02/06/2013 08:23 am ET

How Uptown Money Kills Downtown Art

''The art market focuses attention on what its priorities are, which is big buying and big selling--so we wind up talking about Koons, Hirst, Murakami, the usual suspects. The big problem is figuring out how to focus attention in other directions.''

Irving Sandler, an 87-year-old critic, has been on the scene ever since New York inherited the mantle of the New Florence from Paris. The author of the definitive book on 1950s American art, The Triumph of American Painting, Sandler witnessed the birth of the big bad New York art market, as well as the periodic waxing and waning of its influence. As I sit in his painting-filled apartment near NYU--"It's all to be given away," he says, gesturing at an Alex Katz portrait of him and his wife on their wedding day, "we decided we were never going to sell anything and we never have"--he pours a glass of wine and schools me on the noxious effects big money can have on young talent.

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