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Chelsea: the view from the top

A Chelsea landmark -- The Women's Prison

The New York Times in Chelsea

Gallery row -- West 22nd Street in Chelsea

The "MGM Building" at 523-515 West 24th Street -- Matthew Marks, Barbara Gladstone and Metro Pictures galleries
The Bizarro Art World of the New York Times
by Charlie Finch

Chelsea art dealers are up in arms at the New York Times, but of course, out of fear, they won't go on record.

The reason? In its Friday editions, the Times routinely banishes reviews of first-run Chelsea shows to a few tiny lines in its "guide" section (and even here, barely five percent of Chelsea shows are ever mentioned), while Times critics overwhelmingly feature little known exhibitions in out-of-the-way, esoteric spaces in the main Friday reviews section, long a source for rich Manhattan collectors as to what shows to see.

Why is this so? Because most galleries do not advertise in the New York Times. In fact, most contemporary art galleries advertise in one periodical only, Artforum," whose circulation of 38,500 hardly matches the 1.8 million readers of the Times.

Times business executives compare the paltry amount of gallery advertising with the reams of film and theater display ads which often necessitate special sections of the paper. Thus, fine arts coverage is relegated to a thin piece of gruel, the adjunct "weekend" section every Friday, and occasional news stories in the weekday "arts" sections, which usually ignore art galleries altogether.

For the New York Times is a hyper-capitalist vacuum which sucks in high commodity advertising targeted to its wealthy readers, covering it with a pathetic, neosocialist editorial slant, designed to disguise its plutocratic raison d'etre: handbags for the rich and editorials for the poor.

Chelsea galleries, who pant at the arrival of, say, Holland Cotter on any given Saturday, will only start to get the coverage they expect when they start covering West 43rd Street with money -- this does not mean just the cheapo Art Dealers Association ad which runs every Friday.

Also, with the appointment of a new, younger editorial culture staff at "the paper of record" (bogus editor Howell Raines, age 60, is yapping about how much he loves Eminem), it's amusing to watch hidebound Times art critics squirm to preserve their jobs.

Since the Times carries a few pages of local museum advertising, Michael Kimmelman, who hasn't been spotted in Chelsea since he rented a car there in 1988, is presumably "safe"; his is just the kind of lazy, phony mind, á la Frank Rich, that they love in suburban mansions.

Holland Cotter has carved himself a place as "Mister Ethno-virtuosity," seeking out obscure shows in gyms and saloons across the metropolitan area, perfect for the Times' pandering zeitgeist.

But what about Roberta, condemned to reviewing Matthew Barney for an upcoming issue of Artforum, because of the Kimmelman obstruction? And Ken Johnson, chafing last Friday against the art world's prejudice against male heterosexual desire, or Grace Glueck, usually assigned to review the commercial, or the socially connected?

Well, Art In America's Raphael Rubinstein, not to mention every other critic in town from Sarah Valdez to Lilly Wei, presumably wants their jobs.

In a disgraceful critique of criticism in Art In America's March issue, Rubinstein, who stole his main ideas from yours truly, brazenly brownnoses the Times by praising each of its critics by name for their purported discernment, while trashing the rest of the tiny art critical universe as the suck-ups that he and the Timesers really are.

Talk to Sandy Brant, Raphael. If you can bring over some of Art In America's advertising to the New York Times weekend section, you've got a job.

In the meantime, Chelsea galleries should stop advertising in Artforum and just call Howell Raines.

CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).