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Jerry Saltz

  • American critic
  • Born February 19, 1951

Jerry Saltz (born February 19, 1951) is an American art critic. Since 2006, he has been senior art critic and columnist for New York magazine. Formerly the senior art critic for The Village Voice, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2018 and was nominated for the award in 2001 and 2006. He has also contributed to Art in America, Flash Art International, Frieze, and Modern Painters, among other art publications. Saltz served as a visiting critic at The School of Visual Arts, Columbia University, Yale University, and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the New York Studio Residency Program, and was the sole advisor for the 1995 Whitney Biennial.


Put yourself in the position of an up-and-coming artist living in early-sixteenth-century Italy. Now imagine trying to distinguish yourself from the other artists living in your town: Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, or Titian. Is it any wonder that the Italian High Renaissance lasted only 30 years?




Not to say people shouldn't get rich from art. I adore the alchemy wherein artists who cast a complex spell make rich people give them their money. (Just writing it makes me cackle.) But too many artists have been making money without magic.




Many say an art dealer running a museum is a 'conflict of interest.' But maybe the art world has lived an artificial or unintentional lie all of these years when it comes to conflicts of interest.




Abstract Expressionism - the first American movement to have a worldwide influence - was remarkably short-lived: It heated up after World War II and was all but done for by 1960 (although visit any art school today and you'll find a would-be Willem de Kooning).




Every movement that slays its gods creates new ones, of course. I loathe talk of the sixties and seventies being a 'Greatest Generation' of artists, but if we're going to use such idiotic appellations, let this one also be applied to the artists, curators, and gallerists who emerged in the first half of the nineties.




I often find myself privately stewing about much British art, thinking that except for their tremendous gardens, that the English are not primarily visual artists, and are, in nearly unsurpassable ways, literary.




Anyone who relishes art should love the extraordinary diversity and psychic magic of our art galleries. There's likely more combined square footage for the showing of art on one New York block - West 24th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues - than in all of Amsterdam's or Hamburg's galleries.




Where Cezanne captured and intensified shards of the eternal (every pear far more sharply defined than it could be in life), Monet portrayed the changeability and flux of every moment. 'The Water Lilies' give you a jittery, amorphous sense of a world seen at the speed of light.




Abstraction brings the world into more complex, variable relations; it can extract beauty, alternative topographies, ugliness, and intense actualities from seeming nothingness.




When I criticize Joseph Beuys or Francis Bacon, nobody calls those opinions anti-male. Putting female artists or their subject matter off-limits is itself sexist and limiting.




I see around 100 shows a month, going from Niketown-size palaces where you feel like yelling, to storefronts in Bushwick. Each has to pay the bills; keep artists happy; and cope with collectors (oy!), curators (ay-yi-yi), critics (woo-hoo!), and occasionally plumbers. That their fiscal life often hangs in the balance only adds to the energy.




A sad fact of life lately at the Museum of Modern Art is that when it comes to group shows of contemporary painting from the collection, the bar has been set pretty low.




Almost all institutions own a lot more art than they can ever show, much of it revealing for its timeliness, genius, or sheer weirdness.




The Metropolitan Museum of Art is unsurpassed at presenting more than 50 centuries of work. I go there constantly, seeing things over and over, better than I've ever seen them before.




Summer is a great time to visit art museums, which offer the refreshing rinse of swimming pools - only instead of cool water, you immerse yourself in art.




There's one Baldessari work I genuinely love and would like to own, maybe because of my Midwestern roots and love of driving alone. 'The backs of all the trucks passed while driving from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, California, Sunday, 20 January 1963' consists of a grid of 32 small color photographs depicting just what the title says.




Early-twentieth-century abstraction is art's version of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. It's the idea that changed everything everywhere: quickly, decisively, for good.




The last time money left the art world, intrepid types maxed out their credit cards and opened galleries, and a few of them have become the best in the world.




The price of a work of art has nothing to do with what the work of art is, can do, or is worth on an existential, alchemical level.




Auction houses run a rigged game. They know exactly how many people will be bidding on a work and exactly who they are. In a gallery, works of art need only one person who wants to pay for them.




After its hothouse incubation in the seventies, appropriation breathed important new life into art. This life flowered spectacularly over the decades - even if it's now close to aesthetic kudzu.




Chris Ofili's suave, stippled, visually tricked-out paintings of the nineties, with their allover fields of shimmering dots and clumps of dung, are like cave paintings of modern life. They crackle with optical cockiness, love, and massive amounts of painterly mojo.




Abstraction is one of the greatest visionary tools ever invented by human beings to imagine, decipher, and depict the world.




Damien Hirst is the Elvis of the English art world, its ayatollah, deliverer, and big-thinking entrepreneurial potty-mouthed prophet and front man. Hirst synthesizes punk, Pop Art, Jeff Koons, Marcel Duchamp, Francis Bacon, and Catholicism.




'Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era,' the Whitney Museum's 40th-anniversary trip down counterculture memory lane, provides moments of buzzy fun, but it'll leave you only comfortably numb. For starters, it may be the whitest, straightest, most conservative show seen in a New York museum since psychedelia was new.




When people in stadiums do the Wave, it's the group-mind collective organism spontaneously organizing itself to express an emotion, pass time, and reflect the joy of seeing the rhythms of many as one, a visual rhyming or music in which everyone senses where the motion is going.




The style of ancient Egyptian art is transcendently clear, something 8-year-olds can recognize in an instant. Its consistency and codification is one of the most epic visual journeys in all art, one that lasts 30 dynasties spread over 3,000 years.




A metaphysical tour de force of untethered meaning and involuting interlocking contrapuntal rhythms, 'The Clock' is more than a movie or even a work of art. It is so strange and other-ish that it becomes a stream-of-consciousness algorithm unto itself - something almost inhuman.




I love art dealers. In some ways, they're my favorite people in the art world. Really. I love that they put their money where their taste is, create their own aesthetic universes, support artists, employ people, and do all of this while letting us see art for free. Many are visionaries.




'Untitled' is a time machine that can transport you to 1992, an edgy moment when the art world was crumbling, money was scarce, and artists like Tiravanija were in the nascent stages of combining Happenings, performance art, John Cage, Joseph Beuys, and the do-it-yourself ethos of punk. Meanwhile, a new art world was coming into being.




It took the Metropolitan Museum of Art nearly 50 years to wake up to Pablo Picasso. It didn't own one of his paintings until 1946, when Gertrude Stein bequeathed that indomitable quasi-Cubistic picture of herself - a portrait of the writer as a sumo Buddha - to the Met, principally because she disliked the Museum of Modern Art.




Probably only an art-worlder like me could assign deeper meaning to something as simple and silly as Tebowing. But, to us, anytime people repeat a stance or a little dance, alone or together, we see that it can mean something. Imagistic and unspoken language is our thing.




It took me twenty years to get Steven Parrino's work. From the time I first saw his art, in the mid-eighties, I almost always dismissed it as mannered, Romantic, formulaic, conceptualist-formalist heavy-metal boy-art abstraction.




I see 30 to 40 gallery shows a week, and no matter what kind of mood I'm in, no matter how bad the art is, I almost always feel better afterward. I can learn as much from bad art as from good.




Works of art often last forever, or nearly so. But exhibitions themselves, especially gallery exhibitions, are like flowers; they bloom and then they die, then exist only as memories, or pressed in magazines and books.




As I made my way through 'On Line,' the austere, stridently dogmatic, sometimes revelatory exhibition 'about line' at MoMA, I found myself thinking, 'Someone please wake me when the seventies are over!' In the empire of curators, the sun never sets on the seventies. It is the undead decade.



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