Let the criticism begin
28 September 2008

As the market begins its slow tumble towards oblivion it seems critics will finally speak out about the flimsy premises on which the market operates. I hassled Ed Winkleman last week over his defense of ‘squillionares’, a term Michael Kimmelman used to describe the kind of rich collectors who buy questionable art. In that case, Kimmelman suggested the collector overpaid for a late Francis Bacon of dubious quality. Now, Charlie Finch, unsurprisingly, has laid out artist Liza Lou’s newest offerings with this stinging observation on Artnet;

Well, Liza Lou, I knew you when the work of your hands sparkled at the New Museum and PPOW Gallery. Enjoy the money, because your soul has left the building.

Heaping criticism on artists isn’t unsual for Finch, but I suspect that we will see the gloves come off over the next few months as competition heats up in the art world. As lots move to auction, and they will move to auction as crippled investors seek liquidity, we should start to see who’s for real. I think critics will be right there with renewed assessments of the brief, shiny careers of boom time artists. While I have enjoyed a certain amount of success in the art world, it’s not a far fall back to reality for me compared to artists whose price points climbed over a $100,000 for new work based on crisp, new MFA degrees and gallery pedigrees.

The reality is the art market is a lagging indicator. There won’t be a spectacular crash, but how the auctions unfold this fall and sales in Miami should start to give us a picture of what the damage will be. As galleries start to close and artists lose representation, the oversaturated art market, which has produced a stunning amount of art about anything and everything, may start to develop some clarity. I wonder what will be left standing in the wake of the contraction. Whose work will still be deemed important by the critics when there is no money left to prop it up. I expect we will see a lot of discussion, debate, and movement to define what the last decade was really about. What will the story be? The umbrella of post-modernism is wearing thin.

WILLIAM POWHIDA
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