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ArtPrize & Art Critic Jerry Saltz: ArtPrize receives mainstream NY art world validation?

by Brian Sherwin on 4/24/2012 5:53:41 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Conservative Punk, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint, Vandalog, COMPANY and Art Fag City. If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 18,000+ subscribers, consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  Disclaimer: This author's views are entirely his/her own and may not reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

The art competition known as ArtPrize was ridiculed by the mainstream art world from the get-go. Trust me on this -- I was an early supporter. Almost every art writer I know of -- specifically in NY circles -- knocked it at first. Now ArtPrize has 'landed' art critic Jerry Saltz as a juror... and has had high traffic NY art blogs, Hyperallergic included, backing them for nearly two years. Interesting. Does this mean ArtPrize has validation now (at least the NY variety of validation)? OR can acceptance be bought -- while political/social ideology is thrown aside? Things are getting interesting in the wider discussion of art within the United States.


I'm fascinated by the reach that ArtPrize has gained in the last two years -- especially when I think back on all the early criticism against the event. I can remember all of the 'public is stupid' rhetoric coming from some circles of the art world. Today... some of those same circles appear to be embracing the spirit of ArtPrize. That shift in opinion is of extreme interest to me -- though I do wonder how authentic it is... and how much money may be a factor in swaying opinions. I say that because one of the sources of funding for ArtPrize should not sit well with some of the NY art scene 'think tanks' (Jerry Saltz, Hrag Vartanian, Paddy Johnson) who have shown support for ArtPrize. I base that on what these individuals have said concerning specific issues over the years... compared to what one of the major backers of ArtPrize supports.


As I mentioned on the BrushBuzz Art Forum, there are some contradictions to consider when exploring the burst of NY art world acceptance that ArtPrize has received over the last two years. Point-blank -- ArtPrize does have politically / socially conservative roots... the same can be said for Grand Rapids (where ArtPrize takes places) in general -- and as we all know, conservatives tend to go against the grain of the NY art world majority (though a minority when one considers art scenes throughout the United States). Just ask art critic Ken Johnson -- who described that 'world' as a "liberal festival"... a place where ideology is "policed" by the powers that be). In that sense, the union between ArtPrize and NY art world 'insiders' is like a clash of two worlds... two worlds that rarely find common ground (I suppose money helps to lubricate interactions).


Why do I suggest that ArtPrize has conservative roots? Simple. Early funding for ArtPrize was provided by the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation -- and as far as I know, the majority of the prize money still comes from that source -- and no matter how you slice it... the DeVos family supports far-right conservative agendas -- including support for creationism taught in schools, anti-gay legislation and positions against worker unions. Those factors -- in addition to their far-right conservative viewpoints in general -- reveal the contradictions (by working with -- and accepting money from -- ArtPrize) that surround some of the NY art world figureheads who have suddenly embraced ArtPrize over the last two years.


To understand these roots you must have knowledge of what The Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has supported over the years. For example, the foundation has funded affiliate groups involved with Focus on the Family -- which is known for working against LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. The foundation has also helped fund the Council of National Policy (Dick DeVos is a member) -- which the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy (CRESP) has described as, "an umbrella organization of right-wing leaders who gather regularly to plot strategy, share ideas and fund causes and candidates to advance the theocratic agenda.", and "leading force in the Dominionist movement". Point-blank -- the same foundation helps to fund ArtPrize.


There is a deep political connection here: The Council of National Policy has close bonds with politicians Dick Cheney and Mitt Romney -- and television evangelist Pat Robertson. Furthermore, Dick and Betsy DeVos have close ties with the Bush family (Betsy DeVos raised over $150,000 for the 2004 Bush reelection campaign) . Considering this background -- these connections -- and knowing the social/political leanings of Jerry Saltz... well... something tells me that Jerry did not do much in the name of research before throwing his name into the mix. OR perhaps those "Maniac" conservatives are not so bad -- IF the price is right? Tell us Jerry. (Note: Saltz regularly describes all conservatives as "maniacs".)


Some of the loudest critics of ArtPrize have ranted about these issues for years. For example, artist Richard Kooyman has been extremely vocal against ArtPrize and the DeVos family -- he has suggested that the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation is utilizing ArtPrize in order to direct the public toward a more conservative approach to art and art appreciation. Kooyman warned -- during several debates with me -- that ArtPrize would 'buy off' art press/media and gain footholds in major art scenes in order to spur further indoctrination of their ideal (far-right conservative) view of art. Could it be that Kooyman was on to something? Food for thought -- I'm still digesting.


I don't necessarily agree with Kooyman 100% -- but I DO understand why he is concerned... and I can see how his theory applies concerning the recent burst in support from NY art world 'insiders'... and how easily some of these individuals appear to have cast aside their principles concerning specific social/political issues. Point-blank -- I know that other art writers, including art blogs that now support ArtPrize, once shared some of Kooyman's concerns about funding. I suppose that may reveal the power of blog ad sales and blog sponsorship within the NY art blogosphere... they are doing exactly what they once criticized art magazines for doing. That is a topic for another day.


How has art critic Jerry Saltz contradicted himself by being involved with ArtPrize? There is a simple answer to this question. His involvement -- considering what the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has supported, both politically and socially -- goes against the almost daily political rhetoric spewed on his Facebook Wall. For example, Saltz is fond of calling all conservatives "maniacs", or worse. In addition to that, Saltz -- on Facebook -- has suggested that both conservatives and Christians are "ignorant" in regard to specific political/social stances. If that is the case -- if Saltz truly believes that... why is he involving himself with an art organization that is heavily backed by a foundation known for embracing far-right Christian/political ideology? Why is he involving himself with a foundation -- even if indirectly involved-- that rails against some of the very things he claims to support? It does not make sense... unless, perhaps, Saltz is a closet conservative... and I'm not exactly joking when I say that.


Jerry's aggressive negative attitude towards conservatives and Christians (front, or not) tends to be shared by the majority of Facebook 'friends' who are 'active' on his Wall (those with different opinions tend to be asked not to comment -- OR end up being blocked). I wonder what the Church of Saltz will say about his involvement with an art organization (ArtPrize) that receives heavy funding from a foundation that opposes their social/political stances? I'm certain they will find justification -- and continue their 'praise'. Again, things are getting interesting in the wider discussion of art within the United States.


Don't get me wrong -- Jerry Saltz has every right to criticize conservatives AND Christians if he desires. I know that he will continue to 'hit' both with a hard-line approach (he will deliver what his followers want to hear). That said, I find it interesting that he accepts money (assuming it is a paid 'gig') from an art organization that has been funded by an extremely far-right conservative source -- a source that opposes much of what Saltz claims to support personally, socially, and politically. (Note: The same could be said of Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic). I suppose principles can be cast aside if the price is right -- again, assuming Saltz has been paid for his ArtPrize involvement.


If the situation involves money... perhaps Saltz should not have criticized Morley Safer of 60 Minutes about the money factor of the NY art world? If that is not the situation... the involvement still conflicts with the authenticity of his social / political criticism -- which appears to walk hand-in-hand with his style of art criticism in general. After all, in the 'world' of Saltz... indirect support of key political/social issues is just as bad as direct support. He has warned about that during Facebook debates with artists. He has contradicted himself... and all that he stands for -- based on his own words. His soapbox is broken -- but the blind will still 'see'... and follow the direction of his words.


In closing, when I interviewed Rick DeVos (the founder of ArtPrize -- and son of Dick and Betsy DeVos) for FineArtViews -- he made it clear that some art world 'insiders' are not comfortable with specific aspects of the competition. He also stated, "I wouldn't completely rule taking or duplicating at least elements of ArtPrize elsewhere." when I asked if ArtPrize would take place in other cities. It would be interesting to see if that happens in NYC at some point... to see what kind of art would dominate the event -- to see who jumps on the bandwagon next. I hate to say this... but perhaps Richard Kooyman was right about a few things.


Take care, Stay true,


Brian Sherwin


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Related Posts:

FineArtViews Interview: Rick DeVos -- Founder of ArtPrize

Art Critic Jerry Saltz and the Challenge Facing the Mainstream Art World

What the death of Thomas Kinkade has revealed about mainstream art critics - Part 2

Art and Politics: Republicans Blamed for Gender Inequality within the Art World? Part 1

Why Occupy Wall Street makes some art world insiders nervous

FineArtViews Interview: James Panero -- Art Critic and Managing Editor for The New Criterion

Art World Age of Discovery: Is it time to discover art off the beaten path in the United States?

Social Media and Art -- What can Facebook tell us about Art and Public Opinion?

Topics: art criticism | Brian Sherwin | FineArtViews | Think Tank 

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Richard Kooyman
Sherwin is searching for the double standard that he can point to to show what is wrong with the "liberal" art world. And he tries to do it in this piece by claiming that Jerry Saltz is a hypocrite for taking Rick Devos's money.

Let me point out that I have never said that ArtPrize or The Devos family would attempt to "buy out" the media as some type of indoctrination plan and I think Sherwin is misinformed to suggest that ArtPrize is gaining in popularity with the art world. Anyone in the field realizes that criticism of ArtPrize has grown including the recent Matthew Powers GQ Magazine article on the event and on Rick Devos.

Brian Sherwin
Richard -- You HAVE suggested that... in debate going back as far as my Myartspace days. Furthermore, you have been targeting the influence of money -- concerning the DeVos family and ArtPrize -- since the early days of ArtPrize. As for Saltz... Jerry Saltz IS a hypocrite. Period. The same can be said of Hrag Vartanian and a few other writers... throwing their principles aside for cash.

Below I have provided several quotes from you that I have found online concerning these issues:

"Being a business incubator is as much about molding ideas to the way you want them to be as it is about encouraging individual vision. No one, including the Dick and Betsy Devos Foundation, gives $500,000 of their money without a plan in mind. Rick Devos' Artprize is about molding a populist notion of what is art and how it should be thought of." -- Richard Kooyman

"Is Rick Devos following in the footsteps of his parents? The Dick and Betsy Devos Foundation's recent foray into art's management with the Devos Institute of Art's Management at the Kennedy Center is a 22 million dollar investment in deciding how and who manages our local, national and international art institutions and organizations. Seems like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." -- Richard Kooyman

"They made billions off the false promise that people could make an income by selling things to their friends and they continued the duping by using those profits to promote their political and religious ideologies. They wanted their opinions to become your opinions. They wanted their opinions about art to become your opinions and are using ArtPrize and the Devos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center to push that agenda." -- Richard Kooyman

"It's not about anything being a conspiracy but rather about a very powerful family using their money to make the rules about something involving art. Did you know that Dick and Betsy Devos not only are funding the prize money for ArtPrize but gave a $22 million dollar gift to the Kennedy Center to establish the Devos Institute of Art's Management. What does a Institute of Art's Management do exactly? It trains art administrators, museum directors, and art's organization how to run their institutions and organizations. I doubt that they will be including any training that involves radical left wing leaning ideas and as an artist that concerns me. Is that a conspiracy? No. But it is using your money to make things go the way you want them to." -- Richard Kooyman

"The money and the influence of the Devos family allows them to set the boundary and the rules of the competition within a section of Grand Rapids in which they have the most controlling influence." -- Richard Kooyman

Richard Kooyman
Brian, None of those quotes remotely suggest that "ArtPrize would 'buy off' art press/media." Now that I think about it they probably do have some type of controlling influence over the Grand Rapids Press but that is hardly art press and no one reads that rag anymore anyway.

Brian Sherwin
Richard -- Below is another interesting quote:

"The money people behind ArtPrize believe intelligent design is good and global warming is a hoax. The professional art world is mostly made of liberal minded, forward thinking individuals. Once this ideological fact about the people behind ArtPrize becomes more known the interest in ArtPrize could wain more to a locally sponsored event, not the international event it would like to be." -- Richard Kooyman

You said, "The professional art world is mostly made of liberal minded, forward thinking individuals."

Is it? Have you communicated with every artist in the country? Or is that what NY -- the influence of NY dealers, curators, museum directors, art press -- wants us to think? ;p

You said, "Once this ideological fact about the people behind ArtPrize becomes more known the interest in ArtPrize could wain more to a locally sponsored event, not the international event it would like to be.".

Really? So basically you are saying that once the 'liberal art world' catches on to their(the DeVos family) personal views... which happen to be conservative... they will be ridiculed/exiled by 'your' art world? ArtPrize, due to that connection, will be reduced to being a local event... covered only by local press, right? Is that what you meant? Not taken seriously because of their personal views involving politics and religion... right? I don't need to search for the double-standard... you exemplify it.

Your biggest fear, Richard... is that the art world, as a whole, will become more balanced -- more tolerant of various ideas -- at least when it comes to expressing it with art and displaying it... ideas that may go against the grain of your liberal views -- OR that conservatism will somehow dominate the mainstream art world... forcing you to 'hide' your views (like many conservative artists feel they must do) or risk 'exile', if you will.

You have that fear because you know the bias that exists within the mainstream art world at this time -- you are a vehicle for it... you are comfortable with it because you agree with it. You like how the mainstream art world, which does lean far left, shuts other ideas out. You thrive on controlled culture... all while suggesting that the DeVos family is attempting to control culture. Interesting.

You like that our major art museums tend to only tackle pro-Left political / religious issues, concerning contemporary art. You like the "Liberal Festival" that art critic Ken Johnson spoke of... when he implied that an artist exploring conservative themes stands little to no chance of being exhibited in NY.

You like that kind of control as long as it is in your favor. You don't want balance... you don't want equal opportunity for artists in major centers for art... you want dominance as long as that controlling hand feeds your views.

I will give you some credit though... I don't think you would put your views aside for the almighty dollar.

Brian Sherwin
Richard -- You have suggested that to me in the past. You have said a lot of things about ArtPrize over the years. Notice that some of the most influential NY art blogs, specific writers, downplayed the significance of ArtPrize... only to change their tune once ArtPrize became a sponsor. With that in mind... you might have something with your concern about money and influence. So hats off there...

Anyway, I don't have time for a lengthy back and forth with you this round. I have my daughter this weekend. :)

Brian Sherwin
Oooo and just a reminder -- my offer is still open... if you want to challenge my view about liberal bias within the art world -- and suggest that it does not exist... write an article about it.

Richard Kooyman
Brian you have said some pretty funny things over the years but to suggest that a "liberal bias" is a bad thing is pretty darn funny. All great art historically has been liberal in it's openness to new ideas, new materials, new approaches. Being liberal in ones mind is the very foundation of great art.

Brian Sherwin
Richard -- And you have a long history of dodging my questions and statements. I mean liberal in the political sense... and you know that. ;p

Brian Sherwin
So yes... I think an extreme political liberal bias is just as bad as an extreme political conservative bias. But then... I'm open-minded and don't want to be controlled by either extreme. :P


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