Two decades ago, 60 Minutes's Morley Safer brought philistinism to new lows with his "Yes . . . But Is It Art?" segment, asking whether a vacuum cleaner or a urinal could be worthy of the name.
This Sunday, CBS will air an update in which Safer visits Art Basel Miami Beach to pose the question in market terms, as contemporary art sales are booming even as the larger economy is in shambles.
Jeffrey Deitch, LA MOCA director, was among those interviewed, and he rubs Safer's nose in the fact of a skyrocketing art market.
"In the art world, we remember very well that famous program that you did 20 years ago. It was almost a send-up of the contemporary art market," he tells Safer. In the original broadcast, the commentator mocked Jeff Koons's Equilibrium, consisting of three basketballs suspended in an aquarium. "I think at the time," Deitch points out, "Jeff Koons was very well sold for $250,000. As you know now, Koons's works have gone for $25 million or more."
In the program, even dealers find themselves flummoxed at contemporary art's success; as CBS points out, contemporary art has outperformed the Standard & Poor's list of 500 common stocks since 2003.
Los Angeles gallery owner Tim Blum says, "It's the Wild West. . . . It's an unregulated, utterly bizarre place to conduct business." What sustains it against the odds? "It's inexplicable . . . almost unexplainable," says Blum. "When we begin to talk about it, we sort of drop the subject," says Blum. He goes on to admit that no one wants to rock the boat. "Because it almost feels like you should just let it . . . keep rolling."