The Fluid Edge: Art Criticism Beyond Compliance

A conversation about the critical disposition of the contemporary art critic and historian


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions

AICA-USA (International Art Critics Association United States), Slought

Contributing Institutions

The Brooklyn Rail,


Aaron Levy


Judith Stein

Opens to public





College Art Association
Annual Convention

Washington Marriott Wardman Park
Washington 5, Exhibit Level
2660 Woodley Rd NW
Washington, DC 20008

On the web


0% Formal - 100% Informal

AICA-USA (International Art Critics Association United States), in cooperation with Slought and with the support of The Brooklyn Rail and, is pleased to announce "The Fluid Edge: Art Criticism Beyond Compliance," a conversation about the critical disposition of the contemporary art critic and historian, on Thursday, February 4, 2016 from 5:30-7:00pm at the College Art Association Annual Convention in Washington, DC.

Ours is a digital age where disciplinarity, instructional structures and social systems seem fragile and in flux. In recent years, an array of public programs have explored these disruptions, arguing that the figure of the art critic and the role of art criticism is in a general state of crisis. Among these, AICA's "The Art Critic in a Cold Climate" at Tate Britain and "The Trouble with Criticism" at ICA London (both 2011), the later proposing that this crisis is due in part to the curator having eclipsed the critic as a mediator between artists and publics. More recently, Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age at the Walker Art Center (2015) addressed the current challenges facing cultural criticism and publishing and its reduction to the speed of the internet.

Resisting the tendency to present art criticism as "in crisis" or "at risk," this conversation instead builds upon remarks by Tom Finkelpearl, commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, at the AICA-USA awards presentations in 2015. Reflecting on the inability of cultural institutions to respond to diverse demographics, he proposed that we re-conceptualize the role of the critic and institution, such that cultural criticism can be understood as a way to give back to communities.

Simultaneously cultural critic and community organizer, this newly expansive conception positions the critic beyond institutional compliance, towards a closer alignment with diverse communities and publics. Building upon these insights, this conversation proposes a dynamic and fluid set of relationships wherein the critic is empowered to navigate the digital, the geopolitical, and the social. Join us for this conversation and help us negotiate this fluid edge.

Conversants will include Jonathan D. Katz, queer activist, scholar, and curator; Philip Kennicott, chief Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post; Devin Allen, photographer and activist; and moderator Aaron Levy of Slought Foundation at the University of Pennsylvania; with introductory remarks by art critic Judith E. Stein.

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Jonathan D. Katz is a queer activist, art historian, educator and writer, and director of the doctoral program in Visual culture studies at State University of New York at Buffalo. He co-curated Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture (National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, 2010) and is the founder of the Harvey Milk Institute.

Aaron Levy is a Senior Lecturer in History of Art and English at the University of Pennsylvania, and Executive Director and Senior Curator of Slought Foundation. Levy co-organized the US representation at the Venice Biennale for Architecture (2008), and is on the board of AICA-USA (International Art Critics Association United States).

Philip Kennicott is the chief Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. Kennicott won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. He has written for the Detroit News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and is a regular reviewer for Gramophone, and a former contributing editor to The New Republic, among other publications.

Devin Allen (TBC) is a photographer and activist from West Baltimore known for his commanding photographs of the Baltimore uprising. Shared through his personal Instagram account, the photographs went viral and were featured on the cover of TIME. He has had exhibitions at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum and Slought, and his work is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

"We are perhaps more 'critically predisposed', much bolder and intransigent in our criticism than our ancestors managed to be in their daily lives, but our critique, so to speak, is 'toothless', unable to affect the agenda set for our 'life-political' choices.

The unprecedented freedom which our society offers its members has arrived, as Leo Strauss warned a long while ago, together with unprecedented impotence."

-- Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity (2000)