A Change in the Air?


“Something is happening in artists’ studios: a shift of emphasis, from surface to depth, and a shift of mood, from mania to melancholy, shrugging off the allures of the money-hypnotized market and the spectacle-bedizened biennials circuit.” So wrote New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl six months ago in a review that’ll likely prove seminal. It’s not that the artwork he was reviewing was anything spectacular, it’s that Schjeldahl licked his finger, held it up, and with marvelous precision articulated the prevailing winds shaping contemporary art. Artists, he writes, are increasingly “desperate to eschew narcissisms of money and fame, along with academically entrenched ideology,” and are instead operating “at psychological depths at which social attitudes can’t coalesce.” And Schjeldahl’s thinking big. “What we want now is a major artist—a Manet, Picasso, Pollock, Warhol, or Beuys—who will manifest durable truths at the core of inevitable hypes and hyperboles.”

Jesse Nathan is an editor at McSweeney’s and the managing editor of the Best American Nonrequired Reading. His poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, the American Poetry Review, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Nation. He was born in Berkeley, grew up in Kansas, and lives now in San Francisco. More from this author →