Challenging the Artworld 2%: Reflecting on Jerry’s Saltz’ Assessment of the ArtPrize model, Part 1
Art critic Jerry Saltz’ ArtPrize speaker presentation on October 1, was very similar to the one he’d delivered at Expo Chicago on September 20th. He discussed his career and the path that eventually brought him to be an art critic, offered his advice to artists, threw in several good analogies, and included enough art history references to lend him credibility to arthistophiles. The advice to artists is what you would expect: be persistent, have integrity, accept failure, remain teachable, and try not to act like asshole. Worthy of repeating is Saltz’ assertion that the artworld is top-heavy, focused on a sliver of aesthetic output. To paraphrase Mr. Saltz, we should stop worshiping artboy heroes of the 1970s and 80s, and challenge the old model.
Saltz recounted how he inadvertently deconstructed the art critic paradigm, when he casually posted a disparaging comment about painter Marlene Dumas on his facebook page. Instead of the conventional hierarchical model of the critic delivering an appraisal to thousands of mute readers, he received a collective, “ass-whooping from 5000 people”, who disagreed with his statement. There are indeed viable alternatives, and according to Saltz, ArtPrize counts among them.
Saltz compared ArtPrize to documenta, a contemporary art festival which has taken place in Kassel Germany, every five years since 1955. Attendance at the 2012 documenta was 860,000. ArtPrize brought 400,000 visitors to Grand Rapids, the same number of people who visit The Detroit Institute of Arts over the course of a year. ArtPrize has a budget of about three million, whereas it cost 25.7 million dollars to mount the 2008 documenta, and a new millage tax has increased the DIA’s operating budget by an estimated 23 million dollars. Not only is ArtPrize ostensibly open to any artist (there is an application fee, and proposals still must be accepted by a venue), but attendance is free. Contemporary art fairs like documenta, the Venice Biennale, or Art Basel, feature artists who are typically picked in advance from a limited list, and according to Saltz, much of what’s featured is unremarkable. By his estimation, maybe 15% is really good. I found this to be encouraging, because I felt that there were a comparable percentage of noteworthy submissions in ArtPrize.
Saltz wasn’t the only juror who expressed approval, even if approval included concerns about making the event more viable to professional or established artists. While there is room for improvement, it is impressive how quickly the ArtPrize administrators have implemented changes in response to feedback from all parties involved. The dismissive statements regarding ArtPrize expressed by some local artists and art educators seem myopic, if not elitist.
The inhabitants of Artworld Olympus, understandably don’t want to loose their foothold, but ironically enough resistance comes from those of us on the fringes who entertain the fantasy of gaining access into that sparkly inner sanctum. For example, Damien Hirst’s decision to bypass the gallery middleman and sell his art directly through the Sotheby’s, was more shocking than an assemblage of fetid flesh.
Post-postmodern discourse encourages the continued deconstruction of metanarratives and hegemonic institutions, but clearly there are still some sacred cows. Even while we Rapidians encourage the celebration of diversity, support the local economy, recycle, exercise tolerance, there is an element that would seem to say, “Don’t allow the peasants to have an investment in the arts.” To quote Saltz, “Cut it out you crybabies!”
This is part 1 of a 2-part series.