Monday, November 17, 2008

A Ratings System For Exhibits and Shows

We've happy to report that we've survived the first three full months of writing this blog and along the way, we've learned many lessons about how to make the content crisper and more useful. One of the things we've spent some time thinking about is how to make the gallery show and museum exhibit reviews more helpful. The fact that we seem to end each review by saying the show is worth seeing has been bothering us; this doesn't seem to give the reader enough information to make an intelligent decision about whether it is worth his/her time.

It is our view that the most precious resource any of us has is our time. And there are few things worse than blocking out some time to go to see a show, only to travel there and find that it was a complete waste of this limited resource. So we have devised a simple ratings system for shows and exhibits with time as its central focus. Depending on how much time you normally spend on seeing shows in a given year, the system should be able to give you a decent guide as to which ones are likely to merit your attention.

Here's the framework:

3 stars: EXCELLENT. If you only go to one show a month, or approximately 10-12 shows a year, you should limit yourself to this category, as you can't afford any missteps. These are, in our opinion, the best photography shows of the year, based on the quality of the work, the level of scholarship that accompanies the exhibit, and its overall "thought provokingness".

2 stars: VERY GOOD. If you go to one exhibit a week, or approximately 50 shows a year, then this is the category for you. It has a broader mix of large and small, broad and narrow shows, all of very good quality.

1 star: GOOD. This could be called "the best of the rest", a sort of top half of all the potential shows one could see in and around New York. If going to lots of shows is a hobby and you are interested in all kinds of photography, then this is our list of things worth seeing. There is a nugget of interest buried in each and every one, even if many of the shows are somewhat flawed or may be one dimensional. But since you love going to shows, you can handle some unevenness in quality.

While we could "grade the shows on a curve" and thereby ensure that there were the right number in each category, the reality is that the exhibits are spread out in time over an entire year, so we have to make judgements without knowing what great and terrible shows will come along in the future. So we'll try to apply the criteria fairly and consistently, and if we end up with more or less in any one group, so be it.

In the next few days, we'll be going back and retroactively rating the shows of the previous three months, not because you are likely to care about the rating of a show that is now closed, but more for consistency's sake and to try and set some patterns of how we plan to approach the ratings going forward.

Finally, while this new system has the trappings of objectivity, it is of course a subjective exercise in the end, and there will be shows we fail to go see, even if they are of high quality, just because their subject matter isn't of interest to us or the artist isn't on our radar. There will also be shows we don't like that you might find amazing, given the differences in peoples tastes and collections. So take it all with a grain of salt. Our hope is that the number of people who are pleased with this system will far outweigh the number who are somehow angry because we didn't rate their show or exhibit highly enough.

As always, comments are always welcome, so we can continue to refine the reviews and make them more relevant and useful.


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of a rating system. Thanks for sorting through all the shows for me. I can't go to all and need help!

Anonymous said...

Funniest thing is someone with a blog so void of any design eye is reviewing visual arts. Drop shadows and bad background images? This blog looks horrible, and brings your ability to judge anything visual into question. minus one star.