Morley Safer takes on art world again

Morley Safer on "CBS This Morning."
Morley Safer on "CBS This Morning."

(CBS News) It's been nearly two decades since "60 Minutes" correspondent Morley Safer looked at three basketballs in an aquarium and asked, "Is it art?"

That critique of contemporary art is a legendary "60 Minutes" moment. You can watch that report here.

"60 Minutes Overtime": Safer's infamous 1993 art story
Video: Making art and making money

This Sunday, Morley asks the question again and also shows how artists and dealers are seriously cashing in.

Safer traveled to Art Basel Miami Beach, Miami's premier contemporary art fair, where he reports on the boom in contemporary art, a market that's defying the world economic slump and outperformed stocks. Safer's story will be broadcast on "60 Minutes" Sunday, April 1 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

(Watch the "60 Minutes" preview for that report in the video below.)

"60 Minutes" ponders Miami's Art Basel

On "CBS This Morning" Friday, Safer said more billionaires have made their way onto the art scene. "They were customers who just weren't there 20 years ago," he explained. "Now you have China, Malaysia, India, Russia, seriously Russia. And these new billionaires come in. And when billionaires have bought all the toys they can possibly ever want, they go to art. Why art? Art gives you status. Art introduces you to a social environment that you otherwise would not have access to. All of those wonderful things. You're seen as a patron of the arts, you're sort of the modern Medici."

But has Safer himself developed an appreciation for contemporary art?

Safer laughed, and said, "Look, on this very broadcast, I guess in this very chair only a few days ago, (art critic) Jerry Saltz, I think, conservatively estimated that 85 percent of it was rubbish. He used a stronger word. And I think he was being conservative. I think it's more like 95 percent."

Looking back to his 1993 report, Safer said he didn't care about the art world's feelings toward the piece, but added, "Look, I have great understanding, great sympathy, and great affection for artists wanting to do their thing. What I don't have is an understanding of how the gatekeepers of contemporary art can let them get away with such rubbish.

"I think one of the other problems, we address it very briefly in this piece, is the so-called art speak, the language of contemporary art, as expressed by many, many critics, particularly by curators," Safer said. "And I think when you go to get your master of fine arts degree, the more incomprehensible your doctoral paper is, the better grade you get. It's a language all its own that I don't think even the people who are using it understand."

For more with Safer on his upcoming report and the business of the art world, watch the video in the player above.