The Nature of Reviews
While reading Suzi Gablik's Conversations before the end of time I got to thinking about my approach to the art reviews on this page. The first review (Tim Hawkinson) was primarily a thumbs up or down kind of thing. The second judged the show on how well it met the curator's intention, not necessarily on the aesthetic qualities of each piece of art individually. My initial notes on Seven at the Warehouse have included both kinds of judgements - thoughts on the success of the show as a whole (compared to the curator's intentions) and opinions on specific pieces within the show.
Why do people read reviews? I guess a better question is why do I read reviews? It may be to get a sense of a show I was unable to attend, due to geography or time constraints. It may be to decide whether or not the show will be worth my time (I read movie reviews for this reason). After viewing an exhibit (or a movie) it could be that I'm curious to see what other people thought of it, to bounce my ideas off of theirs, if only in my own head.
However they're presented, reviews are the product of one person's opinion. How established the person is translates into how much influence his or her opinions have. In my area, Blake Gopnik at the Washington Post has the influence. However, Gopnik very rarely reviews anything other than museum shows (last year's Art-O-Matic being a controversial exception). The City Paper does a much better job of covering local art, but recently blogs have been filling the vacuum in an interesting way. J.T. Kirkland's Thinking About Art has featured great discussions about this topic.
Art reviews may be a form of art criticism, but they're usually too short to really explore any large issues or theoretical ideas the way art criticism can. Arthur Danto's reviews for The Nation typically incorporate this additional level. I don't feel I'm quite up to writing any grand aesthetic theses here, but I'd like to start instilling my writing about art with more than the Siskel and Ebert "two thumbs up" mentality.