Good-Bye to All That: The Art Boom and Bust


Arts & Culture

Art Basel Miami during the boom.

“The plug was pulled, but life went on—invigorating life,” Jerry Saltz wrote last fall in a typically optimistic survey of “art after money.” You could hear the refrain everywhere, in galleries and studios, museums and bars: The bull market had been unbearable, turning work into a kind of mortgage payment, so maybe the bust would be good for art in this town. Saltz said it already was: “It’s as if a bunch of spotlights went out when the market crashed last October, and now, as they flicker back on, we’re able to see new green shoots busting out of the establishment’s cracks.”

But not much has changed in New York since 2008, when that speculative boom ended and an exercise in disaster capitalism began. This season, the big-deal September show at the biggest-deal New York gallery, Gagosian, is the blue-chip debut of derivative Deitch darling Dan Colen. Money is still cool-hunting. This week, Saltz called the Gagosian show, dismissively, “an event straight out of 2007.” But one of these is an elephant and one is a gnat, and the market is stampeding again.

New galleries have emerged since the crash, whole neighborhoods of them in fact, and new work has been assembled, sculpted, painted, and filmed—some of it very good work. But we are still beholden to art fairs, where the hustle is the spectacle, and we still anxiously await future auctions, when we’ll learn how well we’ve done—in collecting, in working, in making assessments. We are still enamored of gags, puns, and trompe l’oeil. We still tend to follow the scent of sweat where it pools—that antinomian territory called, in the generation after Basquiat anyway, downtown. Better would be to chase uptown, so to speak, after shows that, if young, aren’t insolent; if brash, aren’t gimmicky; and that do not rely for their power on the incongruity between the work and its staging. From here that frisson looks like a form of irony—and we want to say good-bye to all that.