The war of words between two major New York art critics escalated yesterday when Saltz used his very public Facebook wall to shoot back at Yau for the Brooklyn Rail art editor’s accusation of Saltz being a Koons apologist:

Saltz reiterated his disdain for Yau’s criticism in his recent Open Letter to Art Critics (PDF, 418 KB), which was also published on Saltz’s Facebook profile. Saltz wrote:

John Yao [sic], an art writer in New York, just spent like 2000 words trashing me for writing about a work of art he says he NEVER SAW! Hah! (I love it when people hate art they’ve never seen and hate the people who dared to like it.)

The New York Magazine critic has been attracting a great deal of attention in the last year from his very public messages on Facebook that can be more off the cuff, somewhat erratic, and less polished than his writing in print.

Most recently Saltz clashed with Washington, DC-based art blogger/critic Tyler Green and other art bloggers, journalists, and critics, who he indirectly referred to as, “Art Moralists.” The controversy began when art bloggers quickly reacted to the announcement of the new Imaginary Museum series at the New Museum, which will debut with an exhibition of the private collection of the institution’s trustee Dakis Joannou. The New Museum announcement raised red flags among bloggers about the ethics of the decision and the controversy expanded when the mainstream media took notice.1

The NY Mag critic dismissed the criticism and accused Green of writing in a tone that was “scolding, scornful, condescending, and smug, tinged with a verbal violence that was a little scary.” Though Saltz later suggested he may have had a change of heart on the matter when he picked William Powhida’s critical drawing about the controversy, which appeared on the cover of the November Brooklyn Rail as #2 in his Best of 2009 list. He wrote, “This single drawing changed art-world minds, including mine.” Though Saltz never specified how his opinion had shifted.

Image via @manbartlett

1 This paragraph was revised for accuracy. As someone correctly pointed out to me, the “Art Moralists” phrase really was intended for anyone who questioned the ethics of the New Museum decision, which included The Art Newspaper, The New York Times, and others.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

22 replies on “Jerry Saltz Fires Back at Yau, “How Very Dickish””

  1. Well, this all seems to be reaching a fever pitch, yet again. I think Jerry is actually coming around to the fact that he recognizes that if the art world is to repair itself it is to be found somewhere in the muck and mire of the New Museum situation. It’s true by putting Powhida #2 on his 2009 wrap up he was tipping his hat to the validity of Tyler, Bill and many others’ critique of the New Museum shit show. But its obvious he can’t just come full circle because of what that may engender. As powerful as JS is, he knows his job is just as tenuous and that tomorrow he could find himself looking for a web hosting company. Someone should buy just to fuck with him. That being said, Yau is a powerful writer and Jerry knows it. When he comes out saying he never finished the piece we ALL know that’s bullshit. Every writer reads everything written about them, ten times.

    But its clear he is overwhelmed with what’s going on. I wonder if there is a way for a mediator to step in. I am beginning to think that the parties involved are not quite as far apart as they think. Perhaps Jerry should offer to edit a new arts magazine.

    We can call it Chia Pets.

  2. Jerry Saltz, in this career defining past year, has done a great job as art critic ‘of the people’ (the frustrated people, loosely speaking, of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn). But there are many scholarly art writers out there whose criticism operates at higher levels, who are quite less myopically New Yorkers in their work, and who would not even bother with a triviality like trying to define a single artwork of the 00s. People should drop the (hypocritical) anti-elitism, and give these art writers more attention than inconsequential dustups with lonely snarks, and more to the point shallow art critics, like Tyler Green and John Yau.

    1. I assume you mean academic art writers. The problem is no one in the public understand what they are writing about. These art critics are writing for a general audience, which is very much a different skill.

    2. You obviously haven’t read enough Yau if you call him a shallow art critic. Jeez…I guess Yau is the art-criticism-Koons-Puppy now…let’s all trash art critics before we’ve actually read enough of their work to make intelligent comments.

  3. I think it is “dickish” (i.e. Saltz-FB) for a writer to critic artwork that he has never seen in person… must mean only photos, text and other’s opinions is the foundation for the piece that Mr. Yua wrote. What the F***! I choose not to enter into all of the sensations that many have from actually “seeing” and/or experiencing Koons or any other artist . However, I do not believe that a critic’s work can be authentic unless “viewing” is part of the process of their writing – no matter how well written…

      1. It rhymes with OWWWW!
        Unfortunately, and I say this with much sensitivity (I am a Yankee from Philadelphia where they take you in K-1 to see the Betsy Ross House, Liberty Bell, original copy of the Constitution and Dec of Indie) that Art documents the “time” in which it is created – America in the past 10 years has been KOONS-VILLE ! Seriously, his harmless looking artwork is very dark indeed.

        1. It also depends on what you expect from art. I don’t want it to reflect the now – isn’t that what pop culture does? – I want it to show me new ideas, perceptions, and lead the way forward, not back.

      2. Agree that whether or not he saw the piece is not essential to the criticism. He’s still wrong to not have seen it. At least LIE about seeing it, because that leaves an opening for Saltz and others to ignore other legit parts of Yau’s critique

      3. I think what I find a bit strange or even disturbing on some level is Jerry’s reaction. To me Yau was really criticizing Saltz’s idea that ‘puppy’ was a characterization of America first and everything else was secondary to this point. Sure he did call him out, but it didn’t seem all that personal to me. I suppose Jerry’s facebook page is really a ‘personal’ forum for him where he gets to make these posts that I doubt he would feel too good about putting into the Village Voice or NY mag (mostly) but still it seems to reveal a kind of narcissism that bugs me, and even though I can tell myself ‘yeah its just his facebook page’ I do find it influencing the way I read his other writing, and liking it less. But I suppose that is a matter of personal taste…
        By the way Yau didn’t criticize ‘Puppy’ directly, he criticized Koons and his body of work as a whole (and as Hrag mentioned above, mostly in relation to Jerry’s characterization of it as being emblematic of a certain time).

  4. I’m afraid Jerry is quickly on his way to becoming the Sara Palin of the Art world.
    Jim VanKirk

  5. Reminiscent of Clement Greenberg vs Harold Rosenberg. Being on opposite ends of a dialectic doesn’t mean that each is wrong. The art will outlast the squabbling.

  6. i sense that what Yau was criticizing was an attitude of fawning over the rich and famous that he resents and which diminishes the collective “Art Project”. this is not an American phenomenon, it is worldwide. personally, i don’t feel comfortable with all of it because it is life diminishing in the way that People Magazine is. on the other hand, i feel as suffocated by the distended academia of the artworld and all the stuffy snobs nobnobbing with the with the patrons of their institutions and celebrating the profitable symbiosis. but what the hell, we all want to get paid, don’t we? the answer? get back to work!

  7. I like the Jerry of late but thought the Koons piece was ass lickingish. Yau is miles beyond Saltz.

  8. So, I look at Jerry Saltz reviews and cheerleader-type criticisms all of the time. He is predictable in his criticism. The fact that he is on board with the New Museum crap and the Jeff Koons crap in particular is not surprising. I read John Yau’s piece, and found it insightful and sincere. Jerry Saltz deserves a little of the “rubbing-his-nose-in-it” that Yau dishes out. I am happy that someone finally said it, frankly. Oh, but then I read Saltz’ response, and I have decided that I never need to look at another Jerry Saltz opinion ever again. Now I fully realize that everything he writes is truly opinion, and not very critical of art – only critical of folks who disagree with his own opinions. Bye-bye, Jerry. You just lost a reader. I’m sure there will be many more who think the way I do.

  9. Its simply this : Mr Yau called him on it. He called him on it.
    Like Jon Steward did with a recent Kieth Olbermann. He called him on it.

    its ridiculous to put Koons, in the same food group as ” emblematic” and “our american”.
    We know the problem is not with Koons, (He,s the donald trump of New York art , a designer designing products, initially a stock-broker).
    its jerry , what happened !
    if the text is wrapped with shinny irony , its still dick-sucking so to speak.
    I like Jerry . I just thought he,d know better. But he,s human and this maybe
    illustrates the distance between “the ground” and “the club”

    Shit! (here,s a thought) maybe with my next piece I,ll have a critic glue something
    in (flower in paw). Then maybe too , I,ll be “beyond criticism”
    Love it.

    What American likes/respects the best is the authentic.

    Long Island City

  10. Mr. Yau’s intent behind the article was nothing more than to challenge Saltzs’ stance that Koons work “embodies our time and our America: it is big, bright, shiny….” I am sorry Mr. Saltz, but Koons does not embody my American sensiblities. He is nothing more than a Thomas Kinkade for the Upper East Siders. His laborers do all the work and he takes all the credit, much like corporate America. In that respect, maybe Saltz is correct, he does embody America. As far as Mr. Yau not seeing Puppy, well, once you have seen one Large blue diamond, one large pink heart, one puppy covered in flowers, you have pretty much seen them all. No need to see it again.
    Jerry’s reply shows the world that he is the critic who cannot take criticism. His retort aimed at Mr. Yau was nothing more than a kindergarten schoolyard comeback. As someone who dishes out his fair share of criticism, one would think that he would be able to handle some himself. It makes one wonder, if you disagree with Saltz, watch out! He will attack with claws bared. How many artists that were given negative reviews by Saltz have wanted to publically declare that Saltz is “Dickish”? If they were to take a stance like that, on a public forum, how long would their careers last? Probably not past the show that was reviewed.

    Like my momma always said “you wanna dish it out, you better learn to take it.”

  11. How can you not like Jerry? He plays to the crowd and to sympathies like a virtuoso vaudevillian. “I made a little girl cry. Please tell me I’m O.K.” There is a great deal of truth in each criticism on this page. The problem as I see it is that we have the recent history and a fawning over post modernism that we’ve been given over the past 30 years now how do we get back out of it. Those years are gone and like it or not they are the history of our time. Sort of like the Bush years… undeniably American certifiably unsavory.

  12. I was really surprised to see this scuffle emerge; in particular to hear Yau’s criticism being described as such. In addition to being one my favorite poets, I’ve always been struck by the clarity of his art writing. I’ve always found his work to be more or less empty of the kind of hyperbole that bogs down so many critics (in particular in his books on Warhol and Johns, both of which offer very nuanced, level-headed and admittedly subjective looks at these two seemingly unimpeachable and big-to-the-point-of-irrelevance artists) and is always a joy to read.

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