Hero Sigrid Viir photo By Simon Veres KOENIG2

Sigrid Viir - False Vacationer, Photo: Simon Veres / Christine König Galerie


Learning to Look

How can one sum up an artwork in words as precisely as possible? How do I write a bad review? These questions are posed by the author and curator Victor Cos Ortega, who lives in Vienna. He has just won the AICA Prize for Young Art Critics.

Strictly speaking, Ortega is a latecomer to the field, having initially studied theatre stage design before switching to history of art and sending some sample texts to newspapers. artmagazine recognised his talent and invited him to join its sponsorship programme.

Victor Cos Ortega, Photo: artmagazine.cc

Exhibition View Milen Till, Photo: artmagazine.cc © Crone Wien

When you write a bad review you are taking a risk

Writing reviews requires self-confidence. Your colleagues might be enthusiastic about an exhibition, whereas there are aspects that you would like to address more critically. "I initially found it difficult to take a position," says the young art critic Victor Cos Ortega, who was born in Heidelberg in 1997, grew up in Munich and started studying in Vienna in 2016. When you write a bad review you expose yourself and risk going out on a limb. "The important thing to me is that I express myself precisely so that it’s clear that I’ve really thought about something and that I see it in a way that I then explain in writing."

Ortega was recently awarded the AICA Prize for Young Art Critics. He received this for his article about an exhibition of the work of Milen Till at Crone Wien, "on the basis of the precision of his writing and the critical consideration of the individual works," to quote the statement of the jury. "The positioning of the works in their detailed art historical context offers readers a precise overview that enables them to gain a spatial sense of the exhibition. In addition to this, Ortega’s wordplay permitted him to write a text that was reader-friendly yet still provided a factual analysis of the works on show."

Hannah Neckel, Exhibition View House of Losing Control, Vienna Artweek 2021, Photo: Victor Cos Ortega / artmagazine.cc

Fanny Futterknecht, Exhibition View House of Losing Control, Vienna Artweek 2021, Photo: Victor Cos Ortega / artmagazine.cc

Ortega: From stage designer to critic

Ortega is also an excellent example of how one can achieve one’s goals via a circuitous route. He actually studied theatrical stage design until noticing that this "felt like a dead end" and switching to history of art. "I already enjoyed writing at university," he says. After completing his studies he sent sample texts to numerous publications. artmagazine recognised his talent and offered him a place for a year on its scholarship programme for young art critics.

"I don’t only write reviews for artmagazine, but also receive feedback. We discuss what I can do better, as a result of which I learn a lot," says Ortega. While he has no concrete role models, he finds inspiration in the New Yorker essayist Susan Sontag. "Her texts are very easy to read, they enable you to understand things holistically on the basis of small details." A beginner’s mistake amongst writers is to want to squeeze too much into a text. But it is precisely this that can make everything intangible and abstract. On the other hand, those who examine a concrete aspect through a magnifying glass and put this in its wider context are likelier to excite their readers.

Writing is looking and translating

What else is important about writing? "Looking precisely", says Ortega, who grew up bilingual – his mother comes from Spain. "Something that at first glance appears to be black can also be dark blue." The next step is to translate this into a language that should also have a certain rhythm. One that is simple and understandable.

If you’re now intrigued and would like to read some criticism by Victor Cos Ortega, here is a link to artmagazine, in which he writes once or twice a month.

His recent article on the exhibition "Sigrid Viir | False Vacationer" at the Christine König Galerie was published in the 190th issue of The Gap.