Jerry Saltz – Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series – Smithsonian American Art Museum

Jerry Saltz – Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series – Smithsonian American Art Museum


Welcome everybody. It’s fabulous to see such a wonderful crowd here tonight for what promises to be a fascinating
but also a very fun evening. I’m Virginia Mecklenburg, Chief Curator of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Before we do anything else, my first mission is to say thank you to Clarice Smith on behalf of myself, the
museum staff, and everybody here. Clarice Smith, as you know, makes all of these distinguished lectures possible. They are very special evenings, as you can tell, by the number of people who come. I also want to invite you back on November 5th, when Kathleen Foster will speak, again at 7 o’clock. Before I say anything else, Nona will fuss at me if I don’t ask you to turn off your cell phones and any other devices that will beep or whistle. Tonight it’s my very special pleasure to introduce you to one of the countries most insightful and dare I say – irreverent critics. Jerry Saltz, as you all know, is the Senior
Art Critic for New York Magazine. Though many of us first became, Jerry Fans if you will, when he was senior critic at the Village Voice. He is a truly remarkable writer, a three time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in criticism, winner of the prestigious Frank Jewett Mather Award in Art Criticism, and a lecturer who is in constant demand to speak at major Universities. I’ll just mention Columbia, Harvard, and Yale for starters. If you’re a frequent visitor of New York, you may have heard him speak at the Whitney, the Guggenheim, or the Museum of Modern Art. For those who would like some really choice reading, I suggest you take a look at his book. The title is amazing, it’s called, “Seeing Out Loud” which is a collection of columns that he wrote for the Village Voice that came out in 2003, or, might I add, a follow on book called,
“Seeing out Louder” that was published by Hudson Hills Press in 2009. Jerry writes with a human touch that makes us laugh and also makes us think. His knowledge is enormous and his reach is broad.
He once said, in fact, I hope you don’t mind my quoting you Jerry, it’s always, you know, something when the guy you are quoting is sitting in the front row. But he once said, “he almost lost it, when he was looking at a figure carved around 4500 B.C.” Because he realized that he was seeing the very moment that our species came out of a neolithic consciousness and into something else. He’s written about the power of Monet’s late paintings, about Georgia O’Keef’s ideas about
surface, scale, and color, the way Pollock’s drip paintings have infiltrated, literally infiltrated the work of contemporary artist, and he appreciates that art came come from pretty much anything. He once said that, “some of the works in a show that he was reviewing looked like junk.” But even so, he loved a lot of it, because “it shows how fluid and uncanny beauty and form can be.” Ultimately Jerry Saltz helps us understand, that it’s not an object’s history, or it’s age, or the materials that it’s made of, or even what the subject is that makes it count. When we read his work, we understand, sometimes I will say, with a knowing chuckle, something about who we are, and the way art connects us across cultures and times. Ladies and gentlemen, Jerry Saltz. Testing, 1, 2, can you hear me? Hello Washington. It’s great to be here. I do want to thank Clarice Smith. Thank you. It’s great to be invited. We are living in a time, we all know it, where art and money are sleeping together. That’s good. Art will sleep with anybody – kings, Popes, anybody, you, but, well maybe.
I pointed at her, sir. We also know something that’s happening, we’re selling our patrimony and safaris these great, or terrible, collections. Many of them cookie cutter collections, that have the same work. I go to your house, your house, your house, your house, and now we see the exact same pieces. I think you know what I’m referring to you can substitute any name. I’m not saying whether those are – can we turn off that one, or does that have to be there? Because I’m looking at a big blue light like you are all close encounters of the third kind. Corey? or Zach? There’s two people, there’s two people. I remembered their names. What’s going to happen to most of that art is that it’s sold at auction. For higher and higher prices, and museums cannot afford anything. Anything. Even you young artists. How many artists are in the room, i’d like to see? Look around you people, you are surrounded. More than half of you. God pitty, God love you, sorry. Most of this art will be sold. The problem with that is the collector. I’m an American, I want everyone to have money. Money is what we do. We’re fine. I’m not against it. I think maybe you keep a few Picassos and the Monet for the children and the grandchildren you get a couple of hundred million dollars to take care of your family. I’m good with that. Then, you give the rest back. You give it to museums as a collection. As a collection, because this work can never be put together for the history of time again in one room. Now, you’re seeing, even in crap-ola auctions you’ll suddenly see 7 or 8 Robert Rauschenbergs. They are all pretty good, but in a museum in, say, Atlanta those would kill. Those 7 Rauschenbergs in one small room, Boom!
You see? That’s all you have to do. Those aren’t,
you don’t even have to give away the hundred million dollar Picassos. When anybody gives back, you know, art world, we are the biggest complainers in the God-d***ed world. We are such babies, aren’t we? We need more money, or they should do this,
me, me, me. Listen. We are lucky to get anything. This isn’t Europe people. We are not. They, I love Europe, but in Europe, the state runs museums and can buy art and run art. Do you know what would happen in America, if Washington D.C.’s politicians ran art museums? Oh, my God! It’s Ebola of museums. Boom! Is that bad to say? We have to
make light of what we fear. So Clarice, thank you. Personally, thank you. I’m making the medium bucks tonight. Okay. Is that bad? Betsy Broun, thank you. You are a child of the Midwest like I am, and my wife. The Midwesterners, we have the hardest time in the art world. Because we really like where we are from. Then we go to one of the coasts, and we are so weird when we get there. We have these funny accents, I can’t get rid of mine. I noticed you don’t have it. I sound like a duck, and it’s embarrassing. Thank you Betsy, and Virginia Mecklenburg, great curator, thank you. Nona Martin, where are you sitting right now? I owe you my life, wherever you are. She left, she hates me already. Oh, she’s in the back. She went through, just contacting me. I had spilled a full cup of hot tea – have you ever done this? – directly on your computer. I would give it about four minutes and the computer, gone, freezes. That’s it forever. So I lost all of our emails. Then before I begin, I just do really want to say, I really love this museum. I came down to D.C. First thing I did is I call my wife and go,
“it’s so easy to get here, who knew?” I had been complaining for 20 years. Oh, I can’t get there. I can barely go to Philly. So I was wrong. Critics can admit they are wrong sometimes. I was going to go to the National Gallery, because that’s one of the garden’s of Eden. We are supposed to go there to commune with the ancestors. Then I started walking around this museum, and I was and am blown away. Why? Because we learn about art not just by looking. How do you learn about the Himalayas? If I just showed you the peaks of K1, and Everest, and whatever they are called there, those top 8 or 9 peaks in a row in Tibet, or wherever they are in Nepal. You would not know. You’d only know that there are these incredibly majestic somethings that go like this. A mountain range is understood in scale. Scale. Scale, not bigness. Scale is what we are interested in. In the valleys, in the nooks, in the ice fields, in the ice flows, there is so much lost pictorial, and sculptural D.N.A. in this building, that if you locked two generation of artists just in this building, art would not die. There is that much raw, untapped, D.N.A. All of it good? No, a lot of it is crap. But it’s shocking how artists always redefine what is good. We all know, a lot of you in this room probably hate Rococo artists like, Fragonard. Any Fragonard haters? Yeah. You’re wrong babe! And Boucher. Ehh. Watteau? Let me just tell you something. In the Rococo, they discovered our, sort of, fragile, loving selves. They were on the brink of revolution. They were painting this world. It was about to poof away. Just poof, in it’s own poofery, right? In 16 years of the Rococo, they produced four geniuses. Fragonard – who has some of the sexiest, juiciest paint in the bloody history of the world. Incredible when you get up close, and Boucher like a porn painter. You can’t believe what he’s doing on the surface. Watteau discovers our, kind of, solitude. You know that great painting of, what’s his name, Gilles just standing, alone. Nobody painted someone just, sort of,
standing around alone. A guy we like to call Mozart. Four geniuses of epic proportions in a period that is despised, today. Many artists that you love were lost, come and go. That’s why I say, you lock artists in a museum like this, or many museums they are going to tap into some crap that you can’t stand and all of a sudden it’s like, so-in-so becomes the greatest artist, and you start to see it. Other artists make us see art. Jackson Pollock, what did he do? Well, he tapped into something that had been with us since the beginning, drips on the cave walls. They had always been there, every artist saw the drips, every artist had to clean up the drips, across his or her – well, women weren’t allowed to make art for the first 50,000 years, because men are a**holes! We are so scared of women, it’s insane. Oh my God, if they paint us, eww, they are going to see us naked. That’s why there were no great women artists before a certain time, so to speak, because they weren’t allowed, as we all now know, to go to the academy to learn what great art was, because there were nude models there. Pollock picked up this found object that we call the drip and deployed it as subject matter and content, form and content. I want you to remember, when Picasso painted, maybe the most insurrectionary painting in Western art history the Madame – I can’t pronounce it right – the Madame see mid-westerners are like, well I don’t know. Madame, what is it? That, which in Spanish and French means, the whores of Avignon Street. Ok, that’s what that means. Those five women confronting you, if you are thinking about anything other than your visceral, kinetic, kinesthetic self, If you are in your head, or out of that out of your body in any way, those women will destroy you. Possibly no five women have ever looked as directly at, at one time, in one way, focused as in that insane painting. Now, when Picasso made that painting, very few people ever saw it. Isn’t that amazing? A bunch of artists saw it,
Matisse saw it. He said, “well there seemed to be a little cubism.” He hated the painting. He went home and he knew that if he did not equal this work that his time was over. Artists are, son’s of b**ches, and daughter’s of b**ches. Matisse answered back. Picasso’s painting, in fact, is an attempt to out-do Matisse’s “Blue Nude.” Poor Matisse, can you even imagine being Matisse. You are so good, you are so good it’s mad, but you have a monster from Spain following you your whole f***ing life. A f***ing monster. Everything, and I love them both, ok, we aren’t having the Picasso Matisse war. Come on, get out of here. You like this one more, you like that one more. Just look at what Matisse does and then a year later look at Picasso’s painting, and he kind of goes BOOM! Takes it. If there is a three legged table in a Matisse, WHAM! I can make it go, BOOF! Where yours is more like boof. A great moment at the end. Poor Matisse, he can’t walk , he can’t get out of bed. He has had a colostomy pulmonary aneurysm, he has had everything. He is in agony for the last ten years. Agony. When you see the paper cutout show. Before Matisse worked, artists, listen to me, you think Matisse was about comfortable armchair. Do you know what he said he felt like before he worked? Are you an artist? Who is an artist near me? Tell me if you feel this, you two, or anybody. He said, “before I work, I feel like I want to strangle somebody.” Sound familiar? He is nodding. Then he said, “when I work, it’s like slitting an abscess.” Artists are f***ing nuts, they are just crazy. Who knows what they are doing. Matisse was making the paper cutouts down there in the South of France and Picasso started visiting him, always with Francoise Gilot who
he lived with at the time. Gilot records that they were awe struck by the paper cutouts. She said, “we sat like stones in the studio.” Just shocked, about what the implications of leaving – artists are you listening for God’s sake? – of leaving the four sides of the painting behind. Of going out, of going out. Remember we used to paint ceilings. We don’t touch the ceiling anymore, in our art. Very rarely, the space of the sublime used to be there. It used to be in fires, and then it got on the wall, and we can’t get off the wall. We love doing this. [looks at wall] We don’t do a lot of this. [looks at ceiling] Okay? Matisse went off the sides, and what he painted, and what the paint was was the same thing. Do you follow me? There is no illusion in that. He broke something. Of course, Picasso knew this, and Matisse records to his son, after one of these visits, he says, “Picasso was here. He saw what he needed. He will put it all to good use, in time.” That’s like you’re 84, you can’t walk, you can’t go to the bathroom, and you’ve got a monster saying, “I need to visit, are you home at 3 o’clock?” You don’t say no to Picasso. Pollock found something, too. He found the drip. Have any of you been to any cave paintings? Anybody here? Yes, Yes, Yes. Are they not mind boggling? I got lead into a cave in Spain, not a big one. Just over the Pyrenees. Not a major cave. I mean it was in France. Sorry, just over the Spanish Pyrenees into France, I dove. Are you with me geographically? I’m a very good parallel parker, too. I made some appointment, and my wife went in my wife and I went into the cave and it was a tour. They give you flashlights. We had to go with all the Americans. Already you are like, well no I’m European, actually. I cannot go with the Americans. So you go with the Americans, and we all have big fanny packs on and we are talking the whole time, and our kids are vomiting on the cave. I love us, I am us just like you. So we are in, and I’m complaining – because I’m an American – the whole time. They only gave us a flashlight! For God’s sake, I paid three Pounds for this. You know, or five Euros. Then when we get to the cave they said, “please give us all your flashlights.” I said to my wife, “oh no, I’m not doing that. I do not care.” I’m an American, I’m keeping my flashlight. I gave my flashlight away. Then the guide went like this [click] and turned on, and I saw, all I still remember is the back of a bison’s foot, hoof. I knew in one hundreds of a second that this was not mambo jumbo, mystic cystic magic. This was art. These were people that had looked at mammals for 100,000 years, and had been rendering them for 100,000 years. Okay? How did they make them? I wish you artists would try stuff like this. They would take kind of clay and stuff, mix it with spit and go Pu, Pu, Pu, Pu, Pu, Pu, Pu, Pu, Pu, For their hand prints and pull their hand away. The first photograph, duh. They are getting a negative impression. When you see these mammals, I venture as an art critic mammals have never been rendered greater in the history of our species. If you can think of somebody that did it better, good. Unfortunately, they didn’t paint people. How sad. Wouldn’t it be great to see portraits with like their fashion and tattoos. That’s not in there much. What’s the second most common thing in the caves? Hand prints. And the third? There is a lot of scribbling, of numerical counting, but the third most common thing. Arrows? No. No, it’s erose. It’s fallacies’ and bubals. Thousands of them, thousands of them. So that means, like when your parents are away, you look at the dictionary for naughty definitions. My generation, that’s as far as I could get. You’ve got the d*** internet. My godchildren said to me, when I was trying to protect them, they said, “Godfather, we’ve seen everything on this earth. There is nothing you can even say that we haven’t seen.” I was like, whoa. We also know something else in the caves. It’s not surprising, it’s obvious. 51% of those hands, women. Why? Because 51% of the population is always women. Men are pathetic. When Picasso made the Demoiselles, he asked his friends, “Is this a good painting?” When Pollock made the first drip painting he asked Lee Krasner, “is this a painting?” Hear the difference? Is this a good painting versus is this a painting. Am I still in the category that you might call art. I’m not asking you artists in this room to break categories. That’s like inventing fire. Now you may not like Pollock, but he deployed this thing that has
been with us since the beginning, as something. Artists, I especially want to address myself to you, you all can listen in. Artists, I’m proud of you. I’m really proud of you. It’s really hard to do what you do, even though it seems so easy to us. Oh God, they just sit around in their studios just scribbling and watching T.V. and smoking cigarettes. Who knows what they do in there. I am proud of you for being willing to do what you do. Most people don’t understand art, they don’t understand artists, they don’t understand what it is to be an artist, they don’t quite understand that for you, to make art is more important than to eat. To eat, or to breathe. Yes, I know you can’t live without eating or breathing. I’m not talking literal. I’m talking about who, and the thing you are. I’m really proud of you for that. People always talk about not understanding your work. Okay? What I would say to those people from now on is, “we don’t say, do you understand the Mozart?” You don’t ask people, “do you understand music?” Understand? That’s the wrong term. We don’t ask, “do you understand a daiquiri, or a vodka?” It’s a bodily knowledge. You understand? It’s about experience and knowledge together. Becoming one thing. There is no thought without a feeling, and there is no feeling without a thought. They go together. All of our post-platonic need to divide the world into thought and feeling, mind and body. Can we not count higher than two? I believe in what I call, my own theory, is the whole ball of wax. Everything that is, is part of everything that is the thing. I don’t know much about philosophy. I just think that art is part of, now I’ll sound like a hippy, part of a cosmic force. It’s been here since the beginning. As far as we know, it’s never not been here. It isn’t just a decorative hedge, in civilization. Like I say, it’s been here since the beginning. It’s no less, or no more important than philosophy, science, religion, farming, economics. Name stuff, name a bunch of fields. Art is part of the whole ball of wax. We don’t understand it. You don’t have to make sense in your work, and you don’t have to make sense of a work of art. Really, do you understand the Mona Lisa? Duh, no. No, of course not, any time you see the Mona Lisa you always go, I don’t know. It’s not such a big deal to me. What I would say to you is, you are not wrong. Because we can’t see it anymore, but if you look right to your left in the Louvre, here is how I look at the best paintings in museums. You want to know my secret? But don’t mess me up and tell people. If this is the painting I want to see what I do is I do a head fake, because wherever you look, other people will look. You could go like that, and the whole museum would look at your shoe. Honestly! So here is what I do when I go to, I want that painting, I go like this. About six people will get to the back of me, and the second they get there, I feel them I go BOOM, and I get my work. What I want you to do in the gallery when you get there, the Mona Lisa you fight your way to the Mona Lisa, take a selfie, it’s ok with me. I love that s***. Look at it, and go right to your left, there is Madonna in the Rocks, by the same artists. It is a tremendous, complex, kind of, world of families, family relationships, space, you know. You are fine there. Nobody is looking at it, they just think it’s another Brown painting. If they go, “what is that?” You go oh, I don’t know, a piece of junk. You just let them go. When we make our art, we don’t analyze it at the same time. I’m not going to bring up S-E-X, but when you do it with certain things, nudge nudge, you don’t want to be doing it,
and thinking about it too much, if you understand. Unless men, we have to think about baseball a lot. Luke Toyman, a very great painter said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know how to do it.” I don’t know what I’m doing, I feel that way all the time. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I have a sense of how to do this thing that I think I’m doing. Oscar Wilde – I pledge allegiance to Oscar Wilde – said, “the minute”, – this is about understanding in art – “the minute you understand a work of art, it is dead to you.” That, by the way, can explain the life of, the genetic life of, the D.N.A. of art. I’m going to attack a work of art in this museum, is that ok? You know, I’m an a**hole, okay? We looked at a very clever painting. Is this okay? A very clever painting that says We The People of the United States in license plates. When I first saw it, I went, oh gee, I love license plates. Americans, we love license plates. Especially my generation, it’s nostalgic. They said, “no you have to step back and read them.” So what I did is I went like this. Is that what it says, we the people? I stepped back and they said, “begin on the upper left.” and I went, “we” one syllable, I went, “we” and then I turned away from the painting and I went, “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, do hereby..” I understood your work, and it died. That’s what I would have told the artist, not the museum people. Don’t tell them. I’m glad that it’s here because it can generate many thoughts from other artists to make what we call a rebus, R-E-B-U-S, is making a sentence out of pictures. A sentence that’s made out of pictures. I’ll give you the greatest rebus happening right now on our planet. It’s a little thing we call, Instagram. If you’re not on Instagram, you’re not missing a thing, except the formations of millions of rebi, rebuses. People, there are not words on Instagram. Some idiot you write, you know, me eating a selfie. It’s like nothing. You don’t read Instagram. Have you ever done Instagram? You go like this, zzz, zzz, You are looking at pictures, and the pictures are forming in your mind. What I would tell you is that this museum tells you the same thing. We were talking about the citizen artist, Betsy and I. The democratic citizen artist, who is not trained. American artists are not always trained. Yes, you all went to school. God love ya, I’m glad. I mean it, if I had to tell kids to go or not go, I’d say, “these days, this is the way it is everybody goes to school, go to school.” I have no degrees at all. You wonder why I’m such like off the wall? I’m insecure about it. I never went to school. I have no degrees. I barely can read. My eyes just jump all over the page when I look at it. I have never read really a catalog when I’m reviewing a show. Why? Because as a weekly critic, I don’t have the time. H. L. Mencken said, “weekly criticism is written in heat and published at once.” That’s really happening now when you are online. It’s like, I don’t know, I said something a**holic four minutes ago, but that’s ancient history. Right? Whoosh. For the complainers about the internet, I would say, “[hand motion] you” because more people are writing than have ever written in the history of the world. It will only get better and more. More people are reading than have ever read in the history of the world all combined. I don’t care if you judge that the reading is bad, I don’t think it’s so bad. Yeah, there’s a handful of classics, read them. Change your life, I’m all for that. On Instagram, you are seeing a new space, a new language of pictures being formed. I have no degrees. I was a long distance truck driver. The only Jewish one of my kind. We are not allowed to do it. But because I’m Jewish, it was only a 10 wheel truck, not 18 wheels. I hauled across country to Florida, which I’m sorry to say this even though it’s Mecca to Jews, I call Florida, the worst place in the world. I love you if you are from Florida, but really, Bush 2000? We are still upset on my side. Don’t get upset. We can’t let it go, that’s just the way it is. And to Texas, I hauled art and I wanted to be in the art world. It’s embarrassing sometimes to admit. When I got married, I started crying, because for me what I realized is, I was publicly admitting how much I loved love. How much I loved, and wanted to be loved. It’s a big mess, you know. I wanted to be in the art world bad. I needed art. I don’t know why, I wasn’t raised with it. I was raised in one of the great suburbs of this country a place called, Oak Park, Illinois. Ever heard of it? Well, Frank Lloyd Wright built about 20 houses there, maybe more. Every day on the way to high school by taking shortcuts on the way to my prairie school, architecture high school, which I always loved walking around in like that. Everyday taking my shortcuts and you come out of through bushes smelling dirt and all this stuff. I would look at the backs of these Frank Lloyd Wright houses and go, “there is something special about this and I got to figure out what this is.” So I turned myself in to an art critic, The same way artists, and museum directors, and curators, and painters, and people that stand in line for lobbyists, and are here for free drinks later, like everybody in the art world. That’s what we are doing. I always tell my students, “go it’s dinner.” Are you crazy? Show up at everything artists. Show up. I know you are lonely, I know you are depressed, I know you have underwear on, I don’t care. I don’t care, we are all in the same freaking boat. Okay? I tried to train myself to do it, I did it the same way you’ve tried to. You know what? Brooks, what’s his name, Mel Brooks? He said, “we are all doing our phony bologna jobs.” I’m telling you, even presidents must feel this way. I’m telling you, you just go, “is this working?” all the time. Like Luke Toyman said, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I do know how to do it, or I have a sense of it.” I turned myself into an art critic the way you are turning yourself into an artist. I didn’t do a very good job. What I did is I learned to write the way everybody wrote. Well that is a good way, that’s my art history as a critic. Okay? So I would read in these trucks, Art Forum. Have you ever seen Art Forum magazine? A big thick thing, filled with adds,
it’s like our porn in the art world. Wow, Wow! I can’t believe how bad that artist is, and they are having a huge show. Your enemies are in there, people you love, it’s a disaster. It’s fabulous. I want to write every month about those adds, but I’m not allowed to do that, because if you are not serious in the art world these days, they will come for you. But I’ll talk about that, if you want to chat about that. So I learned to write that way, like Art Forum. The commodified object of a Post-Marxists simulacra finds itself in a cross current… I would write these reviews. I had no idea what I was talking about. I would walk down the streets of New York. They’d get published for fifty bucks. Remember, I did not start doing what I started doing until I was in my forties. Why did I start? The same reason I want all of you to start. First of all, I’m going to say something dirty. Grow a pair. Man up, woman up, I don’t care what the expression is, okay? Nobody’s going to take care of you, you are never going to have enough money. I promise you – artists you can marry into money, and I’m all for it. I’m not kidding you. I’m absolutely serious. You like a lawyer and you are an artists, marry it. I’m absolutely serious. Have a great time, you won’t have to work. Muah. You are not going to hit the lottery. You parent’s probably don’t have quite enough to get you all the way to about 75, or something. So, you are going to be poor. You are not going to get enough love. But I had put off what I wanted to do. You must exhaust everything you can do before you end up doing what you must do. What you are driven to do. But you have to do, or not do anything and that’s what I did with the trucks. So I started writing these terrible reviews and people would pass me on New York streets and go, “smart review, Jerry”, and I’d go, “yeah, I’m really smart!” I’m very smart, smart is good. See, bad idea. Don’t, that’s not, I learned to make art in that sense the way other people make art. Are all of you noticing a certain kind of painting that’s going on in the art world these days? A monochromatic all over abstractions based on process. Process meaning like a little spilled water, a stain, I don’t know, cut something out, crumple it up, put it in a poisoned lake. Send it to Beirut, and then have everbody march in front of it in Ferguson. Okay? This work now fetches my darlings, a million dollars, all this work. I don’t have my phone with me, but when I teach, and I’ve taken pictures of over. Did you read my article any of you? I think it was called, Why Do All These Paintings Look The Same? It’s because art is beginning to self replicate. You have to be careful if you self replicate. Art is starting to look the way other art looks, because other art looks that way. Let me give you the most insidious form of it. Art seems to be made by men, mainly, because in the main, art seems to have been made by men. Do you see how that’s so easy. It’s almost like the children of celebrities already look a little like Kurt Douglass. So you just go with Michael Douglass Or the children of them, the look and feel, they have a scent of royalty around them. What’s happening is people are, we contain multitudes people. We contain multitudes like Walt Whitman said. What’s happening is people are making their work in an academic way. A way that will be accepted, a way that will be “Jerry you’re so smart, you’re making the right thing.” Jerry is not asking you to ignore the idiom of your time. If it’s all over monochromatic abstraction, I’m not here to say, you know, just paint yellow flowers. That’s not my point. I am here to say a few more things about this though. When your teachers tell you, “yeah, well that’s pretty good but, you know, Bruce Nauman and Richard Serra did that already.” Here is what I want you to say. Did any of you ever hear that from your teachers? It’s been done before. Raise your hands if you’ve heard that. Look around people, how many people just popped their hands up. What I want you to do with your teachers when they say that is to always be respectful, because we are a mess just like you. Say, “well, thank you, Mr. Saltz.” Then in your mind I want you to pull out a Samurai sword and go, Whhhaa. What I say to you is that if what you are doing has been done before, here is my advice to you: do it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. Do it a hundred times, do it a thousand, maybe ten thousand, I don’t know. Then, call me. Then if I think it still doesn’t look like your work, all you have to do artists, is make your work yours. How much yours? That much. It doesn’t take much, that’s how powerful good art D.N.A. is, and all of its been recombined from already existing art. We don’t understand art. How many people in this room own dogs? It’s weird, all the dog owners have sat on this side of the room. They smell each other, it’s bizarre. This always happens. What is your dog’s name, Mam? Po-Po. Big kind of furry thing? Chiwawa, eehhh. Po-Po. Romeo. What kind of dog is Romeo? Do you know what Romeo is doing right now to all of your neighbors? He is barking and crying. No, I swear. I have four Dotsons that live below me. Every day I say to the people, you left at 8:20 and I know what time you came back because they were barking the whole time. Dog owners, Po-Po and Romeo, always go, “no, it wasn’t our dog.” Any other dog owners over here? Yes? Milo. Big? God d*** it. So here’s what happens when you call Romeo. Okay, you go [slap, slap] come here Romeo, and Romeo, like most dogs, will kind of huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, huh, and come up to you, slobber on your knee, and like that, and wag their tails. That’s kind of a remarkable thing. Why? Because you’re having direct communication with another species. You said a sound and made the other species know that if it would come here, I think dogs have trained us. By coming very close to us, you know about ten thousand years ago, learning that if they could be useful to us, that we would feed them. That their pack instinct told them this and the bravest dog, some would kill badgers, others would figure out how to, barking was very helpful. Because it would keep the bad animals away. When they barked, we like them, we would feed them. That’s the direct communication. How many of you own cats? They are going to all be over here. Oh my God. This is so crazy. The middle people are like, “no, we own chinchillas.” Virginia, what is your cat’s name? Gibs, that’s such a cat name. Cat name? Sho-sha? Another cat name. Any more over here? Yes? Wait, the cat people love telling you their animal names. So we are going to hear about 30 right now. No, what, what? Shadow. I think he’s gay. That’s a dog name! I’m kidding. Is it a black cat? Duh. I love you too. Wait, what was yours? Sho-Sha, Gibs, Shadow. Samson? Gay. No. Kidding. Liberal. Here’s what happens, however when you call, you know, Gibs. You go like this. Come here Gibs, [kissing sound] and maybe Gibs will kind of stand up flick it’s tail, go over to the couch, and do this then go over here, BOOM, and sit down. Do you know what has happened my friends, my fellow travelers? Do you understand what that, what has happened? What’s the cat doing, you tell me. The cat put a third object between itself and you. The dog is like us. We can communicate directly. Hey how are you doing, do you want to marry me? Okay good, let’s raise a family and go to the film, okay? That’s most people. In the art world, we are driven to dance naked. Everybody dances naked in private. In the art world, we are driven to dance naked in public. You sick f***s. You sick people. Artists want to make this and they go, “I made that, love me, forever, by everybody, and give me a lot of money and sex too.” That’s what art is. They make a third object to place between themselves and the world and that’s how they are getting their love. Like cats. Artists are cats. I happen to be a cat person, I can’t stand dogs. The thing is, by the way, well I’ll get into that another time What do I want artists to be able to do? Do I have a few more minutes to talk before we do questions? Yeah? Okay, or is it just rambling here? I want you, job one of the artist is to be able to embed though in material. Job one. Job one. You can’t say, “this big white screen is about revolution.” To you it’s about revolution. I’m going to say something you may not like if you are an artist. I don’t think artists own the meaning of their work. You say that’s about a revolution, I might say it’s about a snow storm. I don’t know, I’m not sure. I would say to you, I’m going to quote a line. One of my favorite poets, it’s a little bit complicated. Wallace Stevens, have you ever heard of him? He is so great, you’ll never understand a word he wrote, but he is great. Modernism. I want you to imagine twenty people, I’ll paraphrase it, twenty people cross a bridge into twenty villages. Now I’m going to change it. Twenty people cross twenty bridges into twenty villages. Do you understand what he is saying? When you cross a bridge it’s different then when you cross a bridge. So we already have two people, and two bridges. When you get to the other side, the village that you’re in, and the village that you’re in, are not the same. Yes, they are the same. If I suddenly dropped a neutron bomb, you would all, both die. I”m not talking about this. I’m saying the subjective experience of the crossing of the bridge and of the village is not the same for you as it is for me. I would say to you that 85% of the art that I see is crap. I think that that might even be a constant. That 85% of the art made in the bloody Renaissance was crap. We just don’t see it. It’s gone, they threw it out. Your grandma threw it out, VOOM, BANG, BOOM. You can’t believe the non-crap that’s gotten thrown out. By the way, we think that about 99.9999% of the art that existed before even, say, 1500 destroyed by invading armies, fires, economic class, every religion comes in, and the first thing that you do is you cross out the eyes of the painting, you cut off the heads of the sculpture. We are crazy people, we are. Because art has a power for us. What was I saying right before the, uh.. Wallace Stevens, It’s subjective. 85% of the art is bad, but your 85% of bad art is totally different than her 85% of bad art. I’m going to be honest with you as an art critic. You can’t prove that Vermeer is better than Norman Rockwell. If you think Rockwell is better than Vermeer, talk to me later. I might be able to help you, and I like Norman Rockwell. Vermeer, well we will get into Vermeer later if you want to talk about Vermeer. Art is subjective that way. You might like Matisse, this one likes Mondrian. I don’t know. You can’t prove one is quantitatively better. That’s why art is so great, that’s why music is so great, that’s why poetry is so great, that’s why food is so great. An Indian Raga, you don’t understand an Indian Raga. It’s because it’s structure is completely foreign to you but you don’t listen to it and go, eeewww. It’s not like a Mondrian. You don’t do that. People understand things like the Kardashians. Okay. That’s what we understand and that’s a good thing. Movies we understand. That’s why movies aren’t that big in the art world right now, because movies usually have a beginning, a middle, and an end. That’s very foreign to the art world. We are like, “could you put the middle at the beginning and have it be all middle?” That’s a good idea. Make that painting you punk. You know? First job: you have to be able to embed your thought in material. Whatever material that is. Next rule for you if you are an artist: never count anyone out, be nice. Be nice to everybody for God’s sake, even the ones you hate. The ones you count out they sometimes stick around and they can really surprise you. So I would just say, except things. A couple more things before I let you ask some questions about now, or what’s being made now, or what’s wrong with me, or art, or the art world, or how much you hated that T.V. show I was on. Did you see that T.V. show? My wife never saw it once. I was on a reality T.V. show. What a mess. I would say to you artists, envy will eat you alive. You must make an enemy of envy. Envy is about always look out, never looking at yourself. Always comparing this one’s ankles to your ankles, that ones success to your success. You cannot, you must not ever be defined by rejection, or failure, ever, ever. If I don’t like your work, do you know what it means? Twenty villages, twenty bridges, twenty people. It means I don’t like your work. It doesn’t mean your work is bad. However, I’m going to tell you something tough. I think there is a grain of truth in every criticism. I read all this crap written about me everyday. I look online and I go, “ouch, eww, ou, ou, ou.” Why do they hate me so? But on every criticism I always stop for a minute, and I think I left something in my work that allowed them to say, “it was about a snow storm.” I am responsible. Before Van Gogh, artists used to say, “what’s wrong with my work that they don’t get it?” After Van Gogh, there was a shift, and you are living in it now. Everybody goes, “what’s wrong with them, that they don’t get my work?” That’s looking out. You can’t do anything about the art. If they don’t like your work, tough. Nuts, I am sorry. You are going to either have to find a way for people to like your work, or find the people to like your work. Do you know what success entails? Do you know what it entails? Not as much as you think, other than work, work, work, work, work, work, work. Work is the only thing, there’s only work. That is the most important thing for me. I have no life. No life. All I do, is I look at about 30 or 40 shows a week in New York. I know, I’m going blind from it. I look at art in New York, and then I go home and write about it. I haven’t had breakfast, lunch, or dinner with anybody causally in New York with a friend since November 1998. That was the week I became a weekly critic. There is no time, I am a dying species. There are about 11 weekly critics left in this country. We will not be replaced, we are the do-do birds. Okay? We are not going to be around. When the New Yorker owners, the family publication of the New Yorker, when the Si Newhouse dies, a magazine this thick can’t keep going. How? Can the Times, the New York Times, transition to being all online? I hope so. In the meantime, I am one of the last people paid to do this full-time. That’s why I don’t have any other time. So, you better love working. You better love working. You are going to spend ungodly amounts of time alone. Ungodly. When we go to openings, we always see artists looking the same way. Always the same way, like – am I normal? Is this okay? Am I walking normal? What I do at openings by the way, here is what I do at openings to seem normal, because I just need to go out for two hours. That’s what I do, after a long day of writing. I wake up very early, and my demons speak early. I wake up and go, “my work’s no good, that’s it.” You at least have breakfast. Me? Way before breakfast, no tea, that’s it. I have to get working immediately. I count, the only solution for work block on the planet earth, is work. Just f***ing work, you big babies! You are not driving a truck, you are driving a taxi, you are not a waitress. I know you are half/part-time, but all you artists have some phony bologna job. I know it. You are not working 40 hours, you’ve figured out some way to work far fewer than that. You have to work. You have to surround yourself with other artists, form gangs, form groups you must protect each other, you just protect the runt in your group more than anyone else. Why? Because about 4 of the other people in the group think you are the runt. They are just never going to tell you. They are never going to tell you. You never brake ranks, there is no space between you out in the world. When you go in the world, my advice again, show up for everything. Show up. See what life smells and feels like. A lot of people observe that all the people who seem to get things are the people who seem to apply for them. Nobody is going to call you and say, “oh, you know, I think this lottery ticket is yours.” You are not going to make enough money, you are not going to have enough love. Not my problem. I would not be, if I were you, i’d only be an artist. Don’t be an artist, don’t be an artist. Unless you really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, have to. Really. You know what I’m now saying to all these Governors that want to succeed? Go. Go. You don’t want to be a part of the United States of America? We give you more money than you give us? Go, if you are going to be a big winey complainy baby. This is a big bloody mess, it always is, just like art. Just work, okay? That’s all I do. That’s all I want you to do. How do I look at art? I want to show you one little thing before I stop here. This is how I look at art. I once saw Jasper John stand like this, so I seems that I stand like this and my wife thinks I’m a maniac. So I stand like this when I look at art. She always goes, “why are you standing that way?” and I always go, “what way?” When I think you are looking at me, or I’m being looked at looking at art, I’ll go like this. Now, I’ll show you how artists look at art. You ready? The same art, and here is what they do, they go Okay artists, tell them, what are you doing? Hmm? Tell them. You want to see how it’s made They all know, and I’ll translate it to a simple, one word they are stealing. You better believe you should be stealing, you idiots. Of course you should steal. The drip is on the wall it’s yours. All art my darlings, my pilgrim, gypsy, misfit, maniacs. All art is contemporary art. From the cave painting to today. Why? Because it all exists now for us in the present. Then we are gone, and it stays. And then it will become contemporary for the next. You have a shot you have a hundred year window on this thing. Okay? Everything is in play. That’s how artists look at art, and the way they should. Here is what happens every morning on the phone in New York, or in your house. When I call my artists friends, or they call me and say, “how about the shows?” We only talk about art, we are the most boring people in the world.” Nothing else, I talk about football a little. D*** Giants and Jets. Redskins, oh, you are in a mess too. We are taking your name. I’m okay with it, I’m a liberal. Okay. When I talk to my friends about art, here is how the critic talks, I go “I liked this one the most, I thought this was the most derivative, this showed me the progress they were doing, la, la, la. I’m trying to understand, who have they looked at, how does this fit with their last show, and I’m working. I always want you to be working with your friends. Don’t be a fancy smarty a** pants. You know, be yourself. I’m asking you to be radically vulnerable. Radical vulnerability at all times. I want you to be as vulnerable as the object you are talking about, the person you are talking to. Okay? I tell my artist friends like, “blah blah blah” and then I’ll say to them, “well what did you think?” and they’ll go “shiny, “shiny, “bumpy, it was very bumpy.” What they discovered when they got close to the d*** thing is that there was like little silicon mixed into the paint. They scratched some off, that’s what they are bloody doing in there. That’s what they should be doing. Who cares what the critics are looking at. They are right, artists are right. How something is made is what something is. There is the lack of separation again. See how the critic unconsciously stepped back, but we have, we are working in a different language. Words, okay? I would tell artists, do everything. Everything. If you want to make movies, and slides, and Instagram, and paintings, and sculpture, and dog beds, do it! Do it. There should be no line of investigation close to you. Not one. If you are thinking about making, but what about my consistency? I would say, get out of here. Who cares about consistency? I’m not looking for more shows that look more or less the same. Here is how you all walk into a lot of shows. Bye. And you are gone, right? I want you my artists to fail flamboyantly. Fail flamboyantly, even if you are just making all grey paintings. Find a way to make those grey paintings yours, and yours alone. If I like this much, of one thing, in one show, i’ll follow you. That’s all I need. [sniffs like a dog] One whiff of blood. [acts like dog] I could kill this person, I could eat them. I could steal from you. You see, that’s what the critics are thinking. Ahh, I can gain access to this. Whatever your obsession are, they better be near your work. They better maybe even be, if you love sewing, I need sewing in there. I met a kid out at Cal Arts, years back. He loved pornography, I said, “well, you know, it’s kind of male.” He then produced photographs, he loved it so much, he could identify each photographer of any pornographic shoot. I said, “you need pornography in your work.” He did and he’s fine. That was his obsession. Even if your obsession is just painting stripes, I don’t know how it happens, a lot of artists paint stripes, and squares, and triangles, and flowers, and horses. Horses! A lot of people have painted horses, what are you going to do? You don’t choose your subject matter your subject matter is choosing you. Your subject matter is choosing you, you don’t quite know how you got there. But all of a sudden, artists could spend a whole lifetime drawing the same composition. Did you see that old movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind? You should see it, it’s an artist parable. The lead character keeps walking around making a kind of mound shape, and all that he says to people is just what you idiot artists say, “this is important, this means something, this is important, this means something.” Give yourself total permission, please. That’s what the art world is, don’t let yourself be policed in any way, shape, or form. Don’t be a sociopath, or worse, you know, a psychopath. But in your work, you can be a sociopath. Do you know? If Nabacough writes about Lolita, it does not make him a pedophile. If you think about rape, it doesn’t mean you want to be raped, or you want to rape. We are in a new art world where if I violate the politically correct codes of our world, we are attacking ourselves, we are eating our young. Have you noticed? Something is happening about certain kind of policing of our language. Have any of you noticed that? I have, being in the center of a lot of storms. When I didn’t like Oscar Murillo’s work – Can I talk a little more, or is it time for questions? You know what? I’ll keep blabbing, so I better stop. You nodded, yes, stop. Your career is over! Alright, I’m going to drink some water, and I hope some of you have some questions. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. How to get famous, what to do, where to go. Anything you ever want to know. Thank you for listening for the last hour.

7 thoughts on “Jerry Saltz – Clarice Smith Distinguished Lecture Series – Smithsonian American Art Museum

  1. Loved this & also loved your interview with Roberta, too. So glad you had the down to earth guts to dislike Art Forum. I always felt so dumb for its not appealing to me. The confirmation from you certainly makes me feel smarter.

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