Charlie Finch (1954–2022)

“Artnet’s Charlie Finch loudly brayed that Cindy [Sherman] should be ‘hung from the rafters’ for ‘censoring’ parts of the film . . . .” 

“Artnet’s Charlie Finch worked the room (overheard: ‘Barbara Gladstone still hates me’). . . .”

 “Charlie Finch, the yenta from Artnet, was centrally located on a couch: ‘There’s Rhonda Lieberman,’ he bellowed, ‘You’re a legend!’”

“Coagula’s house ethicist, Charlie Finch, asked in a howling poetic protest à la Allen Ginsberg whether we’re not monsters to be aestheticizing a branch of the military so tainted by the legacy of Vietnam.”

Art critic Charlie Finch, whose cranky, boisterous, and unfiltered nature—reflected above in a random sampling of Artforum diaries from the mid- to late 2000s—bled into serious and not-so-serious writing that held the fickle attention of the New York art scene for decades, has died at the age of sixty-eight. According to his longtime friend and fellow critic Walter Robinson, who announced Finch’s death in an Instagram post, he died by “defenestration” after battling health issues that “reduced him from larger than life to a mere and miserable shadow of himself.” The New York Post confirmed that Finch jumped from the window of his fifth-floor apartment in the East Village on August 24.

Though widely known as an incorrigible gossip, Finch was close-mouthed regarding his own past, according to Artnews. Said to have grown up on New York’s posh Upper East Side before attending Yale, he entered politics in the 1970s on the Democrat side, notably campaigning for Gary Hart, whose 1988 bid for the presidency was sunk by racy pictures of the married senator on a boat with a miniskirt-clad Donna Rice on his lap. Finch in the 1980s is reported to have worked on Wall Street briefly before moving to New Orleans to take a position as a zookeeper. At some point, he is said to have attended Union Theological Seminary.

In the 1990s, Finch established himself in the New York art world with an East Village gallery, Real Art. Shuttering it a short time after its launch, Finch began writing for Coagula, described by David Rimanelli in a 1997 issue of Artforum as “a sulfurously nasty art-world gossip rag.” (Robinson, writing on Finch’s death in Artnet News, noted that Finch might have described Rimanelli’s employer similarly: “One of many favorite memories: Speaking on the phone about some article in a just-out Artforum, he’d say, ‘Hang on, let me get it out of the trash.’”) Finch’s writing in Coagula was compiled by Robinson in the 1998 anthology Most Art Sucks.

From 1996 until the magazine ceased publication in 2012, he wrote for Artnet Magazine. Refusing to own a computer, he continued to file typewritten stories even as the magazine went online. In contrast with his more judicious peers, ever mindful of scene politics, Finch could be acerbic, witty, and cruel. In frequently controversial writing that was variously labeled sexist, racist, and purposefully politically incorrect—at different points, he mocked a dealer’s looks, charged a number of emerging artists with putting the concerns of the market before those of formalism, and called for all Western art institutions to withdraw from China—Finch was nonetheless blunt, honest, and direct. “Love him or hate him,” wrote Robinson on Instagram, “quite simply nobody was like him.”

Finch was already ill in 2012, when Artnet Magazine folded; as his cancer progressed, he is reported to have isolated himself. “I feel Charlie’s last gift,” noted Robinson in Artnet News, “which is to make the Grim Reaper palpably present, and show the true costs of genius.”


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