The triumph of commerce that art fairs advance and symbolize—the subject of my most recent piece in the magazine—gives me philosophical indigestion. The very wondrousness of Frieze New York’s production values made it worse. The spectacle seemed a gesture of noblesse oblige from King Mammon to the non-collector masses, or else a potlatch bonfire of profits that accrue to the Frieze folks, from facilitating intercourse between art and money. The signal drama in new art lately involves a struggle not for esteem and influence—the wonted dreams of artists—but for commercial viability. If you like a certain artist now, it’s hard not to be caught up in rooting for him or her to sell. Simply no other way to gauge, affirm, and discuss quality is in working order. [Emphasis added]
Set aside the misuse of the potlatch analogy (neither the art nor the money involved is destroyed so it’s not a potlatch at all.) Ignore the fact that an art fair is no different from an art district except a few more walls have been eliminated. Schjeldahl’s complaint comes down to feelings that no one listens to him anymore. That’s a shame. Schjeldahl’s a fascinating writer about art. And it isn’t clear why he thinks “no other way to gauge, affirm and discuss quality is in working order.”
More to the point, it seems that he’s lost confidence in himself in the face of mere money when surely his work will be better remembered and more impactful long after the prices paid at Frieze are forgotten.
WHAT IS THE FRIEZE FOR? (New Yorker)