Fifteen Stars: An Alternate View of the Museum
October 2 2013
In 2013, the New Museum presented “Fifteen Stars: An Alternate View of the Museum,“ an online exhibition of the eponymous 2012 work by writer and art critic Brian Droitcur, as part of the First Look online exhibition series.
Beginning in January 2012, the writer and art critic Brian Droitcour started writing Yelp reviews under a pseudonym that conforms to the site’s typical naming conventions: “Brian D.” His first review of a show at Murray Guy gallery put forth a distinct voice, one that differed from his critical writings in Artforum, on Rhizome, and elsewhere—one that was more resonant with the first-person style of social media. On a work by Corey McCorkle, for example, Droitcour wrote: “I was really not expecting to see a snake in that video! A cool surprise like that is what brings a gallery experience out of four star territory and into the five star zone.”
The “five star zone” is not the discursive space where critics or curators tend to place art; stars are reflective of the popularity systems of social media: liking, favorite-ing, voting—hierarchies that may seem crass or dispassionate to some but are legible to all, hence the popularity of a site like Yelp. Commissioned by First Look, "Fifteen Stars” features five New Museum reviews by Yelpers (not Brian D.), each with a star from 1–5 (totaling fifteen). Through highly personal accounts, the reviewers describe the Museum’s visitor services, exhibition program, and brand identity, offering idiosyncratic interpretations of the show and building, as well as espousing critiques that may have been articulated, albeit in different terms, by professional critics. Together, they bring the chatter and feedback inherent to the web into a museum program.
Each review is illustrated by an artist—Jeff Baij, Stephanie Davidson, Mike Francis, Mary Rachel Kostreva, Michael Manning, Douglas Schatz, and Andrej Ujhazy—all of whom Droitcour chose based on their pre-existing participation in social media communities (like Tumblr and Dump.fm). Describing the net-retro interface, Droitcour credits the influence of the artist Olia Lialina’s writings, particularly her research into the “vernacular web” and the work of self-taught web designers of the 1990s. Humor is also an essential part of Brian D.’s Yelp reviews and the “Fifteen Stars” project. Brian D.’s assumed naïveté and the off-the-cuff impressions of the Yelpers serve as a pinprick to the serious tones in which art is usually discussed. But his ardent dedication to the Yelp platform also reflects Droitcour’s sincere desire to explore emergent critical avenues that consider art’s resonance outside of a specialist community.
In an essay that accompanies the new commission, he writes that the reviews offer: “…a glimpse at the truth of the social life of art that doesn’t depend on the serious accounts of institutions, or histories or any of the apparatuses that claim control of art—instead what we have is a story of art and the people who see it. Counting off stars to quantify an encounter with art is odd, I know, but the arbitrariness and weirdness of that system, and the fact that the people who actually use it do so without any systematicity at all, only emphasizes how personal it is, how infinite the universal diversity of embodied experiences with art and the memories of them.”1
Established in 2012 and co-organized by the New Museum and Rhizome, First Look is a digital art commissioning and exhibition program representing the breadth of art online—from interactive documentary, to custom-built participatory applications, to moving image-based works, and art for mobile VR. Encompassing a substantial array of work that continues to expand, First Look explores the formal, social, and aesthetic possibilities of emerging technologies on the web.