One year ago, in my first letter to you, I wrote about rescuing art-writing as a discipline on the decline. That seems to have been my chief concern then and the impetus behind this project. However, in editing and preparing each volume, and in communicating to readers, contributors, and interviewees about what it is we do, that initial mission statement seems to have expanded on its own. I explained in an email to Penny Arcade, profiled in this edition, that yes, we chase and uphold a high standard in art writing, but that we are also committed to a kind of preservationist effort: that of documenting, via journalistic and academic inquiry, the present cultural moment — and capturing how we feel now about what was made then.
This revised mission crystallized four volumes later, as I explained what we were about to Penny, a force in downtown culture since the 1960s. Maybe I intimated something of this during my March 2010 interview with Gustavo Bonevardi. When he mentioned that his studio is in the first-ever commercial building taken over by artists, I pushed the tape recorder closer to him and urged him to keep talking. It may be that I realized these living resources must be used. It may also have its root in my early epiphany that by giving contributors near-total control to choose what they write about, I would be tapping into what genuinely interests us as a people — and that this might be valuable in retrospect.
The articles in Volume IV, I feel, encapsulate the concerns of the day for the future. Nalina Moses writes on the indispensability of the starchitect for the success of cultural institutions; Echo Hopkins reviews Ai Weiwei, a newsmaker for the problematic and historic commission at the Tate Modern, true, but more so for the harsh repercussions of his political stances. The edition also includes, fittingly, a profile and review of a documentarian (and artist), Jonas Mekas, who founded Anthology Film Archives to salvage and protect underground film. Michael Pepi’s article suggests Arne Glimcher, founder of the Pace Gallery, as an accidental art historian, who by virtue of having amassed a roster of artists and works of critical importance, created his own historical narrative as valid as any other.
We interviewed Jeffrey Vincent Parise, whose self-published book A Decade of Paintings is a collection of portraits that documents the process of each painting by asking sitters to write on and around the experience of being painted. Penny Arcade has also released a book recently, Bad Reputation, joining performance texts, essays and interviews. It seems some artists are self-documenting for future benefit, and in some part to secure their legacy. They act as their own historians and critics, articulating — for better or worse — the context and effect of their own work. Where they succeed, we direct attention. But not all artists choose to do this; when they believe this is someone else’s work, we fill in the blanks and push the recorder in closer.
We embark on our second year with a revised mission and renewed purpose. I hope you’ll read on.