Image generated by Online Art Critic (Terry Towery, 1997)
Online exhibitions are nothing new—here's Oliver Laric's incomplete timeline of the form from 2013 (he created this when ARTPLUS called theirs "the first exclusively online biennial exhibition of contemporary art" lol.) And yet reviews of these undertakings remain few and far between, not least at the highest echelons, in the pages of industry publications like Artforum and newspapers like the New York Times.
Notice that I'm speaking about (art) reviews particularly: focused critical writing that takes a qualitative position on an exhibition. Features—writing that points at something happening, or critically reports broader topics and trends—are more common. Here's a feature about an online exhibition in the Times from 2002. Here's a feature noting another online exhibition in Artforum from 2015.
Here's an actual review of an online exhibition. This one is by Josephine Bosma, discussing Leah Schrager and Jennifer Chan's online exhibition "Body Anxiety." Notice that it is on rhizome.org. We're in the business of making online exhibitions ourselves; that we are also one of the few places people can turn to for writing about online exhibitions perfectly expresses the need for greater critical attention to this area of practice.
So it was with much excitement and great interest that I saw MoMA's Senior Curator of Architecture & Design and Director of R&D Paola Antonelli's tweet last night directing her followers to an article at nytimes.com—"Review: 'Design and Violence,' Online at MoMA." Here it was, the Times reviewing an online exhibition, a first! (I believe—do correct me if I am wrong!)
Yes, the review projects an air of novelty—critic Martha Schwendener refers to "Design and Violence" as a "curatorial experiment"—but this is the museum's own characterization, and considering the institution, perhaps not undue. It is, after all, not MoMA's typical hang, but an online and print collection of critical writing, descriptions, documentation, and applications exploring the design of objects which participate in systems of violence, from bullets to stilettos.
And in the face of MoMA's admirable dualism—the commitment of Antonelli and her co-curator Jamer Hunt to curating online an exhibition with as much substance and research as any other MoMA project—the reviewer offers a cringe-inducing comparison to "online education," which works "best for students who are inquisitive, driven and do their homework." (How could the same not be said about any other exhibition?)
Notably, the piece confirms a common suspicion at Rhizome that one reason why mainstream publications don't review online exhibitions is the lack of end date—Schwendener makes specific note of "Design and Violence's" completion in her methodology. (Again, why does this review need a methodology?)
Intrigue and disappointment aside, it's nonetheless thrilling to see an online exhibition reviewed by a major publication. When all is said and done, the reviewer takes qualitative positions on works ("the applied-design objects are considerably more interesting than the artier objects") and even asks after questions left on the table (a question "largely unaddressed here...is why humans, historically enthusiastic about public executions and, more recently, cyberbullying in mobs, are so drawn to violence in the first place"). This is to say that Schwendener treats "Design and Violence" like any other exhibition at MoMA.
"Design and Violence", screenshot
The Museum of Modern Art
"Design and Violence" at designandviolence.moma.org.
Thru as long as moma.org is maintained.