Illustration by Frances Cocksedge.

Illustration by Frances Cocksedge.

Quality Is Subjective

Pick of the Week Columnist Annabel Osberg’s busy schedule

As Artillery’s “Pick of the Week” columnist, I review a notable LA show every Wednesday. Each Pick is a one-paragraph critical snapshot of a show that I think one should see. Writing is only half the job; scouting candidates for the column is my most intricate duty.

I’m always looking for unrecognized artists and venues that haven’t received much press. Blue-chip and museum shows being widely celebrated, I want the column to alert readers to exceptional shows that are lesser known. Prominent venues’ offerings are Picks only if they impress me over and above the typical high-profile shows.

Quality is subjective; and Pick of the Week is just one critic’s perspective on what art is noteworthy. My main criterion is that I only cover shows I would recommend. Simply put, each week’s Pick is what I have most enjoyed seeing; it’s either a show that appeals to me, evokes a specific mood, provokes intriguing thought, or is so memorably unique as to keep me thinking about it long afterward. Ideally, my review will outline the artwork’s significance, encapsulate the enthusiasm I felt for the show, and serve as an interpretive guide should readers choose to attend the exhibition.

Much effort is devoted to keeping track of what’s being shown, and combing through my email from galleries, artists and press agents often provides me with valuable leads. On average, I spend two to three days a month visiting galleries. Since I live about 40 miles from LA, every trip must count.

Scheduling can be complicated, as timing plays a major role in shows’ Pick of the Week eligibility. Each subject must be on view for at least one week after a Pick is published. My objective is for readers to visit the show, so ease of access is also a consideration; galleries that are only open by appointment, or one day a week, are rarely suitable.

The day before my gallery round, I consult various public listings to get a comprehensive picture of new openings, relying primarily on three websites: Artillery’s “Calendar” section, Curate LA and What’s On Los Angeles. For each exhibition that catches my eye, images are vetted on the gallery’s website. I’ve learned to trust my instincts, but not be overly confident in them. Many lackluster shows appear superior in reproduction; and some shows that look uninspiring online prove excellent in person.

Scan 2019 7 30 10.43.42 e1566184315893 230x300 Quality Is Subjective

Illustration by Frances Cocksedge.

My itinerary is organized around the most promising candidates. Taking traffic and relative distances into consideration, I seek to minimize drive time by devising a practicable tour of galleries in a line, clusters or areas connected by a freeway or major highway. For instance, Venice and Glendale are seldom reasonable in one day; but Venice, Santa Monica, Culver City and West Adams could easily be a workable grouping. Once a course is decided, each stop is plotted on an online route planner to create a printable custom map of their locations, which aids in further refining and prioritizing my circuit. Traveling miles out of the way for one gallery is infeasible unless its show greatly piques my interest. With the route map as model, addresses are plugged into a GPS.

After vetting shows online and maximizing my itinerary, I can visit 10 galleries and five of them might yield viable Picks. Usually, I’m lucky to find three shows for the column. To allow for uncertainty, my Pick of the Week schedule is planned at least two to three weeks ahead.

Subsequent to the background research and reconnaissance, the actual writing seems comparatively simple. Two years at Pick of the Week has made the format so familiar that I can readily identify salient themes and concentrate on composing the review with little anxiety for word count. Yet there are no shortcuts to writing well, which invariably requires time, effort and perfecting. Depending on my familiarity with the subject, a Pick takes me anywhere from a few hours to a day to complete.

The final step is selecting an image to appear with my review on Artillery’s homepage. This is in the back of my mind while writing, for the accompanying image usually portrays a work cited in the text. As the only visual indication of the show, this picture is crucial; so I often test several possibilities and select the most exemplary or eye-catching candidate. Other suitable images from the show are sent to Artillery’s publisher for use in social media posts and our Thursday newsletter.

Once the Pick is scheduled to post on Wednesday afternoon, this week’s work is done—and I’m onto the next discovery. Perpetuating this cycle is effortful; but the thrill of encountering superb art and transmitting that experience to my readers seems a worthy reward.