It Ain't Easy Being an Art Critic

And you thought it was easy being Jerry Saltz:

My No. 1 rule for dealers is: Never use your sales pitch on a critic. Ever.

I can’t tell you how much I hate it, and it happens constantly. I’m looking at art in a gallery, and after two or three minutes the dealer strides out to say hello. He (or she) then starts explaining. He tells me what the artist says the work is about. He repeats some pithy thing the artist said, or recites a text the artist thinks viewers need to know to understand the work. Curator X was just here, I learn, while the art was being packed for Biennial Y. “Artists especially” like this work — Chuck Close, or Chris Ofili, or Maurizio or Klaus or Brice. (I always want to say “Maurizio likes everything,” but I don’t.) Some dealers talk about who’s buying the work, which museum-purchase committees are considering it, how much it sells for.

All this erases me as a critic and as a person. I want to say to the dealer, “Be quiet: I can’t hear myself see.” But I can’t because critics have to remain neutral. There can’t be bad blood, or else the dealer will chalk up everything in future reviews (or the lack of them) to personality issues. Not to mention that the critic can’t use anything the dealer says, because the dealer will then go around saying things like “I told Jerry all that stuff he wrote.”

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