OK. I was urged by Henri & Co. to weigh in on this issue as it is still being batted around the cage. These days I’m hesitant to open my big mouth because I’ve gotten tired of hopping on one foot. I worry that all this blather about money begins to sound like a loop with a drum machine workin’ the beat. But alright Henri, I’ll speak, er write.
First the NuMu is what it is. When it moved to it’s new location and pumped a TON of money into its fug ugly Euro-themed warehouse, it OWED a lot of very monied and art world powerful folks A LOT of ROI (Return on Investment.) The board is stacked FULL of collectors and their foundations so that the NuMu would not only have access to their vast Postmodern collections but access to their very deep pockets as well. The old NuMu, which very few people EVER went to – I remember going to a Carroll Dunham show and being the only one in the entire place for an hour or so before being joined by two German tourists – struggled and lurched through the High POMO era. Marsha Tucker was part of the scene, she was downtown, an artist in her own right, and with a bit of grit and determination, managed to make that kunsthalle work. But it was only able to reach a limited audience of art insiders and collectors. Like Baron Munchausen her vision for the NuMu could not go very far on “hot air and fantasy.”
In the NuMu’s new incarnation, Lisa Phillips, a former big wig with the Whitney, was brought in to create a destination museum and to create a new “brand.” Her connections in the art world are impeccable (especially in the movers and shakers department.) She was married at one time to the artist Meyer Vaisman (this is a cartoon of her in one of his more famous POMO works.) Her father is Warren H. Phillips former CEO of Dow Jones and former publisher of the Wall Street Journal. She is probably one of the top 10 most influential and powerful museum directors in the world, and she embodies the marriage between high finance and art. She is the closest thing to perfect in this new age of TARP, TALF and TBTF. Those are the realities of our age, the corporatization of the art world, the new art market mentality, and the institutionalization of Postmodernism as the language and code of this vast enterprise. Could Jeff Koons, Murakami, Hirst, and now, Fischer make the kind of work they do without the financing behind it? NEVER. And this is the reality that the NuMu accepts. MOMA is about Modernism, the Whitney about, well, fuck all, I don’t know what they’re about (maybe the Biennial?), the Guggy is Surrealism, and the NuMu is about the flowering and decline of Postmodern Financial Art from the last 10 years or so.
The LBO of the NuMu is exactly as it should be for this institution, and this recent financial controversy has allowed us to see where allegiances lie. The most surprising revelation for me has been Jerry Saltz, whose NuMu posts are quoted everywhere. He has taken a post-moral stance while he has gotten into bed with the long legs and ample bosoms of the NuMu’s generous donors. Really, this is another case of a man in his middle years making a fool of himself for a younger lover. Aside from the obvious hypocrisies to his critiques of corporatism and institutionalism in the art world, you have to wonder if Jerry is running a bit scared. Most all of the artists shown in the NuMu so far have been lauded by Jerry at one time or another. Even the recent iffy curatorial shows at the NuMu have been sufficiently gilded in his soft criticisms. I think this defense of the NuMu has something to do with his legacy, because if these artists get tarred with the gooey brush of insider dealing, suddenly they all may begin to look to the Art-World-in-general like Vasaris, Salieris or Ron Howards. Artists are a fickle bunch, and they tend to want to believe that talent and hard work win the day. But here we are confronted with a different agenda, and to most of us, it doesn’t feel quite right. All I can say is that when the art world was done with Greenberg, they left him, his ideas and his artists nearly overnight. Jerry may well be protecting his critical legacy as well as his connections – if he can’t have us, well at least he’s connected.
I know how the art world works. I’ve seen it first hand. Dave Hickey laid it out fairly succinctly in his recent speech at SVA – “care is control.” Warhol said it best, “being good at business is the best art.” And that defines the larger art world outside of our studios. The NuMu will weather this storm, like most corporations, they are untouchable. They are insulated with money and power. And the first time a show appears that everyone rushes to see and gush about, all will be forgiven. Like I said we are a fickle bunch.
Addendum: Charlie Finch writes one of the best bits on this issue here. Fantastic!
“The basic problem with an opaque, exclusionary policy of catering to the rich, mirrored, after all, by the disgraceful bailouts of Wall Street by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama Treasury Departments, is that true innovation, revolution even, is deliberately strangled in the cradle.”