60 Minutes Reveals Art Fairs Suck

by Paddy Johnson on April 2, 2012 · 9 comments Opinion

Helen Frankenthaler, Blue Reach, 1974, acrylic on canvas, 59 x 77 1/2 inches

Sotheby’s auction house has locked out their art handlers for more than six months, so 60 Minutes runs a special on how people attending Art Basel Miami are spending their money on art Morley Safer doesn’t like. That’s a pretty big story  for the Canadian journalist to miss, especially considering he’s actually done some good in his time. Safer did a number of well-respected investigative reports during the Nixon years, and in 1983 famously helped free a man wrongly convicted from prison.

We’re not going to spend much time on the few actual thoughts delivered here—rich people buy ugly cars at fairs too and no one thinks to make a story out of how the experience is so much different than the showroom—but we did put together a summary of Safer’s feature. It goes roughly like this:

  • Art fairs aren’t about aesthetic experience. It’s about buying stuff.
  • The people who buy art often look weird. Maybe. Safer isn’t sure who’s buying, who’s an artist, and who’s just there to be seen.
  • There are some “timeless gems maintaining a quiet elegance” at Art Basel (cue a close up of that garbage Helen Frankenthaler at Ameringer and Yohe), but there isn’t enough of those kinds of works.
  • Dealers sell to collectors who buy for love of the art, on speculation, or because it’s an item on their must-have list.
It’s hard to imagine a feature that could tell audiences less about art fairs in more time. It’s not that there’s not a lot to discuss about fairs and the quality of one’s viewing experience, Safer just doesn’t get around to doing that.


Heather April 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Huh, except that he is right? Art fairs are pretty repulsive and the art market has rapidly expanded in the last couple years as he points out. It may not be news to you or readers of this blog, but I think most 60 minutes watching americans probably don’t know much about the art world.

Paddy Johnson April 2, 2012 at 10:02 pm

I never said he wasn’t right. I said he produced a lousy piece that tells viewers very little about the fairs in the time he’s allotted. My mother, who knows nothing about the art market wrote me after the special aired to complain about how vacuous the piece was. Just because people don’t know much about the world doesn’t mean you can’t tell them about it in a more intelligent fashion than this. 

Danny Olda April 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

You’re right the American public generally knows little about the art world.  Maybe some of that can be attributed to outlets’ like 60 Minutes coverage of the art world is limited to inane pieces like Safer’s being aired once every twenty years. 
It was surprising he felt people needed to be told that super-rich people can be snobs and that the art market (like any market in general) is excessive.  

Carlntex April 3, 2012 at 10:03 am

As a collector of art, I think he missed an opportunity to go around the Basel fair and point out the beautiful works that were on display.  Instead of building the art up, he sought to bring it down.  What a shame.

Anonymous April 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

is the actual story online? i can’t find it, but if it’s anything like the original, then who cares. it’s not his philistine-ism that is annoying, it’s his aw-shucks journalism.

Alex April 4, 2012 at 9:42 am

Art fairs do suck, but they provide a teaser for discovery of works. I saw some info on the Independent Fair in 
http://www.mutualart.com/Events/Artfairs and it was small enough to allow discovery and exploration.

ElyseArt April 4, 2012 at 11:24 am

I did nbot think that the 60 minute show was bad.  I thought it was a plus.  I was in Miami to see all of the shows were happening and  was so happy to see all the people going and that there was such a big deal made of them.  I personally think the contempory art they are showing shows no talant………but hype.  I dont really care, either way, I am happy they are still talking about ART ! …….in this recession especially.  http://www.ElyseArtStudio.com

Unknowncolor April 5, 2012 at 4:49 pm

post modern nostalgia with camp looks silly to most 

Unknowncolor April 5, 2012 at 7:05 pm

knew you wouldnt put my tame but true comment up 

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