When you hear of something happening in the art world, what comes to mind? What vision does that combination of words, “art world,” conjure up? I will frame my next paragraph as the classic four answers to a multiple-choice quiz, if you don’t mind.
A. A bunch of HIV-positive inverts, stuffing their faces with coke and prancing around in expensive loft spaces as though architectural minimalism were a Priapic cult.
B. A band of modest, self-effacing, courageous individualists, overcoming privation and want in the name of abstract ideas whose commercial application is long in the future.
C. A loose grouping of habitual loners ravaged by varied psychic afflictions, sociopaths with no hope of integration into mainstream society.
D. An army of avaricious nonentities marching on the road of prosperity and indolence to the ever accelerating drumbeat of more taxpayer money.
Now, as is sometimes the case with multiple-choice quizzes, there are more partially correct answers here than completely wrong ones. In fact, only “B” is, perhaps, unworthy of serious consideration. But school rules are such that only one answer may be considered right, and that answer, as most respondents will doubtless have answered by now, is “D.”
When we hear of the art world, we do not think of the Sistine Chapel and all that jazz; no nubbins of highfalutin hearsay like beaux arts spring to mind; no bells ring out, no cuckoo sings, no brook plashes. We do not inhale turpentine, nor smell the faint drying of a frescoed wall. What we hear instead is a thunderous roar – which, remarkably, retains its original sonority of a high-pitched, infantile, lachrymose whine – demanding that the world other than that of art accede to its demands and turn over the goods or else be pilloried as philistine, redneck, and, “sure as night is dark and day is light,” fascist. Oh, and anti-Semitic, too, bien sûr, though that is another and rather longer story.
However venal the rank and file, a very large part of the credit for this none-dare-call-it-shakedown view of the “art world” goes to the army’s supply chain, its procurement and logistics details, its cooks, drivers, chaplains and prostitutes, its marauding officer corps and vainglorious, standard-bearing avant-garde. Foolhardy to try insinuating a civilian word like “critics” into this bellicose context, as it would stick out like a paint-splattered thumb. Critics? What next? Thatchers? Apothecaries? Exorcists?
All the more honor and respect to a critic, a Londoner whom I have met but once, who singlehandedly cuts through the serried ranks of that transatlantic witches’ coven like a katyusha through German infantry. His name is Michael Daley and he runs an outfit called Art Watch. I suggest you look it up, or go directly to artwatchuk.wordpress.com.
The current issue of Art Watch exposes the Napoleonic hubris of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and its current director, Thomas Campbell, who recently addressed the economic forum at Davos with the message that “the culture industry had to connect with the rest of the world at a deeper socioeconomic level.”
If a man in the “art world” is not afraid of the Met, he is either dead or fearless. Read Daley while he’s still with us.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.