Babylon must Fall
The Battle for Babylon is an article written by art critic Jerry Saltz. While his article focuses on the art scene in New York, his critique is applicable almost universally. He takes the position that “more artists, gallerists, and curators are taking matters into their own hands” in an effort to circumvent the current arrangement that “reduces art to its exchange value.”
Saltz makes clear what he considers to be part of the problem, “Too many critics act like cheerleaders, reporters, or hip metaphysicians. Amid art fair frenzy, auction madness, money lust, and market hype; between galleries turning into selling machines, gossip passing as criticism, and art becoming a good job; the system, while efficient, feels faulty, even false.”
He broadens his attack on the New York art world by revealing its blatant sexism, pointing out that women are hardly present in a sphere controlled by men. Saltz and I are of the same mind when it comes to the assessment of the art world being corrupted and manipulated by the market. We see eye to eye when it comes to the necessity of formulating an alternative model that allows artists to concentrate once more on art instead of business. As he succinctly put it in his article, “This system needs to be starved into submission or changed.”
I concur with the general conclusion Saltz arrived at, that great changes are afoot and that they’ll be initiated by an amalgam of contentious artists, curators and critics who can no longer stomach the status quo. However, I take exception to his comment that the “system, while efficient, feels faulty, even false.” The system is running perfectly well for those money men who are in command of it.
The soulless dealers and investors who are reaping huge profits from their control over the art world see nothing faulty, it is after all their system, and they’ve succeeded in reducing art to nothing more than a commodity. Recognizing this fact will allow us to formulate the strategies essential in freeing art from this yoke, at least as far as can be expected under current realities.
Saltz gets it right when he enthusiastically pronounces: “Artists should curate shows, write about them, and make their own publications. The agenda needs to be set by artists, not the market. Supply-and-demand thinking has to shift to production-and-experience thinking. Small communities or cells of artists, curators, and critics should band together, take positions, make cogent arguments, and put those things out there. If these positions are hostile to one another, fine; art isn’t about getting along. Disagreement and criticism are ways of showing art respect.”
This process rudimentarily sketched out for us by Saltz must begin here and now in a serious manner. We are at a historic juncture as artists, faced simultaneously with the break down of the art world along with a deepening global crisis. How we respond will help set the future course of art, as well as determine its relevancy. I’ve long anticipated the artistic regeneration that would be launched from such a dialog, and it’s to that end that my web log is devoted.
Saltz calls for a rebellion in the world of art, an appeal I can easily respond to as an artist since at this point my idea of a satisfying aesthetic experience is world-wide revolution. Saltz asserts “art shouldn’t only be about tweaking middle-class values or critiquing and redressing the art world.” Indeed, artists must step out of their isolated art ghettos to address the real world, but how to instigate the much needed change that will sweep away a moribund art scene is another question.
Conceivably through discourse and engagement we can arrive at a reasonably pragmatic solution. I would begin by analyzing the very title of Saltz’s article, The Battle for Babylon. The city of Babylon, that biblical center of power and money whose army ruled the world and whose leader defied God, is an apt metaphor for describing any odious hub of monstrous power and ill-begotten wealth.
Saltz suggests that by boldly storming the ramparts of our present day art world Babylon, we may breech its thick walls and win the fight. But I have no desire to capture the city only to crown a new Nebuchadnezzar. The metaphorical Babylon is a place beyond redemption, an irredeemable empire to be shunned. That’s why I titled this article, Babylon must Fall.