If you follow Jerry Saltz on social media, you’ve seen your fair share of genitalia. The National Magazine Award-winning art critic, who has championed women artists in his criticism for almost four decades, is notorious for posting provocative visual content from a slew of sources and centuries. Along with self-deprecating jokes and anti-Trump memes, these images include a smattering of severed genitals, demonic sex acts, torture, defecation, penises, and, perhaps most controversially, vaginas.
On at least one occasion, enough of Saltz's 78,000 plus followers on Facebook registered complaints about his recurring "sexist, misogynistic and abusive" content to have temporarily suspended the New York Magazine's senior art critic's account, and Saltz has consistently responded by asking his protesting followers to block or unfollow him if they don't like what they see.
The critic has vehemently criticized the MoMA for under-representing women artists, and has even attacked Artforum for including too many advertisements for male artists among its glossy pages. So for some, it's confusing that someone so vocal about sexism continuously posts images that many of his followers consider demeaning to women. This contradiction has been commented on and written about repeatedly, but never really satisfyingly resolved. His posts continued, as did the eye rolls.
Now, enter Donald Trump, and the national conversation that arose over his toxic "Access Hollywood" tape.
On Saturday evening, Leah Dixon, the artist co-proprietor of art-crowd watering hole Beverly’s, and Lauren Christiansen, a gallerist-turned-independent curator, co-wrote a Facebook post headlined “Jerry Saltz—The Donald Trump of Art World Social Media.” The post was written “on the heels of Michelle Obama’s speech in New Hampshire,” which elucidated the dangers of normalizing Trump’s demeaning words and actions towards women. “When the media became completely overrun by Trump’s horrifying sexist remarks and scandals, we thought that it would finally drown out Jerry’s irrelevant vagina obsessions. But somehow, he’s just kept it up, like the sad clown at the county fair who keeps juggling even when no one is looking,” Dixon and Christiansen wrote. “Honestly, one out of every three of his posts is a vagina.”
The fiery post, which you should read in full here, also includes a handful of screengrabs from Saltz's Instagram, including a photograph of a naked woman's whiplashed butt with the caption, "This is what your critic will do to artists who've been bad," an image of an uplifted skirt with a caption that reads "Take us to your clitoris," and a photo of a woman’s pubic hair with the caption, “Bring. Back. Bush. Please?? For me? You know I love you either way…”.
The 1,500 statement inspired an outpouring of support on Facebook, along with a piggybacking blog post by gallerist Jamie Sterns. And it seems enough of these supporters took the protest to the critic's Instagram, which prompted a reply from Saltz himself:
To find out what the noted critic—and fervent Hillary Clinton supporter—makes of the outcry, Artspace’s Loney Abrams reached out to Jerry Saltz to discuss his stream.
The essay that Dixon and Christiansen posted on Facebook takes you to task for posting images that offend women. Obviously you see a lot of art—out of everything out there, why do you choose to post so many images of naked women and genitalia on your Instagram?
I don’t know what makes me chose them but I think some of them are great, spectacular images. On my feed right now is a 15th-century illustration of the Pleiades, an insane Rococo painting of angels watching a woman fart in her sleep (a Rococo painting!), a Fragonard of a woman hugging a pillow, a Roman tile work with two vaginas and a penis, van Gogh, Mondrian, another van Gogh.... What makes me choose these? I’m not sure.
Do you think female genitalia is a relevant subject in contemporary art?
Well, if you look at my posts, one in three is not a vagina as that statement said. It’s silly to even respond to it. Look at my posts and tell me if one in every three is a vagina. Half of it is anti-Trump, which is probably where the people who wrote the post got the Trump idea from. I’m looking at a couple of vaginas here on my feed and some of them were made by woman artists. Somebody on Facebook referenced an image of a penis coming out of a banana—that is a work of art by a woman.
The female body has historically been contextualized by men, for men. Do you understand why people might find it offensive that a man, especially a man with a lot of power in the art world, post so many pictures of naked female bodies, including ones that degrade women—even if the images were originally made by women?
Yes, I do understand, and I’m sorry that they make people upset. But images have always upset people, and people have been burned at the stake over upsetting images—not that that is what is going on here. You have some people that like the pictures and some people that don’t—just like at the Met. And at the Met, there are images way worse than these.
Artworks at the Met aren’t directly next to an image that shows a topless woman on her knees with her face in a mans crotch, next to the words “Stud: Jerry Saltz… He had everything a woman could want - and more!”
That image someone made for me. They put my name on it I believe. And in the comment, I made fun of myself—that’s what I do half the time, is make fun of myself. In the comment I said, “I had absolutely NOTHING that woman wanted.” What am I supposed to do? I don’t know what to do. Shut down my whole Instagram? Stop using social media? What do I do?
If you know that these images make many women feel degraded, why keep posting them? Is it because you like being provocative, or is it a way to start some sort of dialogue?
I’m not doing it to be provocative. And I’m so sorry they’re so upset. I really am. I’m not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings; I’m really not. I’m interested in a lot of work that has come to light by digital photography, precisely because it’s been seen as objectionable and offensive to people. It’s not a mission, it’s only an interest. This big coral reef has so many things that we haven’t even dreamt of—like a [penis-shaped] ivory pipe carved by one person for one other person. I’m interested in that kind of openness, and I know it's offensive because it’s been shut out until now, only brought to light because digital photography has allowed it to.
I definitely understand that it hurts people or that they’re offended. Read me on "The Keeper." I’m trying to open up our history. It’s been so shut down; it's obvious that it's silting up with what's allowed and what's not. If we are living in a time of rediscovery, let’s really open it up and see. And of course there is going to be work that's horrendous, like so much of Roman art.
Ends of empires spin off extraordinary things, and we are living in a time of end of empire and, because of that, extraordinary things are being spun out. And I see some of them, and I post some of them. Why not open the door and gaze upon it? And if you don’t want to, block me. Please, please block me because I’m not here to offend. I’m sad about it. It hurts my feelings that I’ve hurt other peoples feelings.