A view of Jennifer Dalton’s “What Are We Not Shutting Up About? (Five Months of Status Updates and Responses from Jerry Saltz’s Facebook Page)” (2010) (via Jennifer Dalton’s Facebook profile) … better photos to follow

Now that Jerry Saltz has proven himself — yet again — to be an attention whore with his role on the Work of Art reality TV show, I’m starting to like him more … yes, I love a car crash. (I’m complex, I know.) And just when we were all jonesing for another fix of “What is crazy uncle Jerry going to do next?” Artist Jennifer Dalton is opening a show today at the Flag Art Foundation called Making Sense, which is an:

… attempt to make sense of Artforum’s yearly “Best of” roundup of shows and events, the New Yorker magazine’s representation of artists, and New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz’s incredibly popular Facebook page.

Detail of Dalton’s “What Are We Not Shutting Up About? (Five Months of Status Updates and Responses from Jerry Saltz’s Facebook Page)” (2010) (click to enlarge)

Sure, some of us have moved onto curator Dan Cameron’s Facebook profilehe recently mentioned that he spent the holiday weekend going through his personal papers from the 1980s & 90s, which are about to be handed over to the Archives of American Art … JUICY!!! – but I still lament what I call the golden age (ok, maybe tin) of Saltz’s Facebook profile and its rough-and-tumble typos, ALL CAPS TIRADES, and non sequiturs … oh, Jerry. Where have you gone? Oh right, you unfriended me and I stopped reading. Nevermind.

But alas, I still care for you Saltz, ok, maybe worry is the right word. And now that artist Jennifer Dalton has resurrected what were probably intended to be ephemeral posts, she has — in essence — written your biography, kinda.

Some other facts about Dalton’s Saltz project (via an email from the Winkleman Gallery, which represents her):

She analyzed the period from January 1, 2010 through May 31, 2010 … color-coded all Jerry’s posts by subject topic so one can see which topics tended to generate the most responses and the most “likes.” The two posts that went through the roof with over 800 responses were on two of the more “bland” seeming subject topics: “old dead artists” (a post on Picasso’s auction sale) and “art in general” (a post on the best artists’ names).

There were over 155,000 words published in response to Jerry’s posts during this time. From the five months of comments, Jen then concentrated on January’s approximately 20,000 words and a few of the things she gleaned from them were that:

  • more men than women posted responses
  • the word “disagree” is used nine times more often than the word “agree”
  • five of Jerry’s “friends” post almost 20% of all the responses

So, now that Dalton has a Ph.D. in Saltz I couldn’t resist interviewing her about the latest C-list reality TV celebrity and what looks like a fascinating exhibition that travels down the rabbit hole of New York’s art world wonderland.

*   *   *

Hrag Vartanian: Why is the online art world so obsessed with Jerry Saltz?

“What Are We Not Shutting Up About? (Five Months of Status Updates and Responses from Jerry Saltz’s Facebook Page)” (Detail – Photo of Printed Facebook Pages) (via Jennifer Dalton’s Facebook page)

Jennifer Dalton: I think my friend Gina Magid said it best when I was trying to figure out this piece in my studio a couple of months ago. I wrote down what she said and pinned it on my studio wall, because it rang so true: “Artists are fairly desperate to hear from someone else who thinks what we’re all doing is important.” Jerry Saltz makes himself very accessible, and he makes it clear that he values what artists — and not just famous artists — do and think.

HV: Are you suggesting that Saltz’s Facebook page is dominated by artists desperate for attention?

JD: Nice bait! But no I don’t think so. Jerry Saltz cares about about what artists and others around him *think*, and none of us gets that very often. That’s not really the same thing as wanting “attention.” Or, perhaps I should say it’s a very specific kind of attention, and it’s not just from Jerry but also from the other members of the community he’s created. I think what people crave is dialogue and community, and Saltz’s page has become a mecca for that.

HV: Did all the data you amassed reveal any surprises?

JD: Yes, I was surprised that some of the most popular discussions were on on topics that did not seem to be “hot button” ones. There were 845 responses on a post in which Jerry Saltz asked what are some of the best artists’ names. In some other ways I was less surprised. Responders were more likely to disagree than to agree with other posters, and more likely to agree than to disagree with Jerry Saltz himself. And during the month of January 2010, which I analyzed in the most depth, the top five responders generated 18.5% of the responses.

HV: But isn’t some of this a form of “inside baseball?” Meaning, what is the importance of this in the bigger scheme of art and your work. What was it about this topic that intrigued you?

JD: Sure it is “inside baseball.” But like other microcosms it can be seen as having wider implications and meanings for the culture as a whole. Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page is a community of colleagues and competitors, supportive, and antagonistic alternately, or sometimes at the same time. I am fascinated by it as an archive of conversations and emotions that ebb and flow, flare-up and smooth over.

For the purposes of this work I was only able to dig deep into the posts for a five month period (January – May 2010), but when I looked back that far and further Saltz’s Facebook page is an amazing record of events in both art and the larger culture and an archive of what was being argued about at the time. Reading those discussions of the very recent past makes me feel like an archaeologist of contemporary history. We forget so quickly what was a really really big deal a year and a half ago. One thing that has always driven my work is my own obsession with figuring out to what extent what I think is true is really true. I tend to say, “Is it just me or are my impressions all wrong? What’s happening here and what does it mean?” and then I want to go somewhere I can count things up and categorize them to try to figure it out.

HV: Do you participate in the conversations on Saltz’s profile wall?

JD: I have occasionally, but I don’t very often. I am guilty of being a major lurker on online forums. I read them all the time but I am very shy in certain ways so when I post something first of all it takes me an hour to compose even if it’s just a couple of sentences, and then I lose the next few hours watching to see if people respond to what I wrote. So I have a hard time participating very often because it takes up my whole day!

Installation view of Jennifer Dalton’s “Making Sense” at the Flag Art Foundation (via JenniferDalton.com) (click to enlarge)

HV: Who do you think is the ideal audience for your recent show? What kind of response do you expect?

JD: I make work for the same reason I think many artists do, which is that we hope for other people to see the world in the same way we do so we might feel less alone. In terms of my ideal audience, I can’t really profile who that would be. People who are interested in issues around contemporary art will perhaps get the most out of this piece we’ve been talking about, but there are other works in the show that focus on our culture as a whole. “What Does An Artist Look Like?” shows every photograph of all different types of artists, from actors to designers to writers, that appeared in the New Yorker magazine in the years 1999 and 2009, and ranks each photograph on my own made-up scale from “genius” to “pinup” (that seeming to me to be the axis of representation of artists in mainstream culture). I always just hope to get other people interested in the same things that I can’t stop obsessing about.

Making Sense is on view at the FLAG Art Foundation in Chelsea (545 West 25th Street, 9th Floor) until September 10, 2010.

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

6 replies on “Jennifer Dalton is “Making Sense” of Jerry Saltz’s Facebook Page”

  1. I have one objection to this (well, one objection that I’m going to state): *conversations* are interactive discussions where people listen to each other and respond to each other’s statements. Conversations rarely happen on Jerry Saltz’s Facebook page. Rather, it is a cacophony of solipsistic voices all trying to be cleverer than anyone else, all ignoring everyone else. That’s the reason I stopped reading.

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