Notes on Art Publishing Now

From the event hosted by Southern Exposure, Art Publishing Now.
I register, and then look at some of the books on the wall. There are perhaps ten items, laid out on a shelf at the entrance.

The majority are web printed or xerox copied. But definitely from a zine background. And then one, probably the best printed, was a photo-book from colorandcolor.blogspot. A blog book by blurb: the four bs. But hands down, it looked the best from a pure print production ranking.

The most interesting object, conceptually, is an envelope containing various quizzes, with a hyper-designed logo and very slick packaging. Meaning Maker, a detournment of the organizer brand Meeting Maker. But then one reads the various pamphlets: one for “family meeting” had a checklist of everything about the person that has changed over the last five years. In addition to the expected spouse, kids questions was a check box for gender change, one for breast mastectomy, etc. All very interesting. The rest of the faux-questionnaires were similarly interesting.

Another. A small printed booklet, two color. Orange and blue. My Mission, by the blog Mission Local. Abigail loves this one.

Round One: Publishing When It’s Not Publishing

Gwen Allen, Art Historian at SFSU. Note: “Artists’ Magazines: And Alternative Space for Art” MIT Press 2011. This book looks good, some discussion of Fluxus and a new one that reminded me of Up Against the Wall Mutherfuckas. UAW/MF. Instead, this was called Shit Must Stop, SMS. Yoko Ono is a contributor, and on a full collection is $3k.

Bad at Sports, audio archive of art talk, conversations, interviews. (Rauschenberg piece). They had set-ups that were quite funny. Well played. Some of the sport photography hilarious, and made me think of a sweaty ping pong match with ? shirts, so that it became bad at sports? Fun.

THE THING. They seem relieved to be out of the art world, or perhaps a more traditional fine art background. They create an object on a regular interval and send it out.

The [un]observed. This is art soundscaping and natural-voice storytelling. There is a component of audio production and radio narrative. The broadcaster’s voice is quite stunning: if anybody’s got a voice for radio, man. She’s got it. But the visual component is also outstanding. Postcards and bus stop posters, snapshots behind the story being told.

The discussion afterwards was interesting. New media was just thrown around. Long artist statements and poorly worded ones. Other descriptors: lens artist. Post-production. Collective  and curatorial work, but no anonymous work.

There was some interesting probing of the web, and of web organized projects and the curious experimentation with objects. And why does this topic then devolve into a careful dance around money?

Part of me wonders if creation today means trying to find a form that can be combined with computer-based algorithms for categorization or other data visualization. A collective effort to be categorized by the machine. And re-categorized to taste, to be perfectly pliable to all forms of recommendation. Count us! Visualize.

Round Two: The New Fetish Object

Of these, top picks were Electric Works, with the new media eye roll, and The Present Group. Both do multiples, but the Electric Works ones are sometimes quite expensive. Eleanor Hanson Wise is super chill, and ends up being the only one in the group to talk about recycling, decommissioning, and secondary markets for all the precious art objects that have been created.

Laura Sydell, when talking about printing, and the new fetish object. Two things of interest, as she is a pro moderator and thus seemingly impervious to shock or surprise.

1) No, really, y’all are so retro to be from the future. Printing is dead. Da-dum.

2) None of you are non-profits? She seems to be surprised at the composition of the pane,  that none on the panel were non-profit. They were all in it for the money.

Reproducible in intent means that there is no original.

There seems to be some ambiguity in production, with print feeding into web, or web feeding into print, or even some web to print to web to other print. These linkages and mutations are interesting. Even so, one on the panel has to go through a tortured loyalty oath to the internet before daring to mount a defense of the physical object. The non-virtual!

What is the difference between post-production and curation? Appropriation? Abigail says modification or other remix is necessary for post-production.

Perhaps the advantage of the book object is that it is an old form. One that is well archived and archival: within the large category of book, you have a universal way of characterization, of identification. Such that search agents are able to convey it to you, extract meaning by association, and learn to suggest relevant items to you.

What is edge to the art market? Where’s the limit? Are these objects participating in that market? If SMS (Shit Must Stop) back-catalogs are $3k, and being collected, isn’t this squarely the domain of the traditional art market? It’s certainly some kind of market. Cash for objects or services, call it a subscription if you’re lucky, but all of the panelists are making money. For profit and not-for-profit organizations seem to be in a twisted embrace here, where the for-profit are getting grants from the not-for-profit. Is this just canny accounting? Is this a distortion caused by the art market?

Some real screen hate here. Talk of getting away from computers. Spending too much time on your notebook.

Production. Design. Art. Intention to create what?

Round Four: West Coast Critical

First talk is two-thirds introduction. No slides. Please. Some Art in America or Frieze bullshit here. We like to cover artists of historical importance on the west coast, to re-discover works by prominent artists of twenty years ago or so, and find the stuff that still looks good today. Shows that cover the region. Blowhard.

Key here is Anne Walsh. X-Tra Art quarterly. Was surprised by the six minute rule as well, but her presentation was fine just the same. Later on, in the conversation, she rattles through a very brutal list of art critics. A La Times dis, Christopher Knight. Then a bunch of names erupted, starting with Catherine Lord and ending with Ken Goldberg, but it was just too quick to even note. I go to the websites of each, but don’t see any art critical writing by them, but some about Ken. None click-able, at least. Was this a statement? There definitely seemed to be some bad-girl persona here.

And in any-case, it was entertaining as hell. She questioned the new four color printing of x-tra, but made fun of the production quality (web press and newsprint) of early issues. She highlighted working with designers, and liked that xtra art quarterly used to change design frequently.

Another academic, Mark Van Proyen, chair of painting at SFAI and an editor for Art in America. He makes a statement about what is controversial in art publishing and criticism today versus what was controversial thirty years ago. But it flames out when the example he picked to be non-controversial, some Gingerass photo, ends up being “disturbing” in the words of one woman in the audience. Perhaps he was going for gadfly? He says art criticism went downhill from the results of one article in 1990, Art World Revisited.

Post Brothers, who read a prepared statement into the mike. Just show the link next time, after it has been edited. Swing, miss.

What’s wrong with criticism? The topic is narrowed.

Moderator makes suicidal mistake in questioning Anne Walsh with a question on Vogue. Which sounded a bit like baiting the feminist, probably despite his apparent lack of intention. Instead, it should have been more theoretically worded about theory vs. mainstream art media. Wow. Best answer was actually by Steven Wolf, but he describes an article that few would want to read.

I wonder at what is the role of the social in the act of art criticism?

Seems to be an extended discussion on art criticism versus entertainment. Should critics vamp on a review of art in the way that screenwriters vamp on the novel?

Should reviews be 500-800 words? Is this too short? Can’t be too short, must let the work reveal itself. They can’t even agree that a 500-800 word limit constituted a real barrier to excellence.

Anne Walsh defends the manifesto and essay forms, but leaves reviews out to dry.

There are some questions from the audience, including a very impassioned one directly from my left that asserted that the traditional art magazines were going to be dead within years. One that says art criticism is hyper academic and unreadable. Neither touched by any of the panelists.

There is only the glimpse of the question of popular media, the question of why isn’t visual cultured talked about, outside of a narrow niche. Always looking we are not, apparently.

The talk ends, and most of the critics on the panel have dispersed before the start of the final talk.