Is It the Art or Is It the Hype?

Outsiders don’t get it; Morley Safer doesn’t help

“Is it the art or is it the hype?” I’ve been asked this question so many times it makes me ill. It always comes from those who don’t look at art and are trying to explain why they don’t buy it. In a skeptical tone they slip me this line on a regular basis. “Yes,” I tell them with a smile, “it’s all a fraud. These contemporary art stars are all phonies and fakes, it’s the fancy galleries promoting this stuff and you’re the smart one who figured it all out.” But what I’m thinking is, “Cretin, you don’t understand a damn thing about art.” But now even most art believers have to admit that parts of today’s art scene have indeed gone too far. Yet when I spelled it out for the world in my satire of the Art Basel Miami Beach fair last December, I was attacked by many insecure pundits, advisers and dealers who felt threatened by the words. But forgetting the whiners, it’s what everyone was and is still talking about. Just last Sunday 60 Minutes ran a Morley Safer-hosted exposé bashing the fair, highlighting the hype in order to suggest that contemporary art is no more than a marketing circus. We can’t really blame old Morley Safer—he’s just another blowhard—but I was shocked to see one respected dealer, Tim Blum of Blum and Poe in Los Angeles, play right into Mr. Safer’s canard. “We’re from Hollywood, this is theater, only theater,” he said when asked about art prices. “It’s the wild west … competition is vicious … when the question of value comes up we drop the subject.” Mr. Blum misspoke—and that’s regrettable because, let’s face it, when the hype booms louder than the art, the art world invites the philistines right to its gates. Read More


  1. [...] Adam Lindemann’s Observer column tackles the age-old question: Isn’t that all just hype? Fine art is often held to an unrealistic standard, a mistaken belief that there is such a thing as “pure” art that exists outside the context in which it’s created and exhibited. Great art is expected to somehow get by without great salesmanship, and great staging. [...] This is true for art and its context—they are complementary, not contradictory. Those who dismiss contemporary art as an overmarketed Ponzi scheme have missed this truth. Warhol and Dali were masters of hype, and that didn’t make their art less meaningful; nor was it the sole reason for their art’s success. Nothing is separable from its context, not even this article, but when the hype overshadows the art, it’s no surprise the skeptics have a field day. [...]