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Who Is William Cole and Why Is He Leading a NY Times Online Discussion on the Art Market?


Sitges, Spain

Readers of the Letters column of the NY Times may have been surprised to see this Invitation to a Dialogue: An Art Market Bubble? by one William Cole of Sitges, Spain, who “is working on a book [to be published by whom?] on art connoisseurship.” He is one of the growing gaggle of contemporary art detractors who deride high-priced works as “outright junk.” Times readers are invited to respond to Cole’s screed for possible publication (and response by Cole) in the Times’ Sunday Review Section.

I for one will abstain.

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the controversial, cutting-edge Armory Show in New York, let us not forget that history often proves that conservative naysayers are not soothsayers. That’s not to suggest that all of today’s art stars will be enshrined in the art history books, 100 years from now. But a blanket emperor-has-no-clothes denunciation of overpriced contemporary art is populist poppycock. “Overpriced” is in the pocketbook of the beholder.

Who is this diatribe-scribe whom the Times has anointed as its Sunday discussion leader? Cole’s Sitges, Spain, address provides a clue. This website lists him as the owner of Cole & Contreras Books/Sylvan Cole Gallery in that resort town near Barcelona.

Sylvan Cole? He was a respected print dealer in New York (from whom I once bought a lithograph as a gift for my parents). Sylvan insisted that intelligent art collecting was possible for people from all walks of life, and he had the voluminous, wide-ranging inventory to prove it. A 1994 article in the Harvard Crimson identified William as the New York print dealer’s nephew and a teaching fellow and graduate student in French literature at Harvard, where he got his PhD in 1991.

In his Times letter this week, Cole writes:

The media play right along [with art-market hype], almost never questioning the quality of the works or the abilities of the artists.

In Cole’s case, the media are “playing along” with a letter writer’s overheated thesis, without questioning the expertise or the background of the author.

an ArtsJournal blog