Morley Safer's infamous 1993 art story
A vacuum cleaner. A urinal. Three basketballs floating in water? In 1993, when Morley Safer took a critical look at the contemporary art world, these kinds of household items were being sold as high-priced art.
In his now-infamous 60 Minutes story "Yes...But is it art?" Safer took on artists, dealers and critics of the 90s with equal gusto. The artists, he said, make mostly "worthless junk," or better yet, hire craftsmen to make it for them. Dealers, he said "lust after the hype-able." Critics write in a language that "might as well be in Sanskrit."
Morley wasn't a lone voice at the time. Hilton Kramer, left, the New York Times Art critic who died this week, said that contemporary art is largely a case of the emperor's new clothes: "Many of these artists, as I well know, live in great dread of waking up one morning and finding that it's all disappeared, that somebody blew the whistle, and they're no longer going to be considered important."
"Yes...But is it art?" created a bigger firestorm among 60 Minutes viewers than any other story of Safer's long career. So what does Morley do? He jumps back into the fray, with a new piece airing this Sunday about one of the country's biggest contemporary art fairs. At Art Basel Miami Beach, Morley finally gets an answer to the question he posed back in 1993. Is it art? Let's put it this way: whatever it is, it's worth a thousand times more than when he first mocked it.