Peter Fuller, Modern Painters and the Sensation exhibition
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This thesis investigates the decline of a particular form of art criticism, embodied by the English art critic and editor, Peter Fuller. Fuller’s criticism developed out of a Kantian tradition, presenting judgements of objective worth arrived at through the exercise of taste, and championed what he described as the British or English Romantic landscape tradition. Central to the decline was the displacement of art criticism and the art critic in the creation and articulation of value in art worlds. Through a historiographical study of Modern Painters, the publication founded by Fuller in 1988, the thesis explores the changing relationship between the art magazine and the art world in order to identify and analyse the complex relationships between different agents acting within it.
The thesis begins by examining Fuller’s critical position at the time he founded Modern Painters. This positions Fuller in relation both to Modernism and Modernist criticism, and to his contemporaries including John Berger. A particular focus is on Fuller’s attitudes towards history and tradition. I then assess the extent to which the magazine’s content evidences and confirms Fuller’s position as expressed through his own writing on criticism. On Fuller’s death, Karen Wright took over as editor of Modern Painters, and an editorial board was convened. The content of the magazine during this period is analysed to assess the extent to which Fuller’s values did or did not remain integral to the editorial policy and subsequent content. Modern Painters and contemporaneous publications and criticism are compared and contrasted, examining shifting contexts in art criticism.
In 1976 Fuller wrote an article for Studio International that sets out his model for a magazine unaffected by market forces. Modern Painters (under Fuller) is analysed in relation to his model. The extent to which editorial content in the magazine may or may not have been influenced by the market during his editorship is assessed, and the changing nature of the relationship between criticism and the market discussed.
An analysis of the relationship between Modern Painters, its editors and writers, and the exhibition Sensation: Young British Artist from the Saatchi Collection at the Royal Academy of Arts, and the trajectory of the magazine over the following years, reveals the changing relationships between agents within the art world, and their role in the decline and displacement of art criticism and the art critic.