You have to hand it to Jerry Saltz. At least he’s honest about who he thinks is a worthy collector and who isn’t. Bending over backwards to find something worthwhile to say about the Thea Westreich/Ethan Wagner donation show at the Whitney, he calls the show a sign of the Whitney’s new role as an important alternative to MoMA and the Met.
But Saltz also can’t help himself. He has to bring up the issue that animates him most: rich people buying art. But wait, that describes Westreich and Wagner. Worse, Westreich is an art advisor. Those people are evil.
Fear not. Turns out Jerry makes exceptions for those he considers in the club:
In a time of art flippers and dick-wagging trophy hunters who buy art alphabetically, by numbers and big names, with no personal taste whatsoever, assembling cookie-cutter collections, and using art as a placeholder, Westreich and Wagner are from another planet; call it Old School. I know them both a bit; I have seen them in galleries, at openings, and in the art world for 30 years. Each had been a collector before they met in 1991 and married soon thereafter. He’d been a Democratic Party organizer in California and collected ceramics and outsider art (in fact, giving a great Bill Traylor drawing to MoMA). She moved from Washington, D.C., to New York in 1988 and started an art-advisory business. Before you think, Ohhh, I get it; they’re icky art advisers, these two aren’t those kinds of wheeler-dealers. Both are extremely opinionated, speak their minds, can argue most people — including me — under the table, have been way out in front of different curves, and have highly individual taste. If you’re still cynically thinking, Yeah, but they’re still just more rich people buying famous art, as much as I loathe reducing art to prices, they paid $50 for their first Cindy Sherman, $7,500 for their first Christopher Wool, and $5,600 for their first Jeff Koons, a vacuum-cleaner sculpture they saw in the same Maiden Lane studio I saw it in — and still regret not keeping the ballpoint-pen drawing of an inflatable bunny he drew for me during that visit. They buy early and in depth, and stop collecting an artist when the work becomes too expensive. (It’s always been a mystery to me why artists like these, who’ve been supported early and often, don’t just gift works regularly to the same collectors.)