Wednesday, April 04, 2012

What to Make of Morley's Musings

Now that the alpha dogs have had their fill of the carcass, I imagine it's acceptable for we "smug, semi-informed" pups of the blogosphere to shyly sniff around it for scraps. :-P

The carcass I refer to of course is the barely warmed-over update to his 1993 hit piece on the art market that made closet watercolorist and TV journalist Morley Safer a force to be reckoned with (or not) in the contemporary art scene. Having spied him traipsing around Art Basel Miami Beach this past December, camera crew in tow, most art world insiders were anxiously awaiting the reappraisal.

To understand why the update has been such a relief-producing flop, though, it helps to revisit the original:
In his now-infamous 60 Minutes story "Yes...But is it art?" Safer took on artists, dealers and critics of the 90s with equal gusto. The artists, he said, make mostly "worthless junk," or better yet, hire craftsmen to make it for them. Dealers, he said "lust after the hype-able." Critics write in a language that "might as well be in Sanskrit."


Indeed the original was truly controversial because it hit a number of bulls-eyes that sting still today. How lame the defenders of contemporary art looked next to its detractors back then was mostly a matter of stagecraft (detractors were comfortably seated in what looked like offices of power absent only the pipe and smoking jacket, whereas defenders were literally forced to think on their feet) and poisoning the well before the defenders were able to speak (Safer ensures we agree with his position on Koons by insisting his answer is "shaky" before we hear it). But lame they did look all the same.

In the update? Not so much.

Partly, that's because of a shift in collective values. In 1993 it was still widely assumed that it was a valid position to take that crass consumerism was bad. Today, consumerism has been not only equated with capitalism but virtually with patriotism throughout most of the first world. So the 2012 response to Safer's 1993 question "What makes it art?" is an unquestioned (even by Safer) "Look how much it's gone up in price."

But it's also because of a shift in power. Back in 1993, "60 Minutes" had the power to shape opinions. Today, many people are surprised to learn it's still on the air. Moreover, back then, the mainstream media in general was feared (look at how Koons accepts insulting question after insulting question and still pants like a puppy dog for more). That has greatly changed. In fact, Larry Gagosian never bothers to stand up when Safer approaches him in his Basel Miami booth, making it crystal clear who has the power now.

Partly, though, it's because art history has done its job and sorted out a few things in the past two decades. Watching Safer mock Twombly in the 1993 piece, it's easier to dismiss his position today. Being a fan of Twombly, that pleases me. Not being a huge fan of every other artist he mocked in the first piece, though, I'm a bit less self-satisfied.

And so, Safer's highly anticipated revisit to his infamous smack-down comes and goes, not with a firestorm, but with barely a whimper. It's hard to imagine we're not all the worse for it though.

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12 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Listen up , I would follow Jeff Koons into Battle. He just fucking wins, Like Tim Tebow. Do you have your Tebow Jets Jersey yet Edward? !!!! There is something about Jeffrey Deitch very rare, he is a Master Hypnotist He could cure all your addictions.Have to give CBS and 60 minutes credit for allowing ugly old white dudes on TV. RATRATRATRATRATCATSINA BAG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4/04/2012 10:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although Safer's views are dated and tired, MANY MANY people not in your new york centric world still watch 60 minutes- Most likely the very people who could give 2 shits about Larry Gagosian and to whom he shows respect to...let's talk about real art for a change.

4/05/2012 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

There's a conflict in your response for me, Anonymous (11:06:00 AM), in that on one hand you seem to be defending Safer's program as more relevant to the wider national audience, but then advocate for talking about "real art." Had Safer wanted to spark a dialog about "real art" (which I don't feel it's important to define other than to imagine it would be more universally accepted as "art" by the general public), he would not have delved into the belly of the "art world" that is Art Basel Miami Beach.

Quite the contrary, Safer has no interest in "real art" (he's had 20 years in which to produce a segment or two on it, if he wished).

Last night I spoke with one of the dealers whose booth Safer conducted an interview in, who confirmed what I sensed by watching the piece, that it had been edited to hell.

Safer's not even interested in "truth". Safer's interest is controversy.

So while I empathize with your call for change, I don't think it makes sense to point to Safer's piece as an agent of that change.

4/05/2012 11:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who is pointing it out as an agent of change? See, this is the trouble with texting and internet commenting---totally misunderstanding my point. I am pointing out the fact that to you 60 Minutes has no power and is not a relevant program but to many others who I assume are not in your circle, it is a program that is very relevant. I don't think that most viewers of the program necessarily understand or care about the art market. Safer's style does not mimic or represent the tone of other journalists' programs on that show and I do agree with you in that I believe his interest is controversy and he fails to clearly articulate what real art should be...I am not asking him to, in fact, I am not relying on him to tell me what it is. He is an old parrot repeating the same garbled words he had learned 20 yrs ago...I'm asking you and the likes of you to talk about real art since we cannot rely on the parrot for that.

4/05/2012 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I make it a point to assume if I'm misunderstood that it's my fault, not the medium's. YMMV.

I do think the juxtaposition of your two points (as I now understand them)--1) "60 Minutes" remains relevant; and 2) a dialog about "real art" is necessary--would lead a fair number of people to assume you felt there was a connection, but let's separate them out.

"60 Minutes" is a fine program, but it's not that objective. The fact that Safer would warm over what he considers his most controversial segment with no clear motivation other than that, is in and of itself rather telling.

Talking about "real art" is relative, though. I believe I am talking about "real art" even as I accept some others might disagree.

Even though I avoided it before, to take this any further I'd have to understand what you consider "real art."

4/05/2012 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fact that the main stream cannot talk about art is the most telling part of all. Discussing Larry Gagosian's interaction with Morley Safer in his Miami Basel booth is not talking about art it's confirming why most people are intimidated by it and not excited altogether. Art should be talked about in an accessible manner. Safer fails to talk about art but attacks an easy target like the art market and overinflated aspect of the art world. You say
"Watching Safer mock Twombly in the 1993 piece, it's easier to dismiss his position today. Being a fan of Twombly, that pleases me. Not being a huge fan of every other artist he mocked in the first piece, though, I'm a bit less self-satisfied."

Let's talk about art. Why are you a Twombly fan and not a huge fan of every other artist he mocked?

4/05/2012 11:55:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Have been a huge fan of Twombly's since the first time I saw "The Italians" in person at Moma. Wanted to eat that canvas or roll around in its world. The combination of control and youthful-esque abandon is joyous for me. Gets me in my heart, head, and sex.

As for the other artists on the segment, not all of them have the same impact on me. That's all. By "not a huge fan of every other," though, I didn't mean "not a huge fan of any other." I would prefer not to identify who I'm less enamored of...it's enough to draw attention to my point that, in my opinion, art history (and not just the art market) has shown Safer's original snarkiness to be somewhat uninformed.

4/05/2012 12:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response. Most ppl in the USA are uninformed about art, Safer represents the majority.

4/05/2012 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Losing track of which Anon is which (or is there only one?)

...would agree that most people are uniformed about art. I credit that to the rise of distribution channels and thereby ease of consumption for pop culture. Ppl only have so many hours in their day and all of culture has always been to a large degree about a break from your troubles and strife for the average person.

Safer, however, as much as he pretends otherwise, is as much an art world insider as are 85% of the people I'd put in that category. You see him frequently at art events in New York and elsewhere. He's not at all uninitiated. It's seems clear in the 2012 segment that he and Gagosian had spoken before. He's an odd representative for the "uninformed" majority.

4/05/2012 12:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know him as an art world insider but he sells himself as the "uninformed", out of touch tv personality...

4/06/2012 02:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

New Anon.
I'm torn about this....
on the one hand, much contemporary art is BS. Jeff Koons being example #1. Even when the work is greater than the sum of its parts (Gober) the prices are insane, and have little to do with what the work actually is.

On the other hand...to mock a Twombly because he used "the wrong end" of a brush to make marks...is idiotic. I'm with Ed here....I saw the Twombly room at the Philadelphia Museum as a teenager and was blown away, I had never seen art of that intensity before.

Anyone can mock art speak. It's easy. And what Hilton Kramer makes sense until you take a look at what he DID like.

4/06/2012 08:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is Hill Jack Anon numer0 uno on this thread. Twombly is the only artist I have come across who could take bright positive colors and make them sad. 60 minutes is Television, basicly the twilight zone.

Frank Zappa, On Television

I'm the slime
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wWA-TXJmeQo

4/09/2012 10:29:00 AM  

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