Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Most Frequently Asked Question in Chelsea These Days

It's refreshing actually. No longer is the first question that people you haven't seen for a while ask, "Heard of any new gallery closings?" or "How's your traffic been?" Although it comes a close second, even "Seen any shows I shouldn't miss?" has been supplanted. No, the most frequently asked question in Chelsea these days seems to be "What on earth is Jerry Saltz doing on Facebook?" (OK, so it's in a close race with "Did you read that Roberta Smith article?")

Not everyone is a fan of the extraordinarily generous dialog Mr. Saltz is leading on the social network. He's ruffling feathers, and more than once I've disagreed with him, but as I noted back in this thread (excuse the double-self-reference):
Back in my first post of the year, where I wrote about my predictions for the art world, I had noted:
I suspect publications with only one art critic will benefit greatly from those critics also voicing their opinions via other, perhaps less-formal channels, to permit these (non-edited) critiques to balance out their formal contributions. Blogs are one such channel, but other (less time-consuming channels) are being used effectively by writers for this as well.
It was Jerry I was thinking of then and he's only getting stronger in the medium, in my opinion. I'm not sure whether this has, as C.P. predicted, "less to do with hierarchy," but it certainly feels fresh and exciting.
And it still feels very fresh and very exciting. In breaking down the barriers between critic and audience, Saltz has opened up a new chapter in the dialog in New York and beyond, I suspect. I keep telling Jerry when I run into him that what's he's doing feels nothing short of revolutionary. Like all revolutions, though, this one is messy and spawning its own counter-revolution in some quarters. Twitter and Facebook comments galore are more and more openly taking swipes at the Pied Piper of the Online Art Community. Anyone could have seen that coming, though. When you make yourself that accessible, people don't feel as insecure about disagreeing or objecting to your opinions or methods.

Not that I don't understand some of the objections mind you.

Jerry's calling the new director of one of New York's most important alternative art museums a "dick" was a bit shocking to read. Then again, that's nothing compared to what many people are willing to say within their circles about a wide range of art world authorities behind their backs all the time, though. So the question becomes to my mind, if you expand your circle online and truly wish that community and the dialog within it to have integrity, how much should you still edit yourself? Is there a total number of people you shouldn't say such things to? Are any "public" forums simply off limits for such talk? For an art dealer, yes...there are indeed limits. But for a critic?


In today's (yesterday's? I can't tell anymore with online stories) New York Observer, there's a profile of Jerry and how he's using Facebook. Here's a snippet:
Mr. Saltz’s Facebook page has become a phenomenon, having undergone an unlikely, organic transformation that turned it from an inconsequential personal profile into a highly trafficked, widely read discussion board about the art world. Populated by dedicated and predominantly serious-minded artists, curators, gallerists and assorted art-world denizens—many of whom check the page compulsively and post their thoughts multiple times a day—the page has become home to a vibrant community and an essential extension of Mr. Saltz’s practice as an art critic.
and
One of Mr. Saltz’s primary stated goals for the page—which he views as an experiment—is a desire to demystify the art critic in the eyes of readers and artists.
I doubt many people in the art world wouldn't applaud both those goals (demystifying the art critic and creating a vibrant online community). However, there is growing dissent among some folks (oddly enough, mostly other people who also use social networks and the Internet to promote themselves and or their work, but then again, if they weren't, how would I read them?) and whispers in Chelsea about exactly what Jerry notes in the Observer article would not be a good outcome:
"I’d like to think I haven’t jeopardized my credibility,” he said. “If I thought that was happening, I would stop, because it’s much more important to me to be an art critic than a Facebook … thing. If I started seeing people say, ‘Well, you can’t listen to him on the Whitney Biennial because he called Klaus Biesenbach a four-letter word,’ then I would say no, it’s not worth it to me at all. But right now, it’s a blast.”
In fact, one of Jerry's long-time online nemeses (see this or this or this), my pal Tyler Green, posted on Facebook just last night :
Jerry Saltz to the NYO on his Facebook activities: "I'd like to think I haven't jeopardized my credibility."
Although Tyler doesn't elaborate, I took that to suggest he disagrees. I have to say, as much as I'm sure both writers are highly annoyed with the other, their very public disagreements are VERY entertaining to read. And illuminating, which is their saving grace.

To make what could be a very long rant short (and I know, I have a dog in this fight), I tend to side with those who want things more messy, with fewer rules, when it comes to the art world. Not on the business side of things, mind you, but on the opinion and/or creative side of things. Rules are OK, if only to so there's something to break, but rigidity is counterproductive in this realm.

In other words, I LOVE how fierce and messy Jerry's Facebook dialog has become. I understand those who feel it's risky for his credibility, but as with artists or writers or anyone creative, the proof is in the pudding. This piece on the Tino Sehgal show at the Guggenheim was simply priceless and written long into Mr. Saltz's journey into the heart of the online community jungle.

What on earth is Jerry Saltz doing on Facebook? I'm not entirely sure and, I suspect, neither is he. I, however, hope he continues doing it.

UPDATE: C-Monster smartly critiques the Observer article.

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33 Comments:

Blogger Zachary Adam Cohen said...

Ed, nice roundup here of what is going on. I loved this quote today from Jerry "Jerry Saltz I have a fantasy about writing art reveiws that INCLUDE the writer's thoughts BEFORE writing the review; about the show; the reception of the show; the curator or artist. That isn;t JUST a review of the show but a reveiw of reveiwing the show AS WELL AS A REVIEW of the show.
Matthew Collings has been working near this realm for some time now.
ArtReview Magazine has experimented near here.
dark horse art critic Sarah Doglas has been toying with the technique.
I think its a race across the Atlantic; that this Change in Form really fits so-called New Media and that the critc or critics who meld these forms will have hit on something big. I have been trying to encourage Sarh Douglas to pursue it. I hope she does. Something where the Secret Life of the Critic is being delivered up without getting in the way.
Like I said its just a fantasy and i am probably too old to forge this next link.
But in the summers, lately, i have been working on it.
Maybe in a few years I';; have it worked out....

How the hell did I get on THIS!!???$#$#@!??
Yikes!"

For me, Jerry, when he gets extremely lucid, which by the way is exactly what his facebook forum allows him to do, throws in these sparks of genius into the comments. Recently hes giving advice to the very bloggers who so often tear his head off, telling them to band together and now here is a bit on a new kind of review, a pre review, review and wrap up. What he is saying is make the review more an experience, more of a story with a traditional narrative. This could be exceptionally rich content and from a new media perspective, couched in the right way, lets say with blog posts, twitter discussions, video and post analysis, would be a great way to experience art criticism.

I would love to see a sunday night blog post on the things Jerry, or any other critic, was going to see that week, with their preloaded thoughts and prejudices laid out, what they'd heard or expect from a certain show. Then I would want to see the review, perhaps with some live tweets and video from the actual show as the critic was viewing for real time color and flavor. And then a document that closed the loop; bringing in elements from the pre review introduction, the live tweeting and discussions, the review itself and a post parten. That would be very rich content indeed and would garner a lot of discussion and commentary every week.

2/17/2010 10:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I'll gladly contribute to the balance:

Are there any good shows around?



Cedric

2/17/2010 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Cedric,

Yeah. Go and see "Housebroken"
at the Flux Factory
Reception is at 8pm, February 19th

Show runs every Saturday and Sunday from 12 – 6 pm until March 21st.

39-31 29th Street, Queens, NY 11101

2/17/2010 01:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Oriane Stender said...

Slightly off-topic, but I don't quite see what is so revolutionary or daring about Roberta's article. She's a critic; it's her job to critique, not just individual shows, but institutional curating trends as well. And much as I like Jerry, I found it a little awkward that he basically said, "hey everyone, check out this fantastic article my wife wrote and talk about it!"

2/17/2010 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Ian Aleksander Adams said...

Credibility is pretty easy to have when most of the world isn't media savvy and most information is disseminated without a comment section.

Not making any comments about what people deserve what, but it's a lot harder to earn trust when you're involved in a discussion versus a flat publication. (one of the reasons I enjoy your blog, ed, and many of our peers on here - respectable people engaged in discussion and holding their own, many who never thought of themselves as writers or publishers until the net.)

2/17/2010 01:23:00 PM  
Blogger Ian Aleksander Adams said...

PS. Oriane, blogs and facebooks are exactly for posting your wife's article. That's why it's under our personal name instead of the New York Times masthead - it's so we can be personal and show others what we love and it's understood that it's our place. Why I'll never change my blog from a personal blog to "Photography and Aesthetics Journal" or something along those ridiculous lines. I want to be able to post a funny dog photo when I feel like it and not feel like I owe anyone anything, just because sometimes really great discussion happens under my domain (or his facebook page, as it is)

2/17/2010 01:25:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Roberta's article isn't revolutionary but it's a game changer.

2/17/2010 01:53:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not that "messy". Do you think? They pretty much fall in line, and get deleted if they don't.

More messy here in fact.

2/17/2010 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

Oriane, Ian,

you both miss the point, Jerry is a critic, Roberta is a critic, there is nothing wrong a critic pointing out exemplary work of a colleague, it would be more dishonest for Jerry to with hold his opinion stricly because they are married, yes he has be certain it is a legitimate colleague to colleague referral before he does it but I don't see anything wrong with his doing what so many others do and say as part of the discourse "did you read what Roberta wrote?"

I do have a problem with his threats of de-friending, and statements of de-friending, it is a bit tyrannical, and who of guessed Saltz is a bully.

how did Quintin Crisp put it?

"some toughs are ..... and some ..... are tough"

2/17/2010 02:32:00 PM  
Blogger grace said...

I have been reading and contributing to JS's site since he first came on-line with the help of a student - and it is a mixed bag. Though he is technically inept, rarely wandering to other FB sites, it is still wonderfully refreshing to have access to a group of fellow artists from all over the world voicing their opinions, personal tales, and work.

But I also am leery of a leader "herding the cats,", the sychophantic cheerleaders (is there such a word?), threats of de-friending that often occur when the testosterone starts to fly. The need to have total control despite words to the contrary.

Yet, having written all of the above, I go to the site regularly because exciting ideas, gossip, lucid writing, and artworld info will be found there - when it happens- and there is a generosity in allowing dialogue to blossom.

2/17/2010 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

But I also am leery of a leader "herding the cats,", the sychophantic cheerleaders (is there such a word?), threats of de-friending that often occur when the testosterone starts to fly. The need to have total control despite words to the contrary.

Sounds 'messy" to me.

2/17/2010 03:15:00 PM  
Blogger JP said...

Not that my opinion amounts to a hill of soybeans, but I heart this messy public fight. I have mixed feelings on all involved. All of them are right and wrong.

Please keep fanning the flames. I'm enjoying it.

2/17/2010 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger grace said...

Yes messy is how things are in life - not packaged so good term.
The site encourages dealers, curator and other so-called "power-brokers" to re-think strategies and come up with some nutty and exciting ideas.
ie: 10 sec. viewings!

2/18/2010 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

I think Facebook is revolutionary and that Jerry has found a good way to use it. First of all, a good discussion on facebook needs an audience and name recognition always helps. But it is more than that, there are other art writers, critics, curators on FB which have a reasonable audience without creating the discussion stream that Jerry does.

Jerry does a couple of things which I find interesting. Clearly he is passionate about art but more importantly, he reacts to it emotionally and is willing to express these emotions publicly. His persona makes his FB page work, as a social gathering rather than a classroom.

Second, Jerry moderates the discussion in a way which encourages people to participate, it's very egalitarian. The "messiness" occurs primarily when someone attempts to hijack the discussion to their own ends causing Jerry (the moderator) to intervene. It's a large forum and Jerry has some mental guidelines which generally keep the conversations flowing. He is very good at this.

Facebook is revolutionary because it is helping to demystify art by making more than the opinions of the selected few visible. This increased transparency means that a broad swath of the art community power structure which were insulated from their audience are now in closer contact with them. For example, the New Museum is aware of the debate over the upcoming exhibition of works from the Joannou Collection. Obviously, the debate won't change the exhibition schedule but I suspect the New Museum will have a different outlook towards their audience.

2/18/2010 10:40:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

George says: "Facebook is revolutionary because it is helping to demystify art by making more than the opinions of the selected few visible."

Yes. Totally agree. I'd say the same about blogs, too.

The art world (along with most worlds from fashion to politics) has organized itself into an adult version of high school. This is ironic, since the nerdiest, most serious, not-necessarily-most-popular kids turned out to be all of us. So in creating transparency--and I would add, flattening the hierarchy--we have an opportunity for greater participation as equals. Are critics really more important than the artists whose work they write about? Are galleries really more important than the artists without whose work there would be no gallery?

I loved that on a recent FB post, Jerry talked about having four jobs: not just the NY Mag gig but teaching and lecturing, too. Artists can relate.

And Ed, you have certainly helped soften the line between artists and dealers by hour honesty and transparency.

Economically it's not such a great time to be an artist, but electronically it's a great time.

2/18/2010 11:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Yup, I agree with George and Joanne. It is a way to level the playing field somewhat. And for Mr. Winkleman, I had gripes about the "Shut up Already" concept, but it's something (though seemingly demeaning, I guess the humor wins out), and the effort is appreciated.

2/18/2010 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

though seemingly demeaning

Yes, I have to admit, that thinking about how demeaning it would make me feel to be monitored as I viewed the images for 10 seconds almost made me not agree, but ... :-P

2/18/2010 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

I disagree with the 'high school' analogy, if anything FB is more like a University gathering of peers and their friends.

2/18/2010 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

"though seemingly demeaning"

Demeaning to Artists, that is.

As for Mr. Winkleman and guests: get comfortable chairs and lots of coffee.

I've told my friends and networking circle about the opportunity and many of them were offended by the "shut up already" tone, but thicker-skinned artists will submit nonetheless.

2/18/2010 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Demeaning to Artists, that is.

Yes, that was clear the first time actually. I was making a joke.

With all due respect to how tough it is to get a gallery, it might be good for your friends to consider the humor with which the proposer titled the project, consider that doing this will indeed take a HUGE chunk of time out of my day that could be spent trying to pay the mounting bills in this recession instead, and consider that if you don't have skin thick enough to laugh at *this* project's title, you might want to consider a monastery rather than a career in the insanely competitive art world.

truly.

2/18/2010 12:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Bernard Klevickas said...

Agree

2/18/2010 01:00:00 PM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

George: My "high school" analogy was to the art world in general.

But it can also apply to FB. At it's best--the way Jerry uses it--FB can be like a university symposium, yes, but the friending and de-friending, the who's-on-line, the quizzes, and the games like Farmville (WTF?) are strictly junior high.

2/18/2010 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Nope, it's just like real life.
I have some 20ish FB friends, they're cooler than many adults.

2/18/2010 02:08:00 PM  
Blogger Joseph Giannasio said...

last I checked determining one group is "cooler" than another is what grade schoolers do.

2/18/2010 02:35:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Whatever, the art world is a statistically insignificant part of Facebook.

FB is a social network, and even 'university symposium' isn't what I meant. It's less structured than that. There are some groups where an intellectual dialog occurs but for the most part is more like a place where you can hang out and talk shop with your friends.

As far as friending-unfriending goes, reportedly Jerry had 3000+ friend requests in the queue. I think he's trying to be fair in managing this by periodic weedings of his list. Since the list is public, anyone can read it even if they are not a 'friend'.

2/18/2010 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

That should have said -- since Jerry's page is public, anyone can read it.

2/18/2010 03:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whatever else, there is not much of an argument that can be made that the commenters on Jerry's page are "cool".

2/18/2010 04:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Whatever else, there is not much of an argument that can be made that the commenters on Jerry's page are "cool".

LOL!

offers the person too cool to sign such a comment :-)

2/18/2010 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

The thing about FB is that most of the people who are there because they are interested in art also represent the more educated part of the broader audience. That makes them interestin

2/18/2010 05:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Allright, the magic word was pronunced, so I just subscribed to Saltz (for the first time). I might have to lower the collectiv IQ a bit (fear me), but I won't suffer from feeling aparted from wherever the Buzz imagines the "cool" action is (I reserve judgment on that: I think Saltz is too New York centric, and lately I heard that "cool stuff" was happening in and around California, at least North America speaking).

Cedric C

2/18/2010 06:23:00 PM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Uh George that's called the digital divide I just got an iPhone And now I am loose uppon the land. It is jailbroken so I still need wifi be affraid
-)(- the gushing at the. Top of this thread put me off Zac seems nice enough but hs unrelenting possitivity rings alarm bells- the same bells that ring when Jerry hits us with hyperbolic (as eageageag) prickilyish points. Out
as hunter s Thompson says " when the going gets weird the weird turn pro"€£¥$

2/19/2010 01:11:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Regarding Cedric's feeling that Saltz is too New York centric. I think you need to separate out his critical writings from what he does on Facebook. To be honest, I rarely read art reviews so maybe I'm not the best person to characterize them. However, he is writing about New York shows for a New York magazine...

I do read his FB news feeds. It's more social and the range of discussion is larger than what he can do in the print media. People participate from all over the world. Sometimes the topics are a result of local issues (NYC) but even these usually have wider implications.

What FB has done is opened the curtain on the art world. People complain about the sycophants, the back biters, the egomaniacs, this or that, but that's what really goes on. Moreover, I think FB is aiding in the decentralization of the artworld by creating a spatially more transparent meeting space. Half the time I may not know where someone is responding from. I think it's fascinating and a good thing.

2/19/2010 11:29:00 AM  
Blogger Sean Capone said...

Ed, what you are doing with #class is equally messy and bold. It is the Facebook wall (with a lot of the same people no doubt) in realtime.

Jerry displays a professed "radical vulnerability" which is one part professional opinion, one part shtick, and one part heartfelt gut reactions. I would love if some of the other critics who have a FB presence were as active as he.

For the most part, everyone who has been defriended (either inadvertently or through their asshole behavior) is welcomed back after a short time. Myself included. Sometimes these people carry on the same way and get booted again. The project has educated my sensitivity about the power of social relationships in the art world. Not (just) the ass-kissing relationships--but rather the value of having access to your colleagues', friends', and enemies' uncensored inner life at all times of the day or night..

FB has been good social work and mental labor. Except for all the time it takes up that I COULD be making art.

2/27/2010 01:20:00 PM  

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