Word reaches us from the usual channels that Ken Johnson, the current visual arts critic for the Globe, will soon be returning to his original base, New York City. Apparently we're all supposed to regret this move, but I'm not sure why. Sure, Ken's miles better than Cate McQuaid - but is that really the standard we're now unconsciously holding to? It's hard, in other words, for me to fight the feeling that it was Johnson's New York connections, rather than his solid-but-not-stellar abilities, that made him so popular in this burg. Thinking back to recent months, I have to say he tended to lack spine when it most counted; of the Matter "Pollocks," his take seemed to be "they may or may not be Pollocks, and aren't they pretty?" His response to the Mass MOCA/
Christoph Büchel mess was bizarre ("sad, dumb and shameful"), and his "tackling" of the Martin Creed installation at the BCA is disappointing (at left is Creed, looking the way I'd look if I'd just won $40,000 for turning on the lights). Johnson's conclusion:
" . . . is "The Lights Going On and Off" a critique of contemporary culture, a gesture of despair, or a wake-up call? I'm not sure what he intends, and I think the provocatively enigmatic silence of his exhibition is one of the best things about it. But I'd also like to imagine that by revealing the exhaustion of 20th-century avant-gardism Creed's art helps set the stage for the advent of a new, as yet unknown paradigm."
Ah, yes, "the provocatively enigmatic silence" of what is obviously the last gasp of what was once called "ultrathin" (a far more intriguing sample of the style was brought to the MFA by Cerith Wyn Evans a few seasons back) - before "the advent of a new, as yet unknown paradigm." (Uh-huh - dream on!) One wonders precisely why Johnson can't make up his mind between the options he sets forth (uh, isn't that his job?) or acknowledge what a blunt instrument he's attempting to "critique," or simply admit that his verbiage could be summed up as "This is a dead end." Is Cate McQuaid that much worse than this, really? The one thing you can say about Johnson, though, is that he looks the part (at left). The Globe should probably put his photo in its want-ad, along with the admonition "Look like this."