At Large  December 7, 2023  Rebecca Schiffman

Art Critic Jerry Saltz Gets Into Virtual Kerfuffle with AI Artist Refik Anadol

Photo: Refik Anadol Studio

Installation view of Unsupervised — Machine Hallucinations — MoMA, 2022, which was on view at The Museum of Modern Art, New York from November 19, 2022 through October 29, 2023 and was acquired by the museum. 

The history of the often volatile relationship between artists and their critics is a long, time-honored tradition: think of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, who faced scrutiny from patrons and scholars, Edouard Manet and the cartoonists and critics who mocked him, or even Pablo Picasso, whose work even to this day continues to elicit strong and controversial reactions. More recently, another kerfuffle has broken out on the platform X between artist and critic: New York Magazine’s senior art critic Jerry Saltz and artist Refik Anadol over Anadol's 2022 A.I.-fueled work Unsupervised—Machine Hallucinations—MoMA, which was on view on the ground floor at MoMA for roughly a year, a run that ended on October 29, 2023.

The kerfuffle began back in February, when Saltz first reviewed Unsupervised, which was acquired by the museum for its permanent collection. In his review, he begins on a positive note, calling the work a “smash success,” but then begins his dissent, calling curator Michelle Kuo, “responsible for this pointless museum mediocrity.” He goes on to list the ways in which the work is lacking. Some adjectives he uses are “derivative and familiar,” “mildly entertaining” and “a half-million-dollar screensaver.”

As a critic, Saltz had every right to voice his opinion in the February review. But the comments kept coming. Earlier this month, Saltz continued his attack on Anadol on X, calling the piece a “mind numbing multi-million dollar spectacle” and a “house of cards and hall of mirrors.”

To this, Anadol replied: “ChatGPT writes better than you.” And the fight began. Back and forth, the two tweeted, explaining their viewpoints. In one exchange, Saltz said: “I do not like the work of @refikanadol! And I have said exactly why.” To which Anadol replied, “Your words has no meaning to me @jerrysaltz you never talked to me, never visited my studio, no idea who i am, why and how I create art.” 

Others got involved. Digital artist Mike Winklemann, known more broadly as Beeple, made a meme of the pair fighting in cyberspace, while the digital artist known as Sergito defended Anadol on X calling Saltz a “boomer critic who’s made a ‘career’ out of talking s*** about other people’s art”. 

Other's came out in defense of Saltz. “I mean, telling a critic not to have an opinion is like heckling a comedian," said artist Hiba Schahbaz in an Instagram post.

But Saltz defended his position. “My job is to look, keep looking," he wrote. "We don’t have to agree.” 

While the conversation could continue to reverberate around the internet, it seems like the pair have reached a truce on December 4. Saltz tweeted about how he has tried to voice his opinion, saying "I have found that about 90% of the people in the space of AI and NFT infatically DO NOT want criticism," and has been met with violent, physical reactions. “One guy hit me on my wrist when I walked past him…And yelled something about NFTs. Sigh.” In response, Anadol said he was sorry to hear that (seemingly referring to the man who hit Saltz), and—waving a white flag—said, “All criticism is welcome! I’m sure our community is much better than this one guy!"

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