“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known,” (Oscar Wilde). AICA is about individuals, who happen to practice art criticism. Those individuals, at present some 4,500 of them, live in over 70 countries—63 national sections, plus the Open Section that gathers critics who do not belong to national sections—on five continents. That’s how I see AICA—the association with whose activities I started to be directly engaged with during the Congress in 2008 in Barcelona and Valencia, Spain, where I traveled as President of AICA-USA. During that Congress, Yacouba Konaté was elected president, becoming the first art critic from Africa holding this position since the founding of the Association 60 years earlier; he served until 2011.
In the fall of 2011, I was elected the 15th president of AICA International during the Congress in Asunción, Paraguay, a position that I consider to be a great honor and responsibility, and to a large extent the pinnacle of my public involvement as an art critic. Almost three years have passed since I was elected, during which time I have learned a lot, not only about the challenges involved with running an international organization, but also about myself. At present, the life of the organization and my own life are intertwined.
Nowadays, AICA is facing great challenges as an art critics’ association, similar to those that each art critic experiences on their own, and to which we respond as individuals in today’s world. What is our role in today’s society? How should we react to the changes around us, artistic and technological, but also socio-political and cultural? What is the lingua franca of art critics from different countries, speaking so many different languages? How can we make people appreciate what we do for art? One thing is certain: we all want to be considered as individuals engaged in the world at large. After all, we also want to belong, to be part of a world much larger than what we see reflected in and on our computer screens. In that larger world of ours I have learned how to cherish—as much as I cherish my individuality—being, becoming, and belonging, even if only for a while.
As much as I must think about AICA as a whole—in order to represent the interests of all our members as its president—I also appreciate that it is a constellation of distinct individuals. Like all constellations, this one is made up of closer and further “stars,” not only in terms of physical distance but also the emotional temperature of common interests, which is one of the qualities to which I respond most emphatically. Obviously, any organization is as strong as its individual members, but its success also depends on how much those members are willing to contribute to the whole. During my involvement with AICA, I have had the privilege of meeting many members of the association who were willing to suspend their individuality for the sake of the collective enterprise. Knowing and working with these exceptional individuals has become one of the joys of running this association for me. It has helped me realize that I am not alone, either in my pursuit of meaning in art, or in my dedication to writing and speaking about it.
Since the emergence of AICA in the late 1940s, a great pantheon of its members has emerged, made up of major figures involved with shaping our times, artistically and intellectually. One of those towering figures was Herbert Read, who wrote in 1948—the year that the idea for the art critics’ association germinated in Paris:
So we must begin with small things, in diverse ways, helping one another, discovering one’s own peace of mind, waiting for the understanding that flashes from one peaceful mind to another. In that way the separate cells will take shape, will be joined to one another, will manifest new forms of social organization and new types of art. From that multiplicity and diversity, that dynamic interplay and emulation, a new culture may arise, and mankind be united as never before in the consciousness of a common destiny.
What he wrote is true today as it was back then.
MAREK BARTELIK is an art critic, art historian, and poet. He taught modern and contemporary art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York from 1996 to 2012. Universities he has taught as Visiting Professor include Yale and MIT. Bartelik was a Graduate Critic-in-Residence at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore (2006 2011). Between 2008 and 2012 he served as President of AICA-USA, and currently serves as the 15th President of AICA International (International Association of Art Critics), which gathers over 4500 critics in 63 national sections worldwide.
His books include: The Sculpture of Ursula von Rydingsvard (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1996), co-authored with Dore Ashton and Matti Megged; To Invent a Garden: The Life and Art of Adja Yunkers (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 2000) for writing of which he was awarded a Judith Rothschild Foundation grant; Early Polish Modern Art: Unity in Multiplicity by the Manchester University Press, Manchester, England, November 2005 (England), December 2005 (USA) - for which he has received PIASA’s 2007 Waclaw Lednicki Humanities Award; and GDR/DDR: Contemporary German Painting from Portuguese Collections (Lisbon, Portugal: ARTing, 2008). His debut volume of poetry, East Sixth Street: 50 poems, was published by 7Letras in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in December 2006. His first book in Polish, Lagodny deszcz (Gentle rain) was released in Poland in December 2010 (the book’s English version is scheduled to be published in 2015).
His articles have appeared in, among other magazines and newspapers, CAA Art Journal, Print, Culture Politics, Paletten, Dare, Obieg, Brooklyn Rail, Art in America, Bookforum, and Artforum - for which he has written exhibition reviews from more than 20 countries on four continents. He has written about, among others, Cai Guo-Qiang, Ilya Kabakov, Boris Mikhailov, Dmitri Prigov, ORLAN, DUST, Anna-Bella Geiger, Pazé, Nan Gonzales, Oswaldo Vigas, Miguel Palma, Grimanesa Amoros, Isabel Rocamora, Christopher Mir, and Yuhee Choi.
He curated, among other exhibitions, Adja Yunkers: To Invent a Garden at the Bayly Art Museum in Charlottesville, University of Virginia (April-June 2000); POZA: On the Polishness of Contemporary Polish Art at Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT (October 2006 - January 2007); and Mark Rothko: Paintings from the National Gallery of Art in Washington at the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland (June - August 2013).