Noah Becker's whitehot magazine of contemporary art

The Brooklyn Rail Controversy Raises More Questions Than Answers

 Phong Bui of the Brooklyn Rail



Founded in October 2000, the Brooklyn Rail has seen an all-star group of writers contribute to its pages under the direction of Phong Bui.

To the surprise of many who had no idea that the Brooklyn Rail was not paying it's writers, Ben Davis from our friends at Artnet News recently announced that a large group of employees had parted ways with The Brooklyn Rail. Artnet News reported on the change at the Rail and published the Rail's announcement:

Well, big changes are afoot in the social fabric of the Rail, according to an announcement from the Rail today:

The independent members of the Board of Directors of the Brooklyn Rail, along with its day-to-day senior staff and six additional full- and part-time staff members, will part ways with the nonprofit publication, effective Friday, May 26, 2017.

Managing Director Sara Christoph was at the Rail for four years, guiding it to an unprecedented period of fiscal stability, initiating a thriving development program, and building the publication’s first structure to compensate all writers for their work. Managing Editor Laila Pedro was at the magazine for two years, overseeing refinements in editorial standards, diversifying coverage, and cultivating new partnerships with artists. Both will pursue independent projects as well as continuing their collaborative work with departing Art Director Maggie Barrett.

The June 2017 issue of the Brooklyn Rail will be the last produced by the current team, and will appear as usual at the beginning of the month.

Founded in 2000, the Brooklyn Rail covers art, culture, and politics. It has been recognized for its autonomously run sections led by passionate editors; its wide-ranging coverage of arts, culture, and politics; and its in-depth interviews with artists.

Davis at Artnet also reported: "What incited this “parting of ways” or what it might mean for the future of the publication beyond June was not immediately clear." At that time Phong Bui had not commented on the shakeup at the Rail.

A follow up article was penned by Ben Davis at Artnet:

With no further information available from anyone involved with the publication, speculation about the future of the Rail filled the void, much of it centering on the idea that the publication was closing.

However, this weekend, Phong Bui—long the central figure associated with the venerable Brooklyn publication—sought to quell the rumors. In a statement, he described the break as amicable, growing from a “process of re-envisioning” the journal’s future.

The Davis article continued:

Bui would not say if any specific incident had precipitated Friday’s wave of departures. “I think people agree that stepping down is the way to let me rebuild the Rail the way I see it,” he said. “Hopefully, the new crew coming in will help build that collective vision.”

Artnet's coverage seems light-handed considering the gravity of this situation, it leaves more questions than answers. Sources close to the Rail tell Whitehot Magazine that there was no pay for Brooklyn Rail writers for years on end. It's best if a publication settles the old debts before moving forward and the new crew Bui speaks of is in peril of being strung along for the sake of some kind of "pie in the sky" art dream that never happens.

On the other hand if you look at the list of past contributors at the Rail, it's a stunning accomplishment that so much was accomplished there under the alleged circumstances of no pay. The contributors list speaks of Phong Bui's importance (and persuasiveness) and gravity of the publication. It's not for Whitehot Magazine to suggest who was and was not paid but based on what we are being told, it was a large number. Other publishers have run into similar issues, for example the publication New York Arts which was notoriously wrought with problems under the leadership of Abraham Lubelski.

We love the Brooklyn Rail and it's impressive what they have build through community but some of this rings hollow.

Whitehot's Noah Becker said on Facebook: "What about all the years of unpaid writers? Is that just erased from the books? I am confused. I love the Rail and would love to see it prosper but this story is incomplete."

Former Rail contributor and Phong Bui friend Loren J. Munk (Aka James Kalm), was quoted on Facebook: "I think all the writers understood that there was no compensation, were never told they were going to get paid, and freely worked as voluntary contributors. End of story...

According to the insiders Whitehot Magazine has been in touch with, the Rail's writers were waiting and wondering about when payment would arrive, so this is perhaps not the end of the story.

Apparently Brooklyn Rail writers did in fact begin getting paid in 2016

Whitehot is a print magazine and mostly a constant international web based art magazine. We are sympathetic to the woes and difficulties of publishing about art and wish to see progress in the field.

Hopefully the Brooklyn Rail has a bright future.  WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker shows his art internationally. A visual artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post and contributed texts to major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker also directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube. 

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