It’s our birthday! We’re 10 years old this September. I’ve been writing this letter for 10 years—it’s almost unbelievable to me. A decade is always something to pay attention to, I think. A relationship of any kind seems like an accomplishment after 10 years.
Milestones should encourage one to look back and reflect. I practically gag when I see our first Artillery. It’s so raw, so presumptuous, so small! But bold it was, and the rawness was refreshing. We’ve come a long way, for good or for bad.
And that good and bad comes and goes. The embarrassing typo! That one review that kept tormenting us! The gossipy tidbit that drove us to lose our beloved Mitchell Mulholland. The sex issue that lost us advertisers! That Queer issue that nobody wanted to pick up. For better or worse, we’ve learned some lessons along the way.
What’s been a constant though are Artillery’s writers and staff. A loyal lot, and for that, we have survived. Our first issue had a piece on SITE Santa Fe by Ezrha Jean Black, who became our staff writer. John Tottenham wrote about Jeffrey Deitch’s bloody awful mess of a reality TV show. I interviewed Cathy Opie about her Orange County Museum of Art survey show. John Baldessari was our first Guest Lecture. John Waters became our first subscriber. Not a bad lineup. I feel grateful for everyone who participated in that first issue; everyone was rooting for Artillery, our advertisers and our readers.
The choice content for the first issue was easy as pie to put together, mainly because of the vibrant LA art scene already in play. It was apparent there was a huge need for Los Angeles to have its own art magazine. Sure, there were a few art quarterlies floating around, but I’m talking about a magazine covering contemporary art and speaking to a wider audience. Today Artillery is nationally distributed with subscribers all over the world. Now that’s progress!
But what really strikes me after producing this magazine for 10 years is how the art world has changed. It’s almost comical when I think back on the time Tim Blum of Blum & Poe gallery boasted to me of scoring their first million. This was when they had just opened their Culver City gallery (producing a domino effect that is now called the Culver City Arts District). I recall him shouting out “a million dollars!” not unlike the Austin Powers character innocently citing that figure for a ransom deal (a gross understatement being the joke). That dollar amount was astounding then, but it’s peanuts in today’s money-propelled art world. Soon afterwards, Blum & Poe moved across the street into their present gargantuan space. It was astonishing to watch them moving up in the art world (and they continue today, adding galleries in New York and Japan).
So I would say the extreme wealth in the art world would be the most notable change. Contemporary art became a commodity in the auctions like never before. That led to the second major change in Artillery’s fairly young lifetime: the art fairs. The art fairs would become another game-changer in the art world. Most galleries admit that the fairs are the necessary evil to being truly successful these days. One simply has to participate. So eventually, all good galleries pack up their wares and head to the fairs more times a year than they would care to admit. I wonder if in the future that gargantuan gallery space will even be necessary if it’s the fairs that produce the real profits that are being made. Yet the big galleries keep getting bigger: Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, DTLA’s new kid on the block.
My original vision of the magazine has changed too, maybe even grown up a bit. At first I wanted to include everything and everyone. Everything is art—Food, music, TV: It’s all art! I wanted a magazine that was fun to read. The art world is vibrant and exciting. Why shouldn’t an art magazine reflect that?
At first, it seemed like it could be done. Our gossip column, On the Wag: loved and hated; Roll Call: where art stars are celebrities; Ask Babs: an advice columnist who enjoys crushing young artists’ dreams; Retrospect: Mary Woronov sexing up Renoir; Dead or Alive: sardonic comics about dead artists. Many galleries and artists were confused. Apparently I was treading some unknown territory, poking fun at the art world, not taking it seriously enough. It turns out the art world is actually not very good at taking a joke. It prefers to remain an enigma, propped up by the academic jargon that appears in those other magazines.
If there was going to be any joking in the art world, the jokes would have to be pre-approved. But isn’t that the
antithesis of what making art is all about? If you’re not questioning something, are you really making art? If Artillery is not questioning the art world, are we doing our job?
These questions and issues plague me as Editor. What’s important in the art world? Are we properly representing the issues and challenges of art? It’s such a huge world. If we tout some art and it’s not hip enough, are we making a mistake? Should we cover this artist just because they are in a museum show? Who did we leave out? Why did we choose to profile this person and not that one? Some of these questions actually keep me awake at night. A long lost aunt actually called asking why I couldn’t feature her daughter who won a college art contest 25 years ago; the abstract painting on her wall still gets comments from house guests. It can be a tough job, trying to please everyone.
In the end, you just have to please yourself and have confidence that you are doing the right thing. This magazine is like an addiction for me. I’m still having fun, so why not keep doing it? It’s when I stop having fun, that I may stop. But for now, I’m still getting high.