Thomas Crow


    “TODAY, A MEGAYACHT IS INDISPENSABLE. It’s not like 15 years ago, when a yacht was a luxury item.” So says Olivier Milliex, head of yacht finance at ING bank.1 The art world has heard the call and mustered its response: SeaFair’s $40 million Grand Luxe took to the seas in 2007. Up to twenty-eight commercial galleries, each paying $10,000 to $30,000 per week for a showroom, can be accommodated on board. SeaFair made its gala debut while docked at the hedge-fund epicenter, Greenwich, Connecticut. “What we have invented,” declared the ship’s proprietor, “is the mobile luxury shopping venue. . . .


    EVEN AS GOLD rises and the dollar falls, the expansion of the global art market shows few signs of reversal. This growth has been characterized by incredible immediacy, liquidity, and transparency—but also by inequity, archaic ritual, and social spectacle. Indeed, the economy of art is now both wildly speculative and idiosyncratically regulated, with unparalleled levels of attention devoted to the work of contemporary artists. What are the diverse factors that have contributed to this radical extension of interest and investment in the art of our day? And to what extent have these elements either transformed or reinscribed historical relationships among art’s audiences, institutions, collecting practices, and criticism? How might we best distinguish our present moment from previously bullish episodes and their attendant redefinitions of the aesthetic and the commoditized?
    From the fiscal to the formal, multiple arenas of knowledge are implicated in answering such questions. With this complex set of interrelationships in mind, Artforum invited a cross-section of figures—ranging from collector and curator to art historian and auction-house expert—to discuss the ways in which different kinds of value accrue to works of art and affect their production, display, and circulation: Ai Weiwei, Beijing-based artist; Amy Cappellazzo, international cohead of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s; Thomas Crow, professor of modern art at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University; Donna De Salvo, chief curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; Isabelle Graw, a founding editor of Texte zur Kunst and professor of art history and theory at Städelschule Art Academy in Frankfurt; Dakis Joannou, collector and president of the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art in Athens, Greece; and Robert Pincus-Witten, scholar and critic, and former director of exhibitions at L & M Arts in New York. Scholar and critic James Meyer and Artforum editor Tim Griffin moderate the discussion.


    James Meyer: The extraordinary boom of the contemporary market in recent years, along with the globalization of art’s production and display—two related phenomena—are among the most pressing subjects in any discussion of current practice. The history of modernism is in part a history of the marketing of the new. The Peau d’Ours sale in 1914, which brought a record price for Pablo Picasso’s Family of Acrobats [1905]; the first Parke-Bernet auction of contemporary art in 1965, which featured Abstract Expressionist painting and sculpture; and the sale of the Scull Collection

  • Thomas Crow

    FOR A EUROPEAN ARTIST to arrive in Mexico City trailing paraphernalia of suffering and death might seem the height of folly. From the tzompantli, or skull racks, of the Aztecs to the famous calavera (skull) caricatures of José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913), to the festive altars that mark the Day of the Dead in nearly every Mexican city and town, there would seem to be a national patent on the imagery of death, one that an outsider should infringe only with the greatest caution. If that artist is Damien Hirst, notoriously the author of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone

  • the School of Pop

    When a cadre of ambitious French artists incorporated themselves into the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in 1648, they sought to elevate their new company by setting strict rules of decorum. Prominent in its inaugural code was the stipulation that no academician be permitted to keep a shop or even to allow the display of his work in such a way that it could be seen from the street. At a stroke, the academy severed art in its high-minded sense from its formerly easygoing relations with the everyday requirements of commerce. Beforehand, if a painter or carver wanted to turn out an

  • A Roundtable

    “JEFF KOONS MAKES ME SICK.” The words are Peter Schjeldahl’s, and the occasion was a review in the SoHo weekly 7 Days, back in the ’80s, before Koons was quite the museum-certified star he is today. In the course of the write-up, Schjeldahl would turn his conceit around, explaining how undeniable, unstoppable, finally essential the experience of the artist’s work was for him. What makes Koons’s art simultaneously so toxic and so compelling? And why is it both institutionally embraced and yet seen by many as an art of diminishing returns, a symptom of all that is wrong with culture today? Koons


    GLOBALIZATION, OUR MANTRA OF THE MOMENT, only carries so far where art is concerned. A case in point: A major contemporary of Rothko, Newman, Pollock, Twombly, and Johns—an artist fully at their level of achievement—is in the midst of his first major touring retrospective. Most of you reading this will be in no position to see it.

    The artist is Colin McCahon, and, yes, he is that good. The exhibition, titled “A Question of Faith” and curated by Marja Bloem, originated at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, a venue of no small historical prestige. Despite the best efforts of its organizers, however,

  • “The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard”

    AN EXTRAORDINARY OPPORTUNITY TO SEE MUCH of the best painting done in eighteenth-century France begins this summer in Ottawa at the National Gallery of Canada: “The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting.” The number and significance of pictures by each of the three principals alone would constitute miniature retrospectives of astonishing quality. The same could be said for Jean-Baptiste Greuze, who does not receive titular status but enjoys equal prominence both in art history and in the present exhibition. Just to have the opportunity to see his Marriage


    “Theory”: Nothing recalls the fractious discursive climate of the 1980s better than that single, imperfect word. In part two of “Writing the '80s,” we return to three strands of the discourse that marked the decade. Here, THOMAS CROW assesses the Pyrrhic victory of social art history in the '80s as a generation of artists turned the academic notion of “subversive critique” on its head.

    AT THE ONSET OF THE 1980s, I HAD AN EXPERIENCE AS A teacher that presaged—or so I came to see in retrospect—much of what would happen as a consequence of “the new art history” over the course of the decade,

  • “Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972”

    “Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972,” an overdue museum survey devoted to the Italian art phenomenon of the 1960s, attains its full contemporary significance via its transcontinental bounce from Minneapolis to London. Conceived by Richard Flood at the Walker Art Center, the exhibition was cocurated by Francis Morris of Tate Modern, where it first appeared. The great brick pile of the Bankside power station makes an entirely appropriate setting for the show’s debut, as it underscores the degree to which we have come to live in an arte povera world.

    The origins of that world extend back to

  • Benjamin H.D. Buchloh

    THIS FIRST OF TWO VOLUMES collecting the art-critical writings of Benjamin H.D. Buchloh runs to more than 500 pages; its companion, already in press, will weigh in with equivalent heft. The effect, if my reading is right, will be a new revelation of an intellectual figure who is already widely recognized but curiously unassimilated within the larger verbal machinery that surrounds contemporary art. The strength of Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry is that it serves as an occasion not just to celebrate a career that has genuinely changed the terrain of advanced art but to contend anew with a

  • Chardin

    CERTAIN FRENCH ARTISTS ARE DEEMED so crucial an element of the national patrimony that grand retrospective exhibitions of their work must follow in regular, stately intervals. In 1979, Pierre Rosenberg organized, as a Louvre curator, the first modern retrospective devoted to Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. Now, exactly twenty years later and having been elevated to the Louvre’s directorship, Rosenberg has returned to the scene of his greatest previous success and again mounted a Chardin exhibition, with some one hundred works and a touring schedule that includes Düsseldorf, London, and New York.

  • “The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect”

    “The Museum as Muse: Artists Reflect” has, by all accounts, been some years from first proposal within the Museum of Modern Art to final realization. It is nonetheless difficult not to view senior curator Kynaston McShine’s exhibition in relation to the museum’s recent agreement to assimilate P.S. 1 across the East River in Long Island City. Like an old-line company absorbing a brash start-up for its innovative capacities and ability to scout the peripheries (read Disney absorbing Miramax), MoMA may in a stroke have shored up one of its most conspicuous weak spots, that is, the combined awkwardness


    With the second and final leg of the Museum of Modern Art's Jackson Pollock Retrospective under way at London's Tate Gallery, Artforum contributing editor THOMAS CROW is joined by art historian MICHAEL FRIED in assessing the New York installment of the show and the critical response that greeted it. Their paired views celebrate the artist's achievement, in Crow's words arguably our culture's “Most Important Artistic Event.”

  • Moving Pictures

    The Jackson Pollock retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art was a triumph of arrangement, lighting, sight lines, and spatial design. It exerted a fierce grip on the visitor’s subjective passage through the installation, each moment of relative calm and relaxation giving way to a rush of funneling acceleration toward some revelation of spectacular and overwhelming visual impact. And then the cycle would repeat itself, until the dampening close of the installation on the 1953 canvas The Deep, with its covering of smoothly congealed white matter parted, only barely, to allow a glimpse into some

  • Michael Fried

    ANYONE WITH SERIOUS interest in visual art needs to read this book: that is simply the judgment of history, which supersedes any mere reviewer’s recommendation. So conspicuous has been Michael Fried’s profile as high Modernism’s most forceful and articulate standard-bearer that the detailed substance underlying this reputation has been more often assumed than examined or reexamined. The appearance of this collection removes any reason for such carelessness.

    It has been some three decades since the defining essays of this collection first appeared. In that long intervening period, Fried gave up

  • Rethinking the Youth Question

    THE ACADEMIC ENTERPRISE that goes by the name of cultural studies is by now a global phenomenon. Its fortunes indeed have paralleled the transnational expansion of the entertainment industries from which its exponents draw so much of their material for interpretation, adopting as well the unargued assumption of success over “sunset” counterparts in the world marketplace, with university colleagues who still find value in some refined and disinterested standards of art generally playing the analogous part of the latter. Traditional criteria of distinction, it is confidently asserted when not

  • This Is Now

    IN 1951, at the height of Jackson Pollock’s achievement as a painter, even his most ardent admirers had yet to articulate the radical implications of lowering the canvas from easel to floor. At that same moment, the neophyte artists Robert Rauschenberg and Susan Weil were already extending that breakthrough procedure into new territory. Their horizontal imprints of human bodies on blueprint paper share a seamless, allover procedure with the great poured canvases, yet recover simultaneously the monumental human figure that had been all but banished from New York School painting. Collaboration

  • Meyer Shapiro

    MEYER SCHAPIRO, WHO DIED on March 3 at the age of 91, enjoyed an adulation that may in his later decades have been as taxing as it was rewarding. Intent younger art historians asked him time and again to recount the genesis of the extraordinary publications with which he began his career in the ’30s; to rehearse his simultaneous commitments and interventions (in such journals as New Masses, Art Front, and Marxist Quarterly) in the politics of the Left during the Great Depression, Popular Front, and anti-Stalinist schisms; to recall his warm and abundant friendships with giants (and peers) in



    Make It New

    Bruce Nauman retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: Bad news from the studio, but real news nevertheless. Twenty-five years of pieces, each of which seems to have arisen out of a condition of sudden panic—out of the terror of not knowing, of having forgotten, willfully, day after day, what art is and what an artist might do—of having forgotten, even, what an artist is. A fountain? A source of mystic truths? A cruel instructor? A tortured clown? We get one brutal, last-ditch guess after another, and the whole practice of “artmaking” is reinvented, again


    IN AN INTERVIEW CONDUCTED as his recent retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, was about to open (Artforum, April 1994), Robert Morris was asked his views on the large topic of “other artists.” He answered in a noncommittal way, saying that he admired any number of artists of the past but specifying only his most obvious lodestone in Marcel Duchamp. “The only one I vaguely despise,” he added, “is Picasso.”

    Having read this exchange on my way to the Guggenheim, it stayed with me as I walked through the exhibition, for the one other artist who insistently kept coming to mind