For the most part, the crowd attending the recent launch of Paper Monument’s pamphlet “I Like Your Work: Art and Etiquette” were polite indeed–a relief for an elbow-averse attendee squished into a dimly lit artist space in Brooklyn. To explain the nature of this politesse, to unpack the intricacies of class, affect and social rank at play in the overheated yoga studio, could span volumes. So it is a clever feat to boil this insight down into a trim monograph.
The result is hilarious and surprisingly useful. It turns out that the proper number of air-kisses to dispense is a mystery to everyone. At art openings, courtesy dictates embargoing cruel comments for a distance of six blocks. Descriptions of etiquette breaches are excruciating to imagine, but addictive to read: a performance piece throws sawdust on a mentally disabled man, who has a fit before being led away by the gallerist; an unknown visitor devours an artist’s personal pizza pie; a collector’s daughter rubs out her cigarette on her stepfather’s Mondrian (after calling her own mother a “fat whore”).
Other breaches are more prosaic. Is it really so excruciating to have a famous photographer confuse you for a caterer? Should you only go to openings if you are invited? Occasionally an interviewee is either too glib or too obtuse to be worth reading, but such speed bumps are easily skipped or skimmed. And it is worth it for such gems as Dike Blair’s admission that she “somehow imagined it was permissible" when, as an art student, she chose to ring up Rosemarie Castoro at 8:30 on a Sunday morning to introduce herself. She asked if it was okay to pop up and see what was cooking in the studio, and brought a piece of her own work as a gift--a supreme imposition in real-estate scarce New York City.
For an art-world outsider the pamphlet is worth a read for an occasional glimpse at the mechanics of selection and reification. For example, Andrew Berardini, a critic, describes the Whitney Museum's culling process for its Biennale, whereby curators visiting artists' studios operate in sphinx-like ways, speaking to artists rarely (only to ask where they had gone to school), and concealing the path that led to their door (‘We have our ways"). "Where these rules came from I can’t say," admits Berardini, "but they seem so rigid that somebody, somewhere had to make them up.”
“I Like Your Work: Art and Etiquette” is very entertaining. As a periodical, Paper Monument is attempting something tricky, wobbling forward as a literary journal dedicated to art. The wit and pizzazz of this pamphlet suggest it might make sense for the magazine to loosen its collar a bit. It may then be able to become what is so sorely needed: a young, fresh update of Artforum and its art-world ilk.