Samuel Hitten is a professional courtroom stenographer. On a typical day, he records auto-insurance claims and corporate meetings. But on the morning of May 2, 2018 he reports on something new: himself as the subject matter.
“What is going on here?” someone demands. Speaking over the typing of his shorthand machine, a group of 20 faculty and students from NYU’s Department of Art ask him, “are you part of the show,” and “this is a recording?” Sam writes their every word.
MFA student Thomas Ray Willis hired him to take notes for his graduate school art critique. Neither are certain what the group is more frustrated with: the outsider stenographer or the artist defending 20 watercolors paintings made from his tears. What starts for Sam as a trial of an artist defending his emotional expression––ranging from a family death to childhood nostalgia––devolves into a heated debate about the group’s own feelings of testifying under oath.
“NYU MFA Art Critique” is 57-page transcript that engages with contemporary topics such as affect, surveillance, data collection, visibility, and art etiquette. However, it fails to unpack those of the artist’s sincerity, trauma, and the problematic perspective of him as a white male in this cultural moment. Did Sam’s role distract or reveal the purpose of the piece? What would you have said if you were in the room?