Friday, October 29, 2010

The Mysteries of the Press

Because of this blog, I have a fairly open dialog with most members of the arts press, including main stream media writers and other bloggers. We talk rather casually about the art industry, the state of criticism, and all those non-art industry things most writers I know like to talk about (books, travel, music, and of course sex). Because of our gallery, though, there are certain topics that I'm less comfortable talking with many of them about, such as the widely presumed relationship between paid advertising and free coverage, the widely presumed relationship between certain powerful collectors' interests and free coverage, the seeming focus on what's happening in certain geographical areas over others, and the unstated in-house formulas that prohibit this or that combination of reviews per artist or space (I know of one monthly, for example, that reportedly never reviews consecutive solo exhibitions in the same gallery by the same artist).

Before I, er, press on, I should note (because it's both true and probably prudent), that I genuinely feel our gallery gets its fair share of press (although I never grow tired of it, I should make publicly clear ;-). And, I should also note that I have some working experience in the publishing world, and I know how the decisions made are both more complex and intuitive than any of the issues above suggest.

Still, there was something I read in Jonathan Franzen's new book Freedom (which, at least so far for me, is more of a slog than The Corrections was) that piqued my interest on this topic on a whole new level and probably relates to arts coverage as well. The passage was about the consistently positive press coverage a small alternative band (the Traumatics) received for each of their early releases, but then completely stopped getting all at once (positive or negative) at a certain point:
[The Traumatic's front man] Richard theorized...that he'd been buying press attention on credit all along, without realizing it, and that the press had finally concluded that familiarity with the Traumatics was never going to be necessary to anyone's cultural literacy or street credibility, and so there was no reason to extend him further credit.
---p. 143
A similar observation has been made by many a dealer, and artist, I know. The press faucet just seemed to shut off one day. The number of New York Times reviews most Williamsburg galleries received when we all first opened there, for example, was stunning compared to how rarely you read one today (although, with apparently all the universe's irony at their disposal, the writing gods prompted me to write on this topic on the same day The Boiler gets a very nice Times review for William Lamson's gorgeous video installation [very have to see this show]).

Today, the geographical focus for emerging galleries seems to be the Lower East Side (where our friends at DCKT got a lovely review today for the Cordy Ryman show up there right now, another must-see, and Salon 94's impressive exhibition by Liz Cohen did as well [I soooo want to drive that car!!!]), and based on what Bambino and I saw during a fantastically fun tour of the Bushwick gallery scene this week, it may move soon again to that neighborhood. (Indeed, the smart, enthusiastic Bushwick galleries are ready for their close-ups...Storefront, Famous Accountants, English Kills, Norte Maar, the space of the Arch Collective, etc. etc. are cooking up some off-the-charts energy out there.)

But, yes, if I were the editor at a magazine or newspaper, I think I'd extend a little press credit to even the shaky upstarts. I think it's wise to do so. No publication wants to be the last to cover the next big scene. And if one day I decided it wasn't really going to take off and not worth my readers' time, well, who are the recipients of the initial generous gesture to complain? I gave them a chance.

The trick for the upstarts (and I include ourselves in this) is to understand what the Traumatics's front man finally figured out: that the early press may be being purchased on credit, and to not let it go to their heads or make them complacent. As well as how some scenes or galleries that seemed to get coverage for every thing they did had it bluntly stop one day, I've seen press interest in more established spaces' programs revive like a hurricane in some instances. That too can end one day, though, so...the same advice applies here too.

Labels: arts coverage


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good piece Ed.
Thanks again for a few lines of Franzen's prose. I love the way he writes. You probably won't be slogging through for long though, the 2nd half of the book flies.

-----ondine nyc

10/29/2010 10:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've found this to be true for me as an individual artist at various points in my career as well. Where new cities and their papers, or specific blogs that cover art forms related to what I do think I may be the next 'it' artist for a bit, cover every little thing I do, and then stop when they realize I've actually been around for a while and/or am not necessarily going to explode - even if the later bodies of work are far superior (and I tend to think I get better with age). I was guilty of this when I used to blog more, too. And the NYC et al blog scene - you, Paddy, Butler, Green, etc. - are not exempt. I've learned to let it ebb and flow as it might, and just try to make the best art I can, dialogue with whomever is engaged.

10/30/2010 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah Schmerler said...

Nice post, Ed. We could talk a Lot about this.
It's good to hear this from the gallerist's perspective, for sure.

People in the art world need to understand how each other's jobs work/what it is they do and why/ and what help the can get from each other to keep going, stay afloat.


11/01/2010 07:18:00 AM  

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