Jerry Saltz; Happy Guy

Jerry Saltz

* * *

Jerry Saltz, the art critic for The Village Voice, must be the most optimistic guy in town. That, or the most delusional-it’s hard to tell. Either way, he’s happy.

Witness his recent column titled “Rays of Light,” a hit-and-run synopsis of 85 current shows, most of them in Chelsea. This kind of article isn’t new for Mr. Saltz: In the past, he’s written encyclopedic surveys of the gallery season for, if I recall correctly, Art in America . I’ve always admired Mr. Saltz’s diligence, his unwillingness to leave any artistic stone unturned. His account of a recent jaunt through Chelsea left me breathless; its thoroughness was daunting and its enthusiasm unmistakable. As a resource for future sociologists, Mr. Saltz’s survey of every conceivable facet of a multifaceted subculture will prove invaluable.

Whether he’s made an invaluable contribution to art criticism, I’m not so sure. When he likens the art world circa January 2003 to a “harmonic convergence,” Mr. Saltz isn’t just pointing out that there are more and more galleries. He’s also rejoicing in a “revving engine,” in a “frisson of anticipation, emotional sharpness, euphoria or confusion”; he’s celebrating a scene on the “cusp of change.” He does toss in a few caveats, but basically he’s giddy about the way things are and the way they might be. I can almost picture him skipping through the galleries, elated at being part of the never-ending spectacle.  Why, even the giant butt-plug Mr. Saltz encountered in a doorway on West 20th Street is testimony to the approaching renaissance!

Having made the trek through the same streets as Mr. Saltz, I frankly don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. What the galleries had to offer in January was as bleak as the recent cold front.

Tastes differ, of course. Yet in extolling the virtues of the “bigger, more accessible, and less predictable,” Mr. Saltz mistakes size for possibility, miscellany for good tidings and desperation for inventiveness. Never before has there been so much stuff on display and so little to see. Our status quo-the Duchampian paradigm-is stretched to its limits; still (and alas), it’s not exhibiting signs of collapse. In the meantime, New Yorkers unwilling to celebrate the trivialization of art have to live with the fact that novelty, though it has a short shelf life, takes an eternity to dissipate.

© 2003 Mario Naves

Originally published in the February 9, 2003 edition of The New York Observer.

Postscript: Subsequent to this column, Saltz wrote about me and my collages not once, but twice.  Readers curious about my work should look here.

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