BY JERRY SALTZ
Senior Art Critic, New York Magazine
79th Most Powerful Person in the Artworld
You can see all the stars / As you walk down Hollywood Boulevard / Some that you recognise / Some that you’ve hardly even heard of
Ray Davies, Celluloid Heroes (1972)
I love being on the ArtReview Power 100 list. People congratulate me and I get to pretend that I don’t really know about it or care. Before making the list, I made fun of it; now that I’m on it, I dread being taken off.
The actual name of the Power 100 should be the ‘Popular and Publicity 100’. There are names of people I’ve never heard of: who is Helly Nahmad? He was once number 8. Lists like this have almost nothing to do with vision, art, ideas or originality. They revolve almost totally around a tiny number of people who either receive massive amounts of publicity – often simply for receiving massive amounts of publicity – or whose claim to fame is making or spending astronomical sums of money on art. These days it’s as if there are only five artists in the artworld, all of them male. There’s Damien, Takashi, Jeff, Andy and Richard. To me, Lifestyles of the Poor and Famous Vito Acconci, Adrian Piper and Peter Saul all have power. But none of them makes lists like this. That’s how twisted things have become.
I may be part of the power structure, but I don’t write for power. As my wife, the art critic Roberta Smith, has said: one works for credibility. If I get fired by New York magazine I will lose my so-called power; hopefully I wouldn’t lose whatever credibility I have, or don’t have, with readers. Power is about money, fads, fickleness and folly; it’s what the world gives. Credibility is what you give yourself, what cannot be taken away. Now that much of the artworld is obsessed with power and money, it’s a tremendous time to be an art critic. Art critics can write whatever they want and it has no effect on the market. It’s fantastic. I can write that Richard Prince’s recent retrospective was dull, packaged, uncurated and tame; that Murakami is now producing dreck; or that Hirst is basically making Damien Hirst logos. None of it has any effect on their sales or status. I can write that a young artist deserves more attention, or even less, and not much happens. It’s fantastically liberating.
As for women, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have a hard time cracking power/money lists like this. A couple years back, Sotheby’s mucky-muck Tobias Meyer (unaccountably number 16 on the list: all he does is stand on a stage with a hammer and say numbers to well-dressed crowds of white people; the fact that he’s on the list, of course, is proof that lists like this have nothing to do with creativity, inventiveness or vision) famously effused: ‘The best art is the most expensive because the market is so smart.’ This is exactly wrong. The market is so dumb that it believes anything you put in front of it. It simply likes what it sees other people liking. It buys what other people buy. The market isn’t about quality; it’s a self-replicating organism that assigns values, fetishises desire, charts hits, lauds junkie-like behaviour, enforces pecking orders and creates ambience. Mostly men make lists like this because mostly men have always made lists like this. That’s how stupid the market is.