There is excitement about an apparent reaction against the "art world". But an art public so eager for change, for anything different, might become reckless. In such times, any news may be taken for good news. My article "How Contemporary Art Lost its Glamour" (Standpoint, November), which highlighted a change in journalistic attitudes towards the art world over the past year, found itself re-posted all over the internet, and in some unlikely places. The debate around it was confused, in part because its publication happened to coincide exactly with a lot of other very relevant, very negative, art-world news. The situation is more developed now, so I can more precisely identify the problem. And I can update the argument with an analysis of those articles published simultaneously with mine which presented themselves as attacks on the art world, so as to clarify exactly what sort of strange occurrence we are witnessing.
Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World, dramatically announced her withdrawal from the art world with an article in TAR magazine titled ‘Top 10 reasons not to write about the art market'. She objects to the unsavoury sort of people she has had to deal with in the art world, their lack of taste and their dubious sort of business. Her eighth reason not to write about the art market is: "It implies that money is the most important thing about art." Dave Hickey, "the Doyen of American critics" according to the Observer, gave that paper an interview in which he called the art world "stupid and nasty". "I'm an intellectual and I don't care if I'm not invited to the party," he said. "I quit." Intellectual or not, the fuss he makes hints that he might care a bit. He grumbles about modern art buyers. "They're in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It's just not serious."
This sounds a lot like Saatchi's hilariously brazen article in the Guardian excusing himself from the art world. But Saatchi wrote it fully 11 months before, because he is smarter than the others. As I had suggested would be likely, Saatchi saw it all coming. Take care not to applaud these new pieties though, however worthy they may now seem. Neither Saatchi nor Thornton nor Hickey (once also a dealer specialising in Pop Art, before he rose to be a doyen of critics) can represent a reaction against the art world because they are ultimate art world insiders.
Thornton gets annoyed "when one of Urs Fischer's worst works (a candle sculpture depicting collector Peter Brant from 2010) makes $1.3m while Sherrie Levine's classic bronze urinal, titled "Fountain (After Marcel Duchamp)" (1991), doesn't even crack a million". She is lost so deep in the art world that, in her own rant about money distorting the value of art, she can complain when yet another urinal fails to make $1 million at auction. It is not the sort of failure to upset your everyday art-lover, and it is exactly the sort of failure that will give the faintest hope to those art-lovers who patiently await a real reaction against the art world.
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