I have a really fat RSS Feed, and it sends me posts from many, many art blogs and online art magazines--Hyperallergic, Art Fag City, C-Monster, Bad at Sports, and many more. For the past couple of years, my favorite reading has come from Artnet Magazine. I liked its lack of theoretical baggage. I liked the fact that the writers wrote as if they had never seen the MLA Handbook. I like the fact that it blatantly acknowledged that art was a thing that was bought and sold. I liked Jerry Saltz's good-natured cheerleading. I liked Charlie Finch's snarky demolition of art world cant. I liked Hunter Drohojowska-Philp and Tony Fitzpatrick. Key word--"liked" in past tense. It shut down yesterday.
But I was a late-comer to Artnet Magazine. As I've been reading its obituaries, I am even more astonished by its story. The magazine, which is part of the larger Artnet art market information service, started in 1995. The internet was still steam-powered back then! And during all that time, it's had one editor, Walter Robinson, who is quite a character.
There is a great profile of Robinson from earlier this year at GalleristNY. His life in the New York art world of the 70s, 80s and 90s is totally fascinating. Here are a couple of choice bits, but read the whole thing.
It was a fertile time for art writing and publishing, and the deAk-Robinson-Cohn trio began putting out a journal, Art-Rite, on cheap newsprint. “We wanted people to throw it away,” Ms. deAk once told an art historian. “We didn’t want to contribute to raising the value of art.”
“Magazines like Artforum were so adult,” Mr. Robinson said. “If you look back at those Art-Rites, we were so immature.”
Artists designed the covers. Ed Ruscha photographed a wax candle shaped like a devil for the front, an angel for the back. Pat Steir’s had three roses, each a different color. “They hand-printed all of them on the floor of the loft,” Ms. Steir told us. To make the print, they used a potato. “It was cheap,” she said. “No one had any money.”
While producing the magazine, artist Sol LeWitt, Mr. Robinson and Ms. deAk, along with a handful of other artists, founded Printed Matter, the now-nonprofit bookstore located in Chelsea. He bartended and made the social rounds. “He fucked every girl in the art world in the ’70s,” said Mr. McCormick. ["Art Net: The Life and Times of Walter Robinson," Andrew Russeth, January 24, 2012, GalleristNY]That's an enviable young manhood, if I may say so! If that was all he ever really achieved, that would have been plenty. But he was also an artist and writer and editor. And he started the infamous cable access art show, GalleryBeat (see Guest of Cindy Sherman for some prime GalleryBeat).
“There was that certain ‘bad’ painting aesthetic that he did, but a lot of his work was touching, sweet paintings, that had subtlety,” said Cathy Lebowitz, who joined Art in America in the late ’80s. Mr. Robinson was something of a mentor for her, and after they had known each other for a few years, she joined him and Mr. H-O on their public-access television show, GalleryBeat.
The show started in 1993. The two men regularly visited galleries during the week and one day Mr. H-O decided that it would be worth bringing along a camera. The tone of the show is about as far from the realm of academic discourse as one can imagine. “It came from about the third grade, I think,” Mr. H-O said.
“They would be in the office conspiring,” Betsy Baker, then editor in chief of Art in America, said. Every once in a while dealers would throw them out, as was known to happen at Andrea Rosen, PaceWildenstein and the Dia Center for the Arts, which prohibited filming. After Dia ejected them on camera, Mr. Robinson becomes as incensed as he seems capable of being.
“The thing about the Dia Center for the Arts is that what they do is bullshit,” he says briskly. “The money floods in from the rich people who write it all off on their taxes. They charge you four bucks to go into this place. They hardly ever do any exhibitions, and they won’t let us in to show you a little TV. It’s the worst things about contemporary art—elitist, snobby and stupid.” ["Art Net: The Life and Times of Walter Robinson," Andrew Russeth, January 24, 2012, GalleristNY]I love it. I feel that way too about art galleries and museums and art spaces that restrict people (me in particular) from taking photos. Read the whole piece. It's almost an outline of his life, because his life has been so eventful that it's impossible to provide to much detail. The article careens from one thing to another, with Robinson interacting with many of the best critics and artists around before they found success. It's an exhilarating read.
Charlie Finch makes his goodbye on the Artnet site, writing, "Nothing lasts forever, but it is a shame that, at the point at which Artnet Magazine's content is more comprehensive and lucid than ever, that it will disappear. I've worked with Walter Robinson for 15 years. Everything you read about him is true, he's a gentleman, the art world loves him, he's a brilliant painter, he's the best editor of his generation, and he will land on his feet." Finch is a controversial writer, but I love his no-bullshit tone. Hell, if I could, I'd hire him to write for The Great God Pan Is Dead (Mr. Finch--email me!). He, too, will land on his feet and survive to offend again.
Jerry Saltz's writing always appeared on Artnet Magazine (as well as in other places--Artnet seemed to have some kind of blanket reprint deal with him). He wrote a typically generous farewell to the magazine.
My heart skipped a beat when I heard the news. Everything I've written since 1998 has been republished on Artnet — often with pithier titles (supplied by Robinson), always with much better and way more pictures (many taken by Robinson). For years, I wasn't paid at all by Artnet. Even though I was as almost-broke then as I almost am now, it felt fine. Once I got paid, it topped out in the low three figures. I loved every second of it.
Mostly because of the way that Walter edited and oversaw Artnet. No jargon. No unbearably long multi-footnoted, almost unreadable art-historical pieces — except all the ones by Donald Kuspitt, whom Walter loved and defended. Then there was Charlie Finch, a planetoid unto himself, the writer whom everyone read. (Charlie may be the porn star of the art world. Half of all hits go to him.) He played marauding Omega to Walter's laid-back Beta. Never an alpha dog, Walter instead was always eager around, entertained by, and amazed with everything going on around him. He could dis things, even us writers, but with a big heart.["Jerry Saltz on the End of artnet.com's Magazine," 6/25/2012, The Vulture]Saltz points out that the art market services will survive while the magazine dies. That seems like the way of the world--the art world, at least. Money becomes ever more important (at least in the blue-chip neighborhoods of the art world) while criticism grows more irrelevant. It's a little unnerving that a lively site like Artnet Magazine could die off so suddenly. I'm sure its writers will find new homes--they're good, after all. I look forward to seeing what they do next.