Essays

Battle for the Nation: John Yau Questions Jerry Saltz’s America

Drawings of John Yau (left) and Jerry Saltz by Phong Bui placed on top of Jasper John's "Three Flags" (1958).

In the February issue of the Brooklyn Rail, editor John Yau takes on New York Magazine‘s art critic Jerry Saltz and his characterization of America as “big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat-seeking, impeccably produced, polished, popular, expensive, and extroverted—while also being abrasive, creepily sexualized, fussy, twisted, and, let’s face it, ditzy.” Yau asks, “Is this ‘our America?’ Or is this Jerry Saltz shilling for Jeff Koons?”

In his essay, “The Difference Between Jerry Saltz’s America and Mine,” Yau goes on to call Saltz an apologist for Koons and suggests that all Saltz is doing is indirectly celebrating Koons’ – and his own – narcissism.

Yau also accuses Saltz of badly riffing off classic New York critic and poet Frank O’Hara. Judge for yourself.

Saltz on Koons:

[Koons] is also the emblematic artist of the decade—its thumping, thumping heart.

Koons’s work has always stood apart for its one-at-a-time perfection, epic theatricality, a corrupted, almost sick drive for purification, and an obsession with traditional artistic values. His work embodies our time and our America: It’s big, bright, shiny, colorful, crowd-pleasing, heat-seeking, impeccably produced, polished, popular, expensive, and extroverted—while also being abrasive, creepily sexualized, fussy, twisted, and, let’s face it, ditzy. He doesn’t go in for the savvy art-about-art gestures that occupy so many current artists. And his work retains the essential ingredient that, to my mind, is necessary to all great art: strangeness.

Frank O’Hara on Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” (1952):

Blue Poles is our Raft of the Medusa and our Embarkation for Cythera in one. I say our, because it is the drama of the American conscience, lavish, bountiful, and rigid. It contains everything within itself, begging no quarter: a world of sentiment implied, but denied; a map of sensual freedom, fenced; a careening licentiousness, guarded by eight totems native to its origins (There were Seven in Eight). What is expressed here is not only basic to his work as a whole, but it is final.

The whole article is a great read and my favorite line is:

Imagine that—a work of art—or “demanding pet”—that costs “upwards of $75,000 per year” to maintain. In other words, Puppy exists somewhere on the spectrum between a Hummer and a private jet.

Priceless and beautifully characterized.

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