There’s no upside for an artist to be friends with an art critic. The personal connection means the critic must pass on reviewing the artist’s work, and while the loss of critical wisdom may be negligible, the loss of exposure is a nuisance for the artist. I have wanted to write about Maggie Michael’s work for years now, but I can’t without first offering the reader a huge caveat: Anything I say must be reasonably assumed to be compromised by the fact that I know her, like her and socialize with her.
So this isn’t a review of Michael’s first solo show in a museum, “A Phrase Hung in Midair as If Frozen,” which closed Sunday at the American University Museum. And I won’t claim, as Washington City Paper critic Kriston Capps did, that this show “makes the case for her as the strongest painter to emerge from D.C. in a generation,” even though I might agree with that. Rather, I’m interested in how friendship changes the way we see art, how it both sharpens the eye and expands the meaning of the work. I’m interested in a fundamental question that is at the heart of so much criticism: Does affection improve our judgment by making us receptive to ever finer nuances, or does it weaken our critical faculties and cloud our objectivity?