Art Is Life: Icons and Iconoclasts, Visionaries and Vigilantes, and Flashes of Hope in the Night

Pulitzer Prize-winner Jerry Saltz (How to Be an Artist), senior art critic for New York magazine, likes to speak in superlatives. Jeff Koons's Puppy is "the greatest control-freak sculpture ever created." Jasper Johns's Flag is "the most iconic, transgressive object/amulet in late-twentieth-century American art." Here's one about Saltz, inspired by the caliber of his writing and observations in Art Is Life: he's the best art critic working today.

The book's 80-odd essays span 1999 to 2021. Surely two decades of rigorous engagement with art should guarantee an abundance of insight from any critic, but there's no one quite like Saltz. There are his whammo openers ("Two weeks ago, the Death Star that has hovered over the art world for the last two years finally fired its lasers"). There's his peppery-salty wit ("For nearly ten years, starting in the late nineties, art and money had sex in public. Lots of it. And really publicly"). There are his cross-genre comparisons placing fine art in a larger--some purists would say cruder--cultural context ("Hopper is the Leonard Cohen, Roy Orbison, and Bruce Springsteen of painting, an only-the-lonely artist of ordinary life").

Saltz's most rebellious act may be his determination to write accessibly in a field that tends toward easily satirizable impenetrability. His approach has always been fuss-free: as he writes of starting out as a critic, "I knew I wanted to write about art that I was seeing in the present and didn't want to have to read all those books that all those critics were always referencing." Who needs "all those books" now that there's Art Is Life? --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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