“You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” neoliberal power broker Rahm Emanuel once declared. It captures something of the rage we have channeled onto the streets over the last months: The desire to escape the endless pressures of affirming whatever the supply side puts on our plates, to instead shape new forms of demand. We don’t mean this to force any optimism but to acknowledge the front lines. While corporate codes of inclusionism and their broken liberal mirror-image of representation seek to desperately tame and fracture our energy, the movement on the street continues to expose the possibilities of redistribution and abolition.
We started thinking about Downtown Critic in summer 2019 out of a desire for a different type of art criticism. Trapped in a world where writing and thinking are contained by markets and bylines, we conceived of a semi-anonymous, non-topical newspaper, published by and for a community of art workers associated with the Lower East Side. Bringing this combination of localized knowledge and anonymity to the heart of the artworld's global supply chain, our gambit seeks to provide a measure of accountability while keeping the demand for market affirmation at bay. This is to eschew the militarized oppositions between private thought and published opinion, capturing the moments when we find ourselves talking about art after work is done but art is still there.
Now, after months of importing ideas and optics, here is the first issue. It includes texts from both the pre-and mid-COVID-19 world, emphasizing that this crisis affords neither a simple break nor a mere continuation. What it does afford, though, is to dim the light just a little and embroider criticism with a somewhat naïve belief: That art can be more than a token for the diversification of the 1%, that it can do more than solidify the ongoing containment of difference and inequality. More, not less, is what we want.