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Glossary of art terms
Written by Penny Modra — 21st April 2016

TGC_portrait-penny2If there’s one thing Penny likes, it’s writing about art. She loves it! She wrote this glossary of art terms for Nite Art meets Portable Gallery in 2014, but we’re bringing it back, because it rules. 

An excerpt from a not-comprehensive glossary of art terms(1)

ACCA
1. Art world: The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. Location of Max Delany’s new office.

2. General use: Precedes ‘DACCA’. Denotes m/(o_o)m/

Art Dealer
An unfairly maligned person who does actually help artists build their careers. Unless he or she is operating in the ‘secondary market’—in which case, malign away.

Art Fair
A large, commercial art-selling event that causes gallerists to complain about booth fees and artists to start smaller, reactionary art-selling events in order to comment on the systems that create and distort value within the art world while making some money themselves for once in their goddam lives.

Artist Statement
In which the artist explores the relationship between memory and identity. “With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and Joni Mitchell, new tensions are manufactured from both orderly and random meanings. What starts out as contemplation soon becomes finessed into a hegemony of lust, leaving only a sense of dread and the chance of a new understanding.”—Artybollocks.com

See also: International Art English

Auction
1. A magical realm in which rumours about quality are transformed into facts about numbers.

2. “A high-society spectator sport.”—Sarah Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World, 2008.

Beauty
Something to be suspicious of if you wish to be employed as a curator. Something to enjoy if you’re Dave Hickey, or literally anyone else in the world.

Biennale
Like an art fair but more intellectual.

Catalogue Essay
See: International Art English

Collector
1. A person with money who loves art.

2. A person who loves money with art.

Criticism
An organised, usually written approach to description, analysis, interpretation and judgement. Or, as Susan Sontag put it, “the revenge of the intellectual upon art”.

Curator
1. Art world: A person whose job it is to research and/or manage a collection, and organise exhibitions.

2. General use: Any person who makes a list of anything.

Drawing
No-one really knows what this is anymore but it definitely involves video, sculpture and performance.

Grant
Some rich guy that people are always writing to.

Hang
A thing to talk about when you don’t like the art, e.g., “Great hang.”

Hickey
1. An unplanned mark that occurs during the process of printmaking.

2. Dave. The world’s greatest art critic.

International Art English
The language into which art writing must be translated in order to impress important people. Addresses and interrogates contemporary realities and sites of conflict in order to imbricate and displace the potentiality for affect, and both spatial and non-spatial space.

See also: Artist Statement

Negative Space
A compositional tool used in both 2D and 3D work. Refers to an area where other things are not present.

See also: Fed Square.

Opening
1. An event held to launch an exhibition at a gallery. Usually on a Thursday night, unless the gallery doesn’t have enough alcohol, in which case it’s held on a Saturday afternoon.

2. A gap in conversation that allows you to mention your upcoming exhibition.

Private View
A way of referring to an art opening when you want people to be confused about whether or not they’re invited.

Realism
So deeply uncool that it’s probably cool again by now, who knows. Reproducing the physical ‘truthfully’ and without any stylisation.

Relational Aesthetics
A term coined by French writer and curator Nicolas Bourriaud in his 1998 book of the same name. Refers to art that takes as its subject the human social environment and, you know, the whole living of life thing. As opposed to art that creates objects removed from daily experience. Note: Definition depends on who’s in charge. It is relational aesthetics when Rirkrit Tiravanija turns Gavin Brown Enterprise into a 24-hour soup kitchen. It is not relational aesthetics when two gallery visitors borrow Gavin’s Volvo and drive it up the West Side Highway.

Space
Literally any room that contains, or once contained, an art object.

Vernissage
1. From the French: ‘varnishing’ (obsolete).

2. An opening at which rich buyers and friendly critics are varnished with champagne.

3. A ticketed event at which no-one admits to having paid for a ticket.

4. An event at which the champagne runs out early.

(1) This piece is also an excerpt from Penny’s forthcoming zine about writing about art