Your Weekend Entertainment Quix fix: Morley Safer, Journalist, Contentious TV Art Critic, Dies at 84

Legendary journalist Morley Safer, a longtime “60 Minutes" correspondent, has died at 84. He had announced his retirement just last week, said his employer, CBS, in an obituary, pointing out that his was the longest run of anyone on prime-time television in the US.

He became known in 1966, when he broadcast footage on CBS News of American soldiers burning the homes of Vietnamese villagers.

Morley Safer

Morley Safer

November 8, 1931-May 19, 2016

But in 2012, he branded “Yes … But is it Art?", a segment from nearly twenty years before, one of the program's most controversial because of its dismissive view of contemporary art. It highlighted works by heavyweights such as Robert Gober, Jeff Koons, and Christopher Wool.

Safer points out in the 2012 episode that many viewers branded him a philistine after the original show aired. The segment would inspire Dave Hickey's essay “Frivolity and Unctuousness," included in his Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy.

Since “But … is it Art?" aired, Safer pointed out in 2012, “Contemporary art has become a global commodity, just like oil or soybeans or pork bellies, and there seems to be no shortage of people wanting to speculate in it."

To illustrate that, Safer, undaunted by past criticism, goes to Art Basel Miami Beach to point out the profligate spending and partying, and to epater le bourgeois.

“You can't tell the exhibitionists from the exhibitions," quips Morley as art-fair fixtures Eva and Adele stroll by. “The art market sizzles while the stock market fizzles," he adds, saying that the art can be characterized as “kitsch, cute, clumsy, and incomprehensible."

Looking at a work by Do Ho Suh that replicates a bathroom fixture from his apartment in cloth, Safer rhetorically asks, “Does that toilet seat raise our spirits, or is it directing us to the men's room?"

He then wonders, “Is this the biggest scam since Hans Christian Anderson trotted out the emperor's new clothes?"

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