Peter Plagens writes an angry-critic-who-loathes-the-market screed in this week’s Newsweek magazine that reads like a pastiche of the genre. Starting with a metaphor that advertises his conclusion, he likens the contemporary art market that has now passed to Wynton Marsalis performing amid all the trappings of a heavy-metal stadium show. Though the image is incongruous, it’s not clear why Plagens feels it indicts. It would seem that he objects to Contemporary art’s popularity as unseemly. Indeed, fans of Contemporary art must all be dupes:
Gallery districts flourished, collectors were lionized like Medici princes, art magazines got as thick and slick as Vogue andattracted customers by the horde. The Tate Modern in entertained 5.2 million visitors in 2007. The problem is the hollowness at the core of that statistic. Serious contemporary art’s authentic audience doesn’t number in the millions-per-year-per-museum. The huge crowds are coming not to hear Wynton Marsalis, so to speak; they’re coming for the spooky stage smoke, the fireworks and the thrill of being part of the throng. A long time ago, museum research surveillance revealed that the average time a viewer spent looking at a given work of art was 2.3 seconds. That’s a geologic age compared with the blink-and-a-nod anything gets now.
What’s striking here isn’t Plagens’s position–it’s a perfectly valid and very commonly held one. No, the curious thing is the lack of facts in the argument. Notice the elision in the paragraph above from evidence to assumption. And the confident assertion that none of those millions of museum goers could possibly have been interested in the art.
Brother, Can You Spare a Painting? (Newsweek)