I was wondering why I was getting some strange Facebook and Twitter friend/follower requests from the NYC-area….I’m sort of (okay a lot) embarrassed, but Jerry Saltz put a note responding to yesterday’s “Superstar” post on his Facebook page. Our blog doesn’t get tons of traffic, so when I write here I feel like it’s aimed directly at the ten or so people I know for sure actually read it. Suffice it to say, it was kind of a shock to see that Mr. Saltz had read it and responded (I learned of it via someone else’s Twitter). I appreciate that he took the time to do so. Now it is out there in a format where people can respond to it–and at least the people who participate in Saltz’s Facebook discussion don’t seem to be the troll type (I’m pretty sure). Dear God, though, many of them sure are the fawning type. One comment in particular made me laugh; it was something along the lines of, ‘maybe Claudine should actively post on Jerry’s wall for six months or so before commenting on what’s happening here!” Um….wait, wasn’t the importance of NOT doing just that pretty much the point I was trying to make, and the crux of James Panero’s New Criterion critique of Mr. Saltz’s Facebook exchanges too?? Plus, I would never get anything else done if I spend the next six months hanging out on Jerry Saltz’s page.
He really does seem like a nice guy though – but what the hell do I know? It’s a frakkin’ Facebook page, we all put on our best Faces there.
Anyway. I’m going to resist the temptation to get all defensive and just not say anything further. I don’t want this blog to become all about Jerry. But now y’all have chance to respond…if this is an issue you care about, that is.
(This one’s for Dmitry).
Okay, yeah, I know — to describe Jerry Saltz as a “superstar” as I just did is to engage in more than a bit of hyperbole. But when it comes to Jerry (since everyone seems to feel like they’re on a first-name basis with him, I guess I can be, too), “superstar” doesn’t seem all that off-the-mark, given Saltz’s relative media fame versus the utter obscurity within which most art writers/critics labor. This has always been the case, even in the days when art critics actually played a hand in shaping the discourse–and they haven’t done that in quite awhile. So, you know, we should be happy that there is at least one art critic famous enough to hobnob with Sarah Jessica Parker and her ilk. Jerry seems like a genial guy and a kind enough spirit and so personally, I don’t begrudge him his fame.
I was surprised, however, that Ben Davis (newly of Artinfo) didn’t mention Saltz at all in his column on the state of art criticism. Asserting that “art criticism isn’t dead, it’s just in eclipse,” Davis argued that
“If you had to name the major development in art discourse during the 2000s, it would undoubtedly be the ascent of “art news,” which has definitely replaced “art criticism” at the center of discussion. There’s been an enormous proliferation of writing about the art scene. Artforum.com’s “Scene and Herd” was founded in 2004. Artinfo.com, the publication I write for, was founded in 2005. And of course, there is the tremendous excitement generated by the art blogosphere, which draws its strength from attitude and outrage.”
Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City, who’s a pretty good examplar of the developments Davis is describing, didn’t seem to think much of Davis’ analysis. Responding to his post on her own blog, Johnson wrote,
“I feel like I’ve been reading about the problems of the 24 hour news cycle for fifteen years or more, and the problems are the same. Davis’s piece doesn’t bring much new to the table past what we already know: news is a large component of many blogs and websites — particularly the ones he’s worked for — and criticism isn’t doing that well.The trouble has less to do with news per se than the reality of publishing: it’s a volume industry and professionals need more time than we’re given to produce good work. But there are some ups to these downs, so I don’t believe it’s been as eclipsed as Davis thinks — it’s just not where he’s looking. Some of the best criticism on this blog appears in the comments section, and it’s no different for other blogs or even Facebook pages like that of Jerry Saltz.”
Johnson made good points. Like Saltz or hate Saltz–or rather, like/hate the style of critical engagement Saltz represents–you cannot ignore the behemoth that is the Saltz/Facebook/Social Media machine. His Facebook groupies, his TV stint as a judge on Work of Art, his “Ask a Critic” column for New York magazine–all of these represent fairly radical shifts in the relation between critic and audience. One that is more open, more “radically vulnerable,” as Saltz himself has so memorably put it, and one where, to some greater degree than before, the art critic must answer (and answer and answer and answer) to the statements he puts out there via his reviews and other published pieces.
The problem is that all of these radical shifts in the critic/audience relationship apply only to Jerry Saltz. Saltz hasn’t changed the state of art criticism one bit – he’s just upped his own name-recognition value within it. To be fair, Saltz has argued repeatedly that his own experiments with open-ended interactions with his readers, “friends,” and “fans” is something that can and should be duplicated by others. And that’s certainly true. It’s just that most art critics are way more boring than Saltz is and nobody really cares enough about what they have to say to want to have an ongoing conversation with them, virtual or otherwise.
James Panero, writing in the New Criterion, has described his own “Jerry Saltz problem.” To my mind, Panero’s critique is the most persuasive I’ve yet read, though I could have done without some of his prose, which seemed to border on jealous personal attack. I think this is the strongest section of Panero’s argument:
Another problem with Saltz’s “accidental criticism” is that he has not leveled the playing field at all. He has instead flipped the traditional critic’s role from peripheral character to central actor. His comment writers, many of them wayward artists, are now the critics, while he has become the new art star around which they circulate. Jerry Saltz has become “Jerry Saltz,” a socially networked performance piece of art criticism. His online work is not unlike the performance art of Tino Sehgal, who took over the objectless Guggenheim rotunda earlier this year to ask questions like “What is progress?”
The lure of interactive performance art is that it shares the stage equally with the viewer. Marina Abramovic’s staring contest at moma became a sensation because it felt like we were the art, just as online comments make us all feel like we are the writers, or through Facebook we have 5,000 “Friends.” Following Andy Warhol’s dictum that “in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes,” and Joseph Beuys’s pronouncement that “everyone is an artist,” Saltz has wondered “if all of our interconnectivity and social networking also made everyone a critic.” But this fame game can become a pyramid scheme. In exchange for the brief rush of recognition that you might feel sitting across from Abramovic or posting to Saltz’s Facebook page, you grant them much more than their fifteen minutes. You end up ultimately diminished—another brick in a 250,000-word wall—while adding to their cumulative luster. You “need to partake of the blood of others to grow,” Saltz writes. And he should know.
(Oof! That last line had to hurt, didn’t it?).
I find the notion of the critic-as-performer to be a really interesting one. I’ve always been an advocate for a criticism that incorporates the subjectivity of the writer into the form and content of the critique, in certain appropriate contexts. Jerry Saltz now does this in every context, and that’s no doubt why many observers have grown weary of him. It’s too much Jerry. In the same way that Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt and, ugh, even Sarah Jessica Parker can’t be considered real actors anymore–they’re merely celebrities, whose every new role offers a new format in which to play themselves–Jerry Saltz has become a celebrity critic who’s finding it difficult to talk about anything but himself, even when he truly does want to be talking only about art.
Jerry Saltz is interviewed in Time Out Chicago this week about his role in the much-anticipated (among reality t.v. fans and art snarks like me, anyway) new television show Work of Art. I never knew Saltz was from Chicago! Nor did I realize he was an adjunct faculty member of the School of the Art Institute, either. Check out the full interview here; a brief excerpt follows.
Why’d you want to be a judge on Work of Art?
It isn’t for the money. I won’t tell you what I make, but it’s really not much. I wanted to perform criticism in public to show that it’s not an elitist practice but specialist and subjective—and more thrilling than people imagine.
So you think the show will help make visual art more accessible?
I do. People are frightened of looking at and making judgments about art, and they don’t need to be. They just need to look longer, see harder, listen to themselves, and they’ll hear voices they didn’t know they had in their heads, voices of real discernment.
It helps that, unlike with Top Chef, viewers experience the products themselves, so they form their own opinions as the judges form theirs.
Yes. I think the act of making art is not inherently sexy to most people. With food, that’s implied penetration and sexual. Sometimes watching somebody saw a piece of wood—not so interesting. To me, however, it’s metaphysically sensual—watching somebody try to imbed thought in material.
More than any other art form, visual art seems off-putting to people.
Why do you think that is?
We are not sure as a culture what art is to us. So when people are presented with stuff that is called art, nobody knows what to do with it. And that’s sad to me because people make visual judgments every single day: what color are you wearing, what material is it.
Has the art world itself contributed to that sense of inaccessibility?
It takes a lifetime sometimes to understand why an all-white painting is art. It’s hard for me sometimes to remember, to relive why a bicycle wheel mounted upside down on a stool is art.
Hee. This is good. Hyperallergic reports that New Museum Director Richard Flood had a few choice words to say about arts bloggers and Jerry Saltz, during a talk he gave at the Portland Art Museum on “Creating Networks: The New Internationalism.” From Lisa Radon’s post on Hyperallergic:
“I just found out about blogs three months ago,” Flood said referring to the time questions were being raised, particularly by Tyler Green on Modern Art Notes and James Wagner on JamesWagner.com, about ethical conflicts for the New Museum regarding Skin Fruit. “The internet is still a ghetto.” Flood said he was trying to learn more about them via Lauren Cornell (executive director of Rhizome, affiliated with New Museum since 2003), but he says:
‘Blogs are like being out on a prairie and one prairie dog pops up; none of the others can see it, but they can feel the movement in the earth. So another pops up. And another. They are not communicating with each other. They have no idea. History means nothing to them. Truth means nothing to them. They have no mechanism in place for checking [facts].’
In the three months since Flood has become aware of blogs, it’s surprising that he appears not to have noticed the hyperlinking that is integral to the blog as a tool for communication. He might not be expected to be aware of the dynamic back-channel communications among arts bloggers via twitter and other platforms, but the linking is front and center. But the analogy shows a more fundamental disdain for the practice of online arts journalism. A blog is just a tool, a platform. It’s what’s built on that platform that we should be talking about, and that may be a gossip rag or it may be considered, rigorous, accurate reporting and/or criticism.”
Go on over and read the full post here, it’s an eye-opener. Very good editorial response by Radon, as well. Jerry Saltz posted something about it on his Facebook page, and there are some comments there too, natch.
Ah, I’ve been wanting to bring back this little Rant of the Week column for awhile now, but have been stymied by either a) lack of good material or b) lack of time to scour the internet in search of good material. But today’s rant is a two-fer, or a three-fer, or something…anyway it’s good, it’s still sorta fresh, and although it’s easy enough to find on your own via the art twit- and blogosphere I present the following, for those of you who are not already aware of the Jerry Saltz vs. John Yau smackdown.
Here’s some quick background: Last December Jerry Saltz wrote a column in New York magazine praising Jeff Koons’ Puppy as the art work of the aughts–or the naughts–or the whatevers!– and Koons himself as “the emblematic artist of the decade—its thumping, thumping heart.” Saltz goes on to argue that
All of Koons’s best art—the encased vacuum cleaners, the stainless-steel Rabbit (the late-twentieth century’s signature work of Simulationist sculpture), the amazing gleaming Balloon Dog, and the cast-iron re-creation of a Civil War mortar exhibited last month at the Armory—has simultaneously flaunted extreme realism, idealism, and fantasy. Puppy adds to that: It is a virtual history of art, recalling the mottled surfaces of Delacroix (albeit on ’shrooms), the fantastical fairy-tale beings of Redon, a mutant Frankenstein canine from Seurat’s La Grande Jatte, and the eye-buzzing Ben-Day dots of Roy Lichtenstein. As it emits the swirling amorphousness of Tiepolo and the pathos of Watteau, it is also a magnified, misshapen abstraction of Duchamp’s urinal—a similarly deliberate gesture of antic outlandishness, and one that, of course, was signed “R. Mutt.”
Koons’s work has always stood apart for its one-at-a-time perfection, epic theatricality, a corrupted, almost sick drive for purification, and an obsession with traditional artistic values. His work embodies our time and our America: It’s big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat-seeking, impeccably produced, polished, popular, expensive, and extroverted—while also being abrasive, creepily sexualized, fussy, twisted, and, let’s face it, ditzy. He doesn’t go in for the savvy art-about-art gestures that occupy so many current artists. And his work retains the essential ingredient that, to my mind, is necessary to all great art: strangeness.”
And so on. A few weeks later, critic John Yau responds to Saltz’s piece with an essay of his own in The Brooklyn Rail (where Yau serves as art editor), titled “The Difference Between Jerry Saltz’s America and Mine.“ Yau starts out with a reference to a bit by the late comedian Bill Hicks, one in which Hicks rips on Jay Leno for shilling Doritos, despite the gazillions of dollars Leno already has; the implied question being how much more cash does this bloated gazillionaire need that he has to sell us junk food, too? Yau says, of Hicks,
He believed that there are some things that you just shouldn’t do, and one of them was to be a spokesperson for bad or unhealthy products. I was reminded of Hicks’s routine when I read Jerry Saltz’s paean to Jeff Koons’s Puppy, which ‘assumed the form of a West Highland white terrier constructed of stainless steel and 23 tons of soil, swathed in more than 70,000 flowers that were kept alive by an internal irrigation system.’”