New York Times art critic Holland Cotter's year in review piece on Sunday opened with an awkward metaphorical shout-out to the lefty park-squatters of Occupy Wall Street and an excoriation of the 'noxious' 1 percent: 'Complacency Butts Up Against Game Changers.'
There was a lot of painting on view in Zuccotti Park this fall, in the form of Occupy Wall Street protest posters, free for the taking. And there was a lot of painting on the walls of New York art galleries, most of it post-M.F.A. eye candy with hefty price tags. The physical distance between Lower Manhattan and the Chelsea art zone is short, but the mental and moral gap felt immeasurable. The park was about light-on-its-feet, change-the-game politics. Chelsea - leaden and inbred - was about cash and caution.
True, art-worldlings did at least adopt one thing from the Occupy Wall Street movement: a new identifying label for the source of particularly noxious vibes emanating from art fairs, V.I.P. galas and museum boardrooms: namely the 1 percent. But why, you'll ask, dis the ultrarich? Haven't they historically been the primary bankrollers of great art?
Sure, except we're not getting great art. By and large we're getting high-polish mediocrity. You had really, truly, desperately need to believe in the perpetual wondrous newness value of contemporary work to conclude that the New York gallery season just past was anything more than a long flat line, with month after month of young artists rehashing yesteryear's trends and veterans cannibalizing their own careers.
On July 22 Cotter revealed his suspicions of free-market capitalism in his review of an exhibit of Soviet and post-Soviet art: 'Free-market capitalism brought its suppressions and exclusions, as artists discovered. Among other things, some felt, it undermined the purpose and value of art.'