Y H B H S (card catalog) selection 22
Andrew Russeth, writer, 16 Miles
"He makes art matter in these essays. And in doing so, he is consistently hilarious, precise, and brutal. Twenty years later, that work is thrilling, inspiring, and daunting to read.
"The 7 Days Art Columns, 1988-1990"
Published by The Figures, 1990
Andrew Russeth writes, "From March 1988 to April 1990, Peter Schjeldahl, who is now art critic for the New Yorker, wrote a regular column for the gone-in-a-second New York weekly 7 Days. In that stretch, the culture wars began in earnest, AIDS continued to devastate American society, Thomas Krens became director of the Guggenheim, the Berlin Wall fell, and international art fairs expanded, as money flowed rapidly into the art world. All the while, Schjeldahl managed to address each of these issues in his reviews, elegantly connecting what he saw in galleries to the broader world. He makes art matter in these essays. And in doing so, he is consistently hilarious, precise, and brutal. Twenty years later, that work is thrilling, inspiring, and daunting to read.
Again and again, he proves to be fearless and efficient in stating and arguing his views. Take, for instance, his March 1989 article following the removal of Richard Serra's gigantic steel sculpture Titled Arc, after years of debate, from a public plaza in downtown Manhattan. While many in the art world decried the gesture, Schjeldahl confessed his joy. "You may or may not feel, as I do, sweet relief, like that of a child when the school bully moves away," he wrote, noting that Serra had reportedly told an interviewer that his opposition to the work had the feel "of fascism."
What more could a working critic ask for?
"Of course, unless it is joined with intelligence, good judgment, and a wide range of knowledge, fearlessness is worthless in an art critic. Thankfully, it goes without saying that Schjeldahl is never short of these attributes, jumping nimbly between topics as diverse as a Velazquz retrospective at the Met — "Velazquez is Mr. Cool," he writes. "If he were a rock singer, he would be Roy Orbison." — to an Elizabeth Murray show at the Whitney — "The sensation is like a full-body massage from a beautiful Swede who is on the verge of forgetting his or her professional detachment." The book is packed full of treasures like these.
On occasion, he sneaks off of the gallery and museum circuit (this is where things really get interesting), writing about baseball, journeys to Madrid and Berlin, and fireworks (they are a passion). But my favorite surprise is his report of a November 1988 auction at Christie's. "I was there because the eating of art by the rich this year is a bigger story than anything that might conceivably be happening in studios, galleries, or museums," he writes, a full twenty years before contemporary art auctions would reach their greatest peaks. He writes, with terrifying prescience, but also with what I read as a potent and refreshing faith in art criticism:
"… I foresee as a sure, short-term bet the rise of ambitious artists intimately attuned to the psychic wave-lengths of major money. Some of these artists, of whom Jeff Koons is a harbinger, will be very good, and I will like them — all the while dreaming of a great big set of scissors, in the hands of history, going snip snip snip, severing velvet ropes."
16 Miles of String covers contemporary art and art history, usually in or around New York City. It is published by Andrew Russeth.