[artinfo] International Art English
nettime at kein.org
Wed Feb 6 14:46:42 CET 2013
A user's guide to artspeak
David Levine and Alix Rule do. "Art English is something that everyone
in the art world bitches about all the time," says Levine, a
42-year-old American artist based in New York and Berlin. "But we all
use it." Three years ago, Levine and his friend Rule, a 29-year-old
critic and sociology PhD student at Columbia university in New York,
decided to try to anatomise it. "We wanted to map it out," says Levine,
"to describe its contours, rather than just complain about it."
They christened it International Art English, or IAE, and concluded
that its purest form was the gallery press release, which - in today's
increasingly globalised, internet-widened art world - has a greater
audience than ever. "We spent hours just printing them out and reading
them to each other," says Levine. "We'd find some super-outrageous
sentence and crack up about it. Then we'd try to understand the reality
conveyed by that sentence."
Next, they collated thousands of exhibition announcements published
since 1999 by e-flux, a powerful New York-based subscriber network
for art-world professionals. Then they used some language-analysing
software called Sketch Engine, developed by a company in Brighton,
to discover what, if anything, lay behind IAE's great clouds of
Their findings were published last year as an essay in the voguish
American art journal Triple Canopy; it has since become one of the
most widely and excitedly circulated pieces of online cultural
criticism. It is easy to see why. Levine and Rule write about IAE in a
droll, largely jargon-free style. They call it "a unique language" that
has "everything to do with English, but is emphatically not English.
[It] is oddly pornographic: we know it when we see it."
The two are keen to admit they are both guilty of IAE use. Indeed,
Levine relishes the fact: "Complicity is what makes things interesting.
Just this morning, I was writing a little essay for a newspaper and I
caught myself using the word 'articulation'". Rule adds: "In one draft
of our IAE piece, I had quoted my own use of IAE. It becomes extremely
hard not to speak in the language in which you are being spoken to."
One day, we may even look back on IAE with nostalgia - on its
extravagant syntax as a last product, perhaps, of the boom years. Or as
a sign of something more basic. "Sometimes," says Rule, "I read these
IAE press releases and find them completely joyless, but sometimes I
feel this exuberance coming through. For people who hold assistantships
in galleries, writing press releases is kind of fun. Certainly more fun
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