Art Critics: Get Real!

The propriety of allowing a museum trustee to exhibit his collection and of allowing him to choose his closest artist as curator.

There have been a number of claims that the New Museum has abused certain cozy relationships between its curators, certain dealers and certain artists. The litmus test is whether the shows were good-not who is friends with whom. The contemporary art world is a small place, and it is inevitable that curators are closer to some dealer programs than others. Collectors also tend to favor some galleries over others, but why this should prohibit a trustee from exhibiting his collection to the public makes little sense. It goes back to an idealistic and unrealistic assumption that rich people should sit on museum boards simply to provide money. The truth is, in America, once you accept someone’s money, you accept the strings attached, you accept that curators need to keep the board happy, and keep the money flowing for everyone’s best interest. In the case of Dakis, he has done it all right: He gave, he supported, he lends. We need more collectors like him.

The issue of whether Mr. Joannou is underwriting the exhibition.

The New Museum has reportedly said that Dakis is not underwriting the show. This position is a type of public-relations apology to assuage the anticipated criticism of insider dealing and self-promotion. But why feel guilty here? If Saatchi had paid for the “Sensation” show back in 1997, would that have made it better or worse? And today, who cares? There is nothing the matter with Dakis’ financial support; it is helping a museum that needs it. Nothing to be sorry for here. No more guilt trips, please.

This represents a “dizzyingly insular circle of art world insiders.”

The prior Urs Fischer show at the museum was curated by Massimiliano Gioni, who is close to Maurizio Cattelan, who is close to Dakis, who is close to Jeff Koons. Both Dakis and Mr. Koons are close to Jeffrey Deitch. Is this a problem? Or is this all part of some cabal? If one is offended by power cliques, get out of the art world-it’s full of them. Every institution in the world has its gate keepers, and the art world, as Glenn Lowry (director of MoMA) once said to me, “is not a democracy.” The curators at the New Museum represent an opinion and a viewpoint that is specific to them; they can be right or wrong. Criticize them (wrongly) for putting on a bad or gimmicky show, perhaps, but not for who their friends are.

It’s wrong of museums to hang works that are potentially for sale.

The New Museum’s policy specifically prohibits trustees lending a work of art if they are planning to sell it. Most museums do not like to hang things that are obviously for sale, but realistically, there is no way of knowing whether a lender will sell in the future. On the other hand, this issue is not only reserved to collectors; when I see a show with too many works that are “collection of the artist,” I can’t help but think that the artist welcomes cash offers. Truth be told, who is harmed if a work changes hands during a museum show? How is the public harmed in any way? The core assumption is that an individual is personally benefiting from a sale made in an institution that serves the public good. But if you put jealousies and sour grapes aside, who is harmed here? As long as the public gets a great show, there is no foul.

Everyone in the contemporary art world has an opinion, which is why we are energized and enlightened by the art of our time. Can New York generously welcome this exciting collection and Jeff Koons’ idiosyncratic viewpoints? So far, despite the bad press, the show has been packed. The New Museum had the courage to accept today’s art world as it is, and to put on the show we’ve wanted to see for years. We should congratulate and encourage them to do it again and hope that other museums will follow their lead. As an audience, we want to see the best works, the best collections and the best shows, and we’re not concerned with archaic rules of propriety or the paralyzing implications of critics’ forensic art appraisals.