Jed Perl has an angry yawp in The New Republic and though it would be easy to dismiss his frustration with the art market, it is worth noting that the real story isn’t the surging market but the narrowing focus. It would be a bit more honest if Perl included his fellow critics in the indictment for they too spend too much time talking about or complaining about the market instead of drawing attention to all the other exciting art that is out there. Finally, Perl is wrong about the spending. There’s a great deal of money going to the other works. As Todd Levin recently commented, the art that is sold today is no “better” than the art that was sold ten years ago.
There’s active buying at all levels of the Contemporary market. But museums are chasing shows that duplicate previous shows or cater to board members pet projects and failing to keep up with the critical advances of galleries.
Isn’t anybody troubled by Elderfield’s organizing “Willem de Kooning: Ten Paintings, 1983-1985,” the show currently at Gagosian, not long after he organized a de Kooning retrospective at MoMA? Isn’t anybody embarrassed by Elderfield’s fulsome (and economically convenient) praise of the late works of an artist who many of the finest minds of his own generation believed had been in a steep artistic decline since 1960, if not a few years earlier? On the question of quality thoughtful people can surely disagree. I would have imagined, however, that the same thoughtful people would be deeply troubled by Elderfield’s willingness to turn MoMA’s prestige into Larry Gagosian’s financial advantage. The sad fact is that Gagosian’s de Kooning catalogue—with its full-cloth binding, tipped-in plates, over-the-top text, and lavish supporting illustrations of work by Rubens, Matisse, Picasso, and Mondrian—is engineered to brook no disagreement. The super-rich have no problem with John Elderfield, you can be sure about that. They also have no problem with Adam Weinberg, the director of the Whitney Museum of American Art, who next summer is dedicating nearly the museum’s entire Madison Avenue building to a Jeff Koons retrospective.
Record Auction Prices Show Money’s Victory Over Art (New Republic)