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Morley Safer, Sunday Painter, Declines Saltz’s Curatorial Challenge

'Mr. Saltz’s challenge is tempting, but I decline on the grounds that I have better, more pressing challenges as a working reporter,' he wrote.
2888311 Morley Safer, Sunday Painter, Declines Saltzs Curatorial Challenge

Mr. Safer examining a birthday cake at the Jewish Museum's 100th birthday celebration in 2004. (Courtesy Stephen Chernin/Getty Images)

On Sunday evening, the television journalist Morley Safer aired a follow-up to his 1993 attack on the art world on 60 Minutes. He visited the Art Basel Miami Beach fair—“an upscale flea market, a shopping mall fair,” he termed it, accurately—and walked around making glib remarks about art and the wealthy.

Though it’s hard to define Mr. Safer’s criteria for good art, he seems to like a bit of old-fashioned hard work: he swoons for Kara Walker, scorns Christopher Wool. Though many chalked up Mr. Safer’s distaste for the outré to Hilton Kramer-style conservatism, it is worth noting that he is speaking as an artist himself.

People magazine has written about his paintings a number of times. In 1993, after his first broadside, Mr. Safer revealed to the magazine that he likes art “that knocks me out. It has to hit you not just intellectually, but somewhere in the neighborhood of the heart.” Thus, he has painted hotel rooms that he stays in while traveling. “Who is going to memorialize Room 409 of the Holiday Inn unless I do?” he told People. And he said, way back in 1982, “I find it marvelously therapeutic.”

Roused by Mr. Safer’s attack, New York critic Jerry Saltz challenged him to curate an exhibition, of his own work and that of others. “I promise to review it fair and square,” Mr. Saltz wrote. “Deal?”

Mr. Safer declined the offer, in a statement to The Observer. “Mr. Saltz’s challenge is tempting, but I decline on the grounds that I have better, more pressing challenges as a working reporter,” he wrote. “As for his eagerness to judge my talent as a curator and painter, that is a pleasure I choose to deny him.”

Mr. Safer continued:

“I would, however, suggest to Mr. Saltz that he, as a pseudo gatekeeper of the visual arts, also has better things to do. The first might be to rediscover that 60 Minutes is alive and well and leading the pack in news broadcasts. It will certainly broaden his knowledge in any number of areas including by the way, the arts.”

editorial@observer.com

A version of this article will appear in the April 4 edition of The New York Observer.