Art critic Jerry Saltz takes on the 40,000-headed beast

Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic for New York magazine, wants you to like him—but only if you are willing to engage in a dialogue about art. When I got the opportunity to sit down with this charming and self-effacing art critic extraordinaire, I was immediately swept up in his love of art, writing and conversation. Saltz was part of a panel of experts in a Creative Conversation on contemporary art in America during the Greenfield Prize Weekend for the Hermitage Artist Retreat. He gave the keynote address at the Greenfield Prize dinner, where artist Trenton Doyle Hancock received the 2013 award.

Post by Bonnie Silvestri

TWIS Contributor Bonnie Greenball Silvestri sat down with New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz. Photo by Cliff Roles.

Jerry Saltz, Senior Art Critic for New York magazine, wants you to like him—but only if you are willing to engage in a dialogue about art. When I got the opportunity to sit down with this charming and self-effacing art critic extraordinaire, I was immediately swept up in his love of art, writing and conversation. Saltz was part of a panel of experts in a Creative Conversation on contemporary art in America during the Greenfield Prize Weekend for the Hermitage Artist Retreat. He gave the keynote address at the Greenfield Prize dinner, where artist Trenton Doyle Hancock received the 2013 award.

was already a fan of Saltz from his weekly appearances on Bravo’s TV show Work of Art, a reality show seeking the next top artist. He was widely criticized for pandering to the public and derided for “destroying art” in becoming a part of the show, and I liked that he was willing to continue in spite of his detractors. But his on-screen persona was a bit edgy. What I didn’t know was that he would be so easy-going and spirited in person and that we would be so squarely on the same page that the arts need to become more accessible.

The art world, especially the gallery scene in New York City, often gets a bad rap. Outside the tiny circle of artists, gallerists, curators and collectors, contemporary art can seem like an impenetrable wall to the general public. But Saltz is dedicated to tearing down that wall. In contrast to his detractors, Saltz believes that “art will do just fine” if it becomes more democratized.

“All you good little humanists, you want art to be understood and embraced by the public,” Saltz said, but then these same folks panic the minute the process of art making and art criticism is opened up for popular consumption.

To some extent, Saltz is a one-man show who allows art criticism to “cross this divide” between art makers and art consumers. In addition to his work for the magazine, he lectures regularly for art programs of the top universities in the country. Perhaps it is his training as an educator that makes him want to go beyond the confines of the four corners of his magazine. He responded with a personal note to every person who commented on his Work of Art recap blogs, which in the end garnered over 100,000 comments. Furthermore, Saltz said he resisted the magazine’s attempt to put up a firewall between him and his audience because he doesn’t want to “dance naked” alone. He wants to be understood. His “skin is like an elephant,” and he loves communicating with the public about his writing, art criticism and the art world itself.

Saltz wants to move away from the vertical model in which the art critic tells everyone else what to think about a painting, a sculpture or an exhibit, and that goes for the artists as well. Rather, he wants to create a “more horizontal platform” in which everyone has a voice in the creative process. He calls it the “40,000 headed beast” that seeks to engage in a conversation about art through online media.

“I’m not interested in power, I’m interested in credibility and in respect,” Saltz said. As he opens himself up to public critique, he makes himself a more valid critic. By pulling back the veil on the mysteries of contemporary art, he may be dragging the whole art world with him. Much like Web MD began to level the playing field in the doctor/patient relationship, Saltz has validated our particular tastes.

“My 15 percent may not overlap with your 15 percent,” Saltz said. But without public connossieur-ship, the art world may go the way of the dinosaurs. And with a richer understanding, we can begin to rely on the vehicle of the creative arts to help us communicate more meaningfully with one another. Three cheers to Saltz for taking on the establishment and winning!

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Bonnie Silvestri is Senior Fellow for Arts, Culture and Civic Engagement and an instructor teaching law classes in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee. Prior to moving to Sarasota, she lived in New York City from 1996 to 2006. She received her Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in English with a minor in Art History from Vanderbilt University and her Juris Doctor from The Michael E. Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University. Most importantly, she is mom to the beautiful Daphne and wife of Michael Silvestri.

Hermitage Work Touches the World

Work created at the Hermitage is being produced, performed, published, and exhibited at major venues around the world.

Gogol by Lera Auerbach

Work created at the Hermitage is being produced, performed, published, and exhibited at major venues around the world. Here are a few examples of what our Fellows are doing:

  • Lera Auerbach’s opera Gogol saw a major production at the Theatre An Du Wein in Vienna, Austria last November.
  • Christopher Merrill’s latest non-fiction book The Tree of the Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War was published in 2012.
  • Anna Clyne, Resident Composer for Ricardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony performed Prince Of Clouds in Chicago on December 13, 2012 (It will be performed at a total of five cities around America in 2012/2013).
  • Craig Lucas’ play The Lying Lesson will premiere at the Atlantic Theatre in New York City in March, 2013.
  • Craig’s opera, Two Boys, written with Hermitage composer Nico Muhly, premiered in London at the English National Opera and opens December 12, 2013 at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
  • Pulitzer-winning composer Bernard Rands wrote a piano concerto that will see its premiere with the Boston Symphony in April 2014.
  • The Hermitage commissioned visual artist Sanford Biggers for a installation through awarding him the 2010 Greenfield Prize. That installation was exhibited at the Ringling Museum of Art for almost seven months, seen by tens of thousands, and now we are seriously exploring a national tour where it will be seen by many thousands more.

All this work was created at the Hermitage yet this is still just a sampling of the work and level of artistry that is being created every day on our campus by artists from all over the world. It’s not only our privilege to serve these wonderful creators, it’s our work. The impact, in the end, touches audiences, viewers, readers by the thousands. Of this, we couldn’t be more proud.

Conversations With Arthur Kopit

The Hermitage Artist Retreat and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are pleased to announce that two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and three-time Tony Award nominee Arthur Kopit will share stories about his life in the theater, read from his work and speak about new projects during “Conversations with Arthur Kopit” on Thursday, February 2 at 7:30 pm in the Historic Asolo Theater.

Arthur Kopit

The Hermitage Artist Retreat and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art are pleased to announce that two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, and three-time Tony Award nominee Arthur Kopit will share stories about his life in the theater, read from his work and speak about new projects during “Conversations with Arthur Kopit” on Thursday, February 2 at 7:30 pm in the Historic Asolo Theater. The program is part of the Hermitage Series at the Historic Asolo. Cost is $5.00; students with ID are free. Reservations are suggested and can be made by calling the Historic Asolo box office at 941-360-7399. The theater is located in the museum’s welcome center at 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota.

This will be an opportunity to meet one of our country’s greatest living playwrights and hear him speak about his career and what’s coming up as he explores new work. The Hermitage is very proud to count Arthur Kopit amongst its list of esteemed fellows. We are equally pleased to be able to share him with our community.

Arthur Kopit’s life in the theater has had many successes. He was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his plays Indians and Wings. Kopit was nominated three times for a Tony Award. In 1970, Indians was nominated for Best Play, as was Wings in1979. In 1982, Nine was nominated for Best Book of a Musical. He won the Vernon Rice Award (now known as the Drama Desk Award) in 1962 for his play Oh Dad, Poor Dad,Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad. In 1979, Kopit was nominated for another Drama Desk Award for his play Wings. Nine returned to Broadway in 2003 and won two Tony Awards, including Best Revival. In 2009 Rob Marshall directed the film based on Kopit’s script.

This will be the second time that Arthur Kopit has come to the Hermitage Artist Retreat to work. Our community give-back program was created to share our artists and their outstanding work with our communities at little or no cost to the audience. This evening exemplifies how special these opportunities can be. Anyone who enjoys a night in the theater will want to attend. And bring your questions. This is your opportunity to join in the conversation.

Artful Lobster 2011 A Great Success!

It was a picture perfect day for the annual Artful Lobster (AL) event at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. Thanks to the efforts of three-time Chair and Hermitage Trustee Debbi Benedict and her talented committee, the AL had its largest attendance to date.

Cellist Michael Fitzpatrick
Cellist Michael Fitzpatrick

It was a picture perfect day for the annual Artful Lobster (AL) event at the Hermitage Artist Retreat. Thanks to the efforts of three-time Chair and Hermitage Trustee Debbi Benedict and her talented committee, the AL had its largest attendance to date; exciting new live and silent auction items, including unique trips to Santa Fe, Antibes and Washington DC; and the always anticipated delicious lobster and barbecue lunch prepared and served by Michael’s On East. Guests were invited to tour the historic campus, generally not open to the public. All artists in residence were in attendance and spoke to guests about their work and Hermitage experience. Topping off the program was a special performance by guest artist and past Hermitage Fellow, Cellist Michael Fitzpatrick. The audience rose to their feet with a standing ovation and if that wasn’t enough, everyone went home with a specially-created CD of Fitzpatrick’s music. And of course it was a rousing financial success. While all bills are not yet accounted for, the ballpark figures point to the largest profit in the event’s history. Thanks to all who attended and contributed to make the afternoon so special.

September is for R&R (Repair and Renovation) or (Rust and Rot)

Maintaining historic structures in southwestern Florida and mere feet from the Gulf of Mexico is a challenge. Mother Nature wants this property back, and she uses all her tools of wind, rain, salt, and sun to deteriorate man-made structures. To top it off, she sends her best, most powerful storms in to complete the job. Since September/October is the most active part of the hurricane season, September seems to be the very best time to schedule maintenance and repair and to keep artists from far-flung destinations away from Manasota Key.

Pump House Music Studio
Pump House Music Studio

Maintaining historic structures in southwestern Florida and mere feet from the Gulf of Mexico is a challenge. Mother Nature wants this property back, and she uses all her tools of wind, rain, salt, and sun to deteriorate man-made structures. To top it off, she sends her best, most powerful storms in to complete the job. Since September/October is the most active part of the hurricane season, September seems to be the very best time to schedule maintenance and repair and to keep artists from far-flung destinations away from Manasota Key.

In addition to maintenance, September is the time when we look at the feedback from our artists (each resident completes an evaluation including suggested facility improvements) and decide what facility-related projects to undertake that would improve the artist experience.

We are guided in this work by our wonderful volunteer facilities committee chaired by architect Doug Driscoll and including architect Jonathan Parks, contractor Pat Ball, builder Hitch Baer, volunteer and donor Tom Dignam, and trustees Larry Bold and Caroline Andrus.

This year we received a generous grant of $60,000 from the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation targeted to repairs and renovations. The priorities this year will be to significantly improve the acoustical separation between the two Whitney studios, repair and paint the Whitney House exterior, install a Gulf-side picture window in the composer’s studio (Pump House), and repair windows in the Hermitage. Thanks to the generosity of the patrons of last year’s Artful Lobster, we raised enough money to start making screens (and they have to be made individually) for the Hermitage House. And thanks to the generosity of our supporter, Margaret Pennington, we will be installing a new air conditioning unit in the upstairs suite in the Hermitage House, and a new outdoor shower as well.

All of this work has had to pass through an approval process including the County Historic Preservation Board, and the Sarasota County Parks and Recreation Department. Sarasota County has been and continues to be wonderful partners in this incredible venture that we call the Hermitage Artist Retreat, and we are very grateful for all their cooperation.

We will be reserving this time of year, every year, for challenge of keeping ahead of mother nature. As you can imagine, it’s no easy task. After all she has all the time in the world and we only have 4-6 weeks.

Whitney Front Writer's Studio
Whitney Front Writer's Studio

The wonder and joy of puppets comes to the Hermitage

A wonderful and unique experience is being offered by the Hermitage Artist Retreat as part of its Artist Series at the Historic Asolo Theater. On Thursday evening, March 31, award-winning puppeteer Hobey Ford will present a program with and about his puppets.

Hobey Ford and puppet friends
Hobey Ford and puppet friends

A wonderful and unique experience is being offered by the Hermitage Artist Retreat as part of its Artist Series at the Historic Asolo Theater. On Thursday evening, March 31, award-winning puppeteer Hobey Ford will present a program with and about his puppets.

Two-time winner of puppetry’s highest honor, the Union Internationale de la Marionnette Citation of Excellence, and recipient of three Jim Henson Foundation grants, Ford is known for excellence in puppetry, performance and craft. He incorporates a variety of puppetry styles into his shows, including puppets he has created himself. Hobey uses his own voice to create characters and sound effects, tell stories and sing throughout his performances. He is a Kennedy Center teaching artist as well as a toy inventor with his hit toy “Peepers Puppet,” a set of eyes worn on the hand transforming the bare hand into a puppet. Ford lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

Date: Thursday, March 31, 2011
Time: 7:30pm
Price: $5 and reservations are required by calling the theater box office at 941-360-7399.

Sarasota Friends – Have a sailboat?

The Hermitage is looking for a Sarasota-based sailor to offer sailboat rides to artists. From a sunfish to a 64 footer, if you’ve got one, let’s talk. It’s a great opportunity to spend time with a Hermitage Artist.

While artists and writers are in residence at the Hermitage, we want to let them experience all that Florida has to offer. Many times these side trips turn into scenes in a book, or steps in a dance. If you are willing to offer sailboat rides, please let us know. We have several powerboat volunteers, but no sailboats. This week, we have a special request for a sail. If you can help, please call 475-2098 to make the arrangements. If you can’t do it by Sunday, talk to us anyway. This particular artist will return in March, and there may be similar requests by others.

It Takes A Village

Most not-for-profits like the Hermitage are supported by heros, both “sung” and “unsung.” Often those of the “unsung” hue are merchants and service providers who give and do not receive enough credit for their gifts. I’m reminded of this as we wrap up the major annual maintenance work and upgrades on our facility. Let us begin with Sarasota County, through the Parks and Recreation Department, who are major unsung heros for underwriting the costs of this work. You see, we had wood rot, dry rot, and wool rot. Such is life under the Florida sun and humidity on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. And the County stepped up and helped us with the costly repair and we are so grateful for their help.

Libby's LogoThese extensive carpentry repairs were done by other unsung heros Pat Ball Construction and their foreman, Hitch Bier. Pat Ball and Hitch went way beyond what the needed to do, contributing approximately $3,000 of additional work beyond the scope of their contract. They did this because they care – they care about our community, they care about the history embedded in these old buildings, and they understand the importance of preserving the history the building represents. The entire Hermitage House was repainted by Coating Solutions, Inc represented by Bud Tippins and his crew. More work done above and beyond the scope. We had a sliding glass door donated by Jon Cole and Tom Dignam donated the labor to install it in the Whitney Garage, transforming that space into a year-round visual art studio with air conditioning and heat.

We have five A/C units on campus. They are maintained by Castle Air. We get a deal from company owner, Blaise Castellano – often free labor and used parts, and a “not-for-profit price” on other HVAC costs. Blinds Blinds is a window covering company who has donated blinds to us, and given us good prices on the rest.

We have also been blessed with generosity from Steve Seidensticker at Libby’s Cafe and Bar, and Ash Shukla and Denise May at Chutney’s, eateries that have fed both artists and VIPs for us.

We wanted you to know some of the people and organizations who, behind the scenes, have been heroic in their generosity. If you see them, please thank them for supporting the Hermitage. Even better, patronize their establishments or use their services. If you see a Sarasota County Commissioner thank them. We all benefit from the good will of all our unsung heroes.

A Call from our Past

We got a chance to talk to some new friends the other day. First, we received a comment on our Facebook page from Bess Graham-Hodge. Who is Bess? (Hang with me, we’re going to go back in time….) Bess is the great granddaughter of the family that built the Hermitage House. Her father was Pat Graham, the son of Ruth Johanson Graham and Frank Graham.

Ann and Pat Graham
Ann and Pat Graham, 1942
We got a chance to talk to some new friends the other day. First, we received a comment on our Facebook page from Bess Graham-Hodge. Who is Bess? (Hang with me, we’re going to go back in time….) Bess is the great granddaughter of the family that built the Hermitage House. Her father was Pat Graham, the son of Ruth Johanson Graham and Frank Graham. Ruth Johanson Graham was the youngest daughter (of 13 children) of Carl and Anna Johanson. Carl Johanson built what is now the Hermitage House in 1907 and Bess is his great granddaughter. After writing to thank her for contacting us, Bess offered to put us in contact with her 85-year old mother, Ann who was the daughter-in-law. We called Ann, who was delightful. She was so anxious to tell us things about the Hermitage. For example, she told us that in the late 19th Century, Anna Johanson, Carl’s wife, had been a cook for the King of Sweden, and that they needed to have the permission from the King to immigrate to America. A cook for the King of Sweden… AND she had 13 children.

Ann said it was her great granddaughter, Kasee Stratton, PhD candidate, who had revived her interest in the Hermitage. Kassee had asked her about it after hearing stories about the Hermitage, and then went online and discovered our website and some historical pieces written by Diana Harris a writer active with the Lemon Bay Historic Society in Englewood. Kassee and Ann contacted Diana and had two great conversations with her.

Then we received an email from Kassee:

“My great-grandmother and I plan to make a special visit to Florida, as I’m sure she mentioned in her phone conversation with you. I must say Bruce, my great-grandmother has not mentioned leaving her little home until I found out that we could visit the Hermitage. She is beyond excited and such a delightful woman that I would give anything to make this dream a reality.”

So one of the many great perks to this work is that you never know what the day will bring you. On this day it brought us Bess, Ann, and Kasee and a feeling we were reaching back through time to Carl and Anna Johanson. We’re looking forward to our visit in the spring and learning more about our past.