The New York Times has had a busy weekend trolling the art world. On Sunday the paper ran a story—not as embarrassingly bad as last Summer’s fake trend piece on art advisors—on the art stored in freeports around the world.
They followed that up with a short post elevating a non-event that took place at SF MoMA that repeats one of the hoariest and most simple-minded canards about conceptual art.
Taken together, the stories betray a level of philistinism among the Times’s editorial staff that really ought to be examined by someone in charge.
Let’s look at them in reverse order. Here’s the Monday post about two teenagers who pulled a “prank” at SF MoMA more than a week before. They laid out three items on the floor of galleries hoping the objects would be mistaken as “art.”
One of the three items, a pair of eyeglasses, got a few museum goers to take pictures. This is a news story?
Here’s how the Times described it:
The teenagers, Kevin Nguyen, 16, and TJ Khayatan, 17, both of San Jose, had been left scratching their heads at the simplicity of some of the museum’s exhibits, including two stuffed animals on a blanket.
“Is this really what you call art?” Kevin said in an interview over the weekend.
TJ added, “We looked at it and we were like, ‘This is pretty easy. We could make this ourselves.’ ”
With this editorial judgment in mind, let’s look at the front page story the paper ran on freeports asking if these storage facilities are “bad for art?”
Unfortunately, the story struggles to present anything that might be a real case against the freeports. Foremost among the story’s logical weakness is an inability to prove that there has been a huge increase in the number of works stored. Here’s the Times itself admitting as much:
Concerned by the rapid growth of these private storage spaces and worried that they could become havens for contraband and money laundering, Swiss officials initiated an audit in 2012, the results of which were published two years ago. The results revealed a huge increase in the value of goods stored in some warehouses since 2007, led by an increase in high-value goods like art. Though the audit did not specifically measure the increase in stored artworks, it estimated that there were more than 1.2 million pieces of art in the Geneva Free Port alone, some of which had not left the buildings in decades.
Many masterpieces have long lived outside of public view, buried in the basements of museums or tucked away in the private villas of the rich.
So we have a front page story that essentially tells us the Swiss are doing some important and valuable housekeeping in their freeports. Acknowledged in passing, the Times tells the Swiss continue to police the freeports so they don’t get used to hide contraband. And, in the cases where contraband goods have been found, the Swiss have been improving their controls and seizing works.
One of the World’s Greatest Art Collections Hides Behind This Fence (The New York Times)