Tuesday, September 25, 2007 10:35 am

An establishment art critic is like a dog walking on its hind legs; but one shouldn't go by appearances alone. Twice in the past week the New York critics have jumped on Tom Krens, feet first. But as I said, it's not that it's done well but that it's done at all. Jerry Saltz, last seen jumping on Tom Krens in the September 24 issue of New York Magazine, was jumping on Tom Krens long before I was, so let's give the man some credit - here goes:



Okay; but is it done well? By the end of the first paragraph we've learned that Krens was "cold, distracted, and rarely on hand," as well as "reckless, destructive, myopic and misguided." Follows an incoherent rant - and much as I love a rant, I hate incoherence. By the end of the last paragraph we've learned nothing new because Saltz is incapable of thinking of the art world structurally, as he himself is proud to admit. Of course the Gugg-Abu Dhabi is a boondoggle built on slave labor, but that's not a practical problem, just an aesthetic issue as far as Saltz is concerned: he's mostly bothered that the United Arab Emirates doesn't recognize Israeli passports and is therefore antisemitic - an amusing comment considering that the first Director of the Guggenheim, Hilla Rebay, was a rabid racist and Nazi propagandist. This didn't seem to bother the Guggenheims overmuch, so why the sudden squeamishness? To Saltz the problems at the Gug are merely problems with Tom Krens: Krens, concludes Saltz, "betrayed art." Replace Krens with one of Jerry's favorite directors, and all is well again.

That's where the second article takes over, and it's just as naive a Saltz's, but far more devastating in its implications. The author, writing in the Sunday Times, goes to Bilbao, pokes around, and notices that the Guggenheim Bilbao might have brought money to the coffers of Bilbao or the Basque Regional Government; maybe it even got Bilbao spruced up a bit; it hasn't done much to improve the cultural climate.

I'm not sure how the cultural climate in Bilbao would be improved by having more of the same of what's shown at the Guggenheim, least of all the half-ass local-global art the Guggenheim-Bilbao sponsors. It's encouraging to know there are people in Bilbao (the majority, it seems), who are happy to take the tourist euros and happier yet to turn their backs on the Global Art World in order to build their own culture.

I wish there were more of that in New York. Perhaps the New York mainstream has finally figured out that plonking down a Guggenheim Something somewhere doesn't automatically conjure forth hordes of art-loving myrmidons from the ground, no more than bombing Iraq into submission brings forth a thriving free-market economy.