguely coherent paragraphs. Mr. Storr offered an alternative that I think is pretty reasonable:

If galleries were smart, they would hire part time one underpaid writer who could actually write, and then say, “In exchange for us subsidizing your novel or poem or whatever it is, you will write a certain number of cogent press releases and catalogue essays.” That would help the writerly community immensely and it would save us all having to read crap.

Sorry to be such a bad sport lately about this issue of nonsense—I realize it’s in the community’s best interest to let this stuff go—but I just want everyone to be great.

How Gallery Press Releases Could Be Better