Aspen Times Weekly: Jerry Saltz at Anderson Ranch
Jerry Saltz is not shy about his opinions or his passions, and in his speech at Anderson Ranch Arts Center in mid-July, the art critic held forth for more than an hour on both.
By turns inspiring and excoriating, Saltz spoke to the boldness of working artists, the absurdity of big money in the art world and, surprisingly, the greatness of a pop-up show in a local ski shop.
“They’re doing a show in a stupid ski shop,” Saltz said with a laugh, referring to “Mount Analogue,” a group show with works by 28 artists reflecting on mountains that has been curated by Neville Wakefield. “And you know what, it’s one of the better group shows I’ve seen — I hate them for this, but it’s one of the better group shows I’ve seen in a long time. It fit. And it just clicked.”
Saltz is an Everyman art critic — incisive, divisive, uncompromisingly honest and dependably brilliant in communicating the awe of great art and, occasionally, the awfulness of awful art. With no formal training, no degrees and boasting work experience as a truck driver, Saltz simply read all he could about art and began going to as many as 50 shows per week to hone his critical skills. As chief art critic for New York magazine and, previously, at the Village Voice, he’s become the best-known art critic in the country (and the only critic who also can be called a social media star).
Saltz ripped the exorbitant pricing and the primacy of sales numbers in today’s art market, declaring, “I’d drop a zero off of the whole art world if I were president.”
But rather than simply blame gallerists or one-perenter collectors for the trend, he pointed a finger at all of us for caring so much about how much art sells for.
“We’re thinking about the one thing that really has nothing to do with the work, which is money,” he said.
He recalled cursing out students who told him they were selling paintings for upwards of $4,000 and detailed his small personal effort to undercut the market: Saltz collects exact replicas of art that he likes, paying $55 per copy and accepting solicitations through social media.
Saltz mocked conceptual artists who insist on waiting to make work until they can get grants or other funding. Instead, he encouraged artists like those working at Anderson Ranch to find ways to get their work done and get it shown — again praising the artists in the Performance Ski show as exemplary of this can-do ideal.
“There were all these artists — really good work — finding really direct ways to do this work,” he said.
Throughout the address at Schermer Meeting Hall, he urged artists to be bold (repeatedly telling them to “grow a pair of whatever”) to accept that they will not get rich (in solidarity, Saltz posted a photo of his bank statement on INstagram last fall, showing he had $3,300 to his name) and to not fall into the trap of envying other artists or growing cynical of the art world.
“You’re going to be poor all your lives, get over it,” he told the artists in the crowd. “Grow a pair of whatever, this is an all volunteer army. Get over it or change it.”
Other high points from the quotable Mr. Saltz:
On how good art affects him: “What art really wants to do is hang on the wall and go like this: ‘I saw you looking at me. I want to come home with you. I want to live in your bedroom.’”
On why he doesn’t do interviews or write about what artists have to say about their own work: “Have you ever tried to talk to an artist? They’re psychotic.”
On mega-gallerist Larry Gagosian: “Don’t boo him. He’s a master of the universe. He may be the Death Star.”
On the subjectivity of evaluating art: “No one in the art world can prove that Vermeer is better than Norman Rockwell. But if you think Norman Rockwell is better that’s because it means you have bad taste.”
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Longtime Aspenite Mark Howard’s new memoir, “A Rewiring Life,” chronicles a life of change across five decades in Aspen.