Jerry Saltz on Frieze

October 27, 2008 · Print This Article


via New York Magazine:

Two weeks ago, the Death Star that has hovered over the art world for the last two years finally fired its lasers. It was October 15, the day the stock market fell more than 700 points-again-and a month after Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch collapsed and Damien Hirst pawned off $200 million worth of crapola on clueless rubes at Sotheby’s. Against this backdrop, at 11 a.m., the gates of London’s Frieze Art Fair opened, and in streamed the international traveling circus of bigwigs, collectors, curators, advisers, museum directors, trustees, models, movie stars, and critics like moi.

Talk of financial doom filled the air. Karl Schweizer, UBS’s head of art banking, told one reporter, “We are in a liquidity crisis.” Money manager Randy Slifka added, “There is blood on the streets on Wall Street.” Collectors talked about “sewing up our pockets.” Yet much of the art world was playing on as if nothing had happened. A German dealer told, “This economic mess will all be over by January.” Christie’s Amy Cappellazzo spun her house’s recent sales: “If you bought something, you bought something real.” In truth, most of the speculators are buying something real bad or badly overpriced.

In fact, though, things were different. Those of us who have frequented Frieze could see that something was off. Dealers and assistants who in recent years were always busy with clients now stood or sat quietly. Sales were happening, but slowly, one at a time. The claim of “It’s sold” was replaced by “I have it on several holds.” Although the megagalleries like Gagosian and White Cube teemed with moneyed types and very tall women in very high heels, many younger dealers looked perplexed. A gallerist who entered the field in the go-go aughts and who had sold only two pieces by 5 p.m. that first day asked, “What’s going on?”

As I made my way through the 152 booths, I thought about the moment in Titanic when the designer of the doomed luxury liner warns Kate Winslet to find a lifeboat because “all this will be at the bottom of the Atlantic.” When I tried this idea out on attendees, several said I was “a buzzkill.” I asked, “Isn’t the buzz already beginning to disappear?”

If the art economy is as bad as it looks “if worse comes to worst” 40 to 50 New York galleries will close. Around the same number of European galleries will, too. An art magazine will cease publishing. A major fair will call it quits-possibly the Armory Show, because so many dealers hate the conditions on the piers, or maybe Art Basel Miami Beach, because although it’s fun, it’s also ridiculous. Museums will cancel shows because they can’t raise funds. Art advisers will be out of work. Alternative spaces will become more important for shaping the discourse, although they’ll have a hard time making ends meet.

As for artists, too many have been getting away with murder, making questionable or derivative work and selling it for inflated prices. They will either lower their prices or stop selling. Many younger artists who made a killing will be forgotten quickly. Others will be seen mainly as relics of a time when marketability equaled likability. Many of the hot Chinese artists, most of whom are only nth-generation photo-realists, will fall by the wayside, having stuck collectors with a lot of junk.

Much good art got made while money ruled; I like a lot of it, and hardship and poverty aren’t virtues. The good news is that, since almost no one will be selling art, artists-especially emerging ones-won’t have to think about turning out a consistent style or creating a brand. They’ll be able to experiment as much as they want.

But my Schadenfreude side wishes a pox on the auction houses, those shrines to the disconnect between the inner life of art and the outer life of commerce. If they don’t go belly up or return to dealing mainly with dead artists, they need to stop pretending that they have any interest in art beyond the financial. Additionally, I hope many of the speculators who never really cared about art will go away. Either way, money will no longer be the measure of success. It hasn’t made art better. It made some artists-notably Hirst, Murakami, Prince, and maybe Piotr Uklañski-shallower.

Recessions are hard on people, but they are not hard on art. The forties, seventies, and the nineties, when money was scarce, were great periods, when the art world retracted but it was also reborn. New generations took the stage; new communities spawned energy; things opened up; deadwood washed away. With luck, New Museum curator Laura Hoptman’s wish will come true: “Art will flower and triumph not as a hobby, an investment, or a career, but as what it is and was – a life.”

7 thoughts on “Jerry Saltz on Frieze”

  1. Sandy says:

    thank you!!! very interesting…

  2. Sandy –

    In a previous comment you stated:

    “I just finished listening to this podcast and I think that your comments about the financial crisis and the art market were naive and misinformed, punctuated by a lot of wishful thinking.”


    Episode 163: San Francisco Fall 2008


    What I notice, here, is that while the words “Written by Megonli” appear at the bottom of this article, the text was written by Jerry Saltz.

    And the photograph accompanying the text was taken by Linda Nylind.

    But Jerry Saltz’s name and Linda Nylind’s name appear in no other place than this comment.

    And if the link back to the article “Frieze After the Freeze” is sufficient, why not simply provide the link — and not copy and paste the entire text?


    The point that I am driving at is that Bad at Sports is valuable, endearing even, because of the (1) local, (2) original and (3) honest content that it contains.

    To the extent that Michael Workman was attempting to make that point, I think that he’s correct: Why “dump” on the amateurs laboring for love, and then applaud plagiarism of the institution?

    News about New York, and news about the economy, has never been hard to find; the same cannot be said of Chicago visual arts coverage.

  3. duncan. says:


    Meg doesn’t intend to plagiarize anything. To imply that that was attempted is just wrong. Maybe she should have more directly excerpted the article and created a second link to encourage further reading at the source, fair enough. To imply that BAS attempted to claim authorship is wrong. We have never claimed “authorship” of what occurs in the news stream. Meg and Christopher keep it updated as a way of helping people stay informed and they do it because they believe it is valuable and helpful. That is obvious and clear.

    We are trying to get more people to create original content and we are working towards providing a more robust and useful tool for investigating the art world and worlds we are a part of. We are interested in seeing more folks contribute original content. So if your interested contact us.

    We will attempt to change the “written” to “posted” as you advise by the intention was not to deceive but to inform. We are not a magazine, we are a web site and as so subject to a different informational flow and notion of “publishing.”

    BAS is essentially still just a bunch of artists and art worlders interested in sharing our experience of, what a good friend of mine refers to as, Planet Art. We do no member of this community any favors by being willfully ignorant or encouraging others to also be ignorant.

    Wait are we the institution? When did we become an institution? I am pretty sure that this is still volunteer-ist organization and I use the term “organization” loosely.

    On a side note I was pretty sure Michael was just trying to get us to quit and fuck him for it. We just started to get good at this.

    We agree on the fact that Chicago needs more arts coverage. It is our community, either we are interested in supporting it and discussing the things that go on in it or we are not. I for one hope that we are.



    Check out what New City is rocking on the interweb…

  4. Um, excuse me, but the title is “Jerry Salt on Frieze,” so at least I got it that Meg was bring Jerry’s opinion to us — although “Salt” (sic) should be “Saltz.” Great post, by the way, congrats Jerry and Meg.

  5. Paul Germanos says:

    Duncan –

    Let “institution” equal “traditional media outlets,” especially NY-based print.

    They’re struggling. And in large part that struggle is a result of competition with on-line publication.

    That the “Old Guard” falls might be a good thing. But the owners of said entities tend to have assets [capital] to sell for income; while the writers and photographers [labor] are being let go, not uncommonly at ages 40-60, to find [?] employment elsewhere.

    Writing and photography are now worth less than ever before, because of the ease and rapidity with which those things are reproduced and circulated, globally.

    I don’t mean to be a didactic [sense: boorishly pedantic] douche bag about this, and cause Meg, or you, or anyone else to be upset.

    But, I would argue, we owe it to each other, as artists, to make a real effort to respect the intellectual property rights of creators. If we don’t, who will? That we report, document, promote and critique is a good thing. That’s fair use.

    But to take a work in toto, separating that work from its author’s name, absent consent, isn’t the Law of the Land; it’s piracy.

    The BAS podcasts are original creative works; they should be treated with some respect. You guys labor to make them; and your guests need a “pair” to agree to do the interview. For some other site to begin to offer them [podcasts], unknown to you, would seem problematic? No?

    Yes, there are, now, many relatively young arts-media outlets:

    Carl Warnick’s non-profit documentation on Flickr; the SAIC students at; Paul Klein’s; Wesley’s; Ed and Rachael’s Proximity Magazine; Erik Wenzel’s…etc.

    And, yep: New City has an arts format that is much more reader-friendly than, ironically, The Reader.

    Things are different; time will tell what that difference mean for us, and for art.

  6. Since this conversation has turned from the topic of the effect of the economic downturn to new media arts outlets, I’d like to point out that, though new in town, ArtSlant: Chicago will be doing our part to shine the spotlight on Chicago and Chicago artists. is a global network that maintains local staff in each city to cover openings, art events and news. The aforementioned Erik Wenzel writes for us and currently has articles up on the site (if you have noticed Art or Idiocy is less active it’s because he is working for us). We do writing but we are also a resource for artists. Anyone can create their own profile, submit an exhibit, and have the chance for over 90K visitors to see it.

    Though Tom Wolfe may hate new media, we’re here to stay and we’re here for Chicago and Chicago artists.

  7. The last 3 or 4 paragraphs of the post say it all. Amen.

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