Wednesday, February 3, 2016

R. M. Vaughan

Hard to believe ten years have passed since Canadian Art flew R.M. Vaughan to Antwerp to write a "diary" entry based on MUHKA's Intertidal: Vancouver Art & Artists exhibition. As if to commemorate that entry, the CBC commissioned Vaughan to not even leave his home this time so he could do the same to the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia’s The Last Art College: Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1968-1978.

I am fine with Vaughan writing to exorcise his demons, just as I am fine with that other cartoon, the CBC’s Don Cherry, launching “racist” epithets at European-born hockey players on Hockey Night in Canada. But to frame these rants as journalism, to have Vaughan’s CBC piece stand in for thoughtful visual arts coverage when our underfunded public broadcaster already has so little time for the visual arts, is so Fox News.

In his Momus review of Vaughan’s CBC piece (February 2, 2016), Dick Averns writes:

"This is not to underestimate the value of iconoclasm, a role Vaughan seems to relish here; but only time will tell if we have a corollary to lowbrow art criticism or Stuckism in the making."

Well, if time has told us anything, Dick Averns, it has told us that after ten years R.M. Vaughan still can’t help himself. So yes, fair comment, one reminiscent of what Gabrielle Moser once said of the art of Douglas Coupland:

"Coupland's work looks like what popular culture would have us think contemporary art is supposed to look like."

With Vaughan, all you have to do is substitute “Coupland’s work” with “Vaughan’s prose”, and  squeeze criticism in-between “art” and “is”.


  1. The article you are mocking was never intended to be a review of the NSCAD show. It was designated at the top by the CBC editors as a "tongue-in-cheek" piece about how to lie your way through an art conversation. One would have to be a moron, or not have read the article at all (which I suspect has happened in your case) to think it was ever being positioned as a review. You are criticizing an apple for not being an orange.

  2. Richard,

    As you know, what we intend and how we are read can be as different from each other as your apples and oranges analogy. The CBC framed your piece (from top to bottom) in a way that suggests a review (particularly at bottom, with the kinds of details reviews often provide). That the CBC posted your piece without having established itself as a visual arts information provider is like serving apples to those who have come to expect oranges. Hard to accept a piece that rips into that which I am sure a number of CBC readers did not know exists -- a historically important and influential culture of artistic activity that happened at NASCAD in the 1970s. Had the CBC commissioned a piece that ripped the Group of Seven, I might be inclined to laugh with you. But no, the Group of Seven is sacred, a national treasure, part of what you have called “Modernism’s sub-agenda of heteronormative power (re)assertion,” while conceptual art remains fodder for art-bashing “comedy”. So take some responsibility, Richard. To “take” otherwise is to behave disingenuously.