Q + A with art publisher Alexandra Goldman, Founder and Editor, ARTIFACTOID
By NOAH BECKER, MAR. 2017
Noah Becker: Why do you write and publish about art?
Alexandra Goldman: I write and publish about art because it is a way for me to stay actively engaged in the art world and art community in a way that gives back, and also enhances my own experience of art. In turn, I hope it enhances the experience of others interested in art, because this too is one of my main goals.
I had been very interested in fine and contemporary art for years. I loved going to museums and galleries in every ounce of free time I had and reading all the literature that they presented – every plaque on every wall, every vinyl, etc. I realized how much of a difference it often made in contemporary art to read about each piece instead of just looking at each piece without context. The degree to which accompanying texts were able to stimulate my experience of art and bring me into a new level of connection with art was life-enhancing. One artist who in my opinion is a perfect example of this is Teresa Margolles, She is known for having extraordinarily powerful and disturbing stories behind each of her otherwise somewhat visually cryptic pieces.
Finally I was a part of certain conversations with people who held tightly to the idea that “if you can’t enjoy or understand the art by just looking at it then it isn’t good, or it isn’t worth your time,” which is totally fine, to each his own. But from my perspective, having felt humbled by reading a text in tandem with looking at a piece of art I otherwise might have walked right past, I was inspired to want to start my own publication. Artifactoid is my way to share this holistic experience of art with anyone else that might be interested in indulging me during my extreme nerding-out. Maybe they’ll catch the bug I have!
NB: When you started writing about art what was your inspiration to get involved?
AG: I have a favorite book store, 192 Books, in the middle of the NYC’s Chelsea gallery district, where I often go to panel discussions and talks with authors. Due to its location, they often have authors speak about art writing or experiences with artists. One time I went to an amazing talk that I felt so honored to be at, with legendary art critic Calvin Tomkins, for the launch of his book, “Marcel Duchamp: The Afternoon Interviews” which I was incredibly inspired by. Another time, I went to the book launch and talk for “How to Write About Contemporary Art” by critic Gilda Williams. She described the pitfalls of becoming an art writer, and how common bad art writing is, but that there is still this passion for it that some of us have, compelling enough so that she was happy to write a book about how to do it well. I purchased and began reading that book even before I became an art writer, because the topic of art writing just interested me as a way to enter more of an active conversation about art. Most recently I went to the book launch for “How to See: Looking, Talking and Thinking about Art” by artist David Salle, also at 192 Books. I think between becoming aware of all the interesting people talking and writing about art writing, combined with my own love for both writing and art, art writing became something that was almost non negotiable for me – I had to do it!
NB: What do you plan to gain from all of this?
AG: I don’t even need a plan to gain – I gain from art writing every single time I write about any art related topic. The more I share it and the more I do it, the more I gain from it; more confidence, more experience, more inspiration, more ideas. Whether that means connecting with more artists and helping them gain exposure in different ways, or chatting with curators, gallerists, collectors, deans of art departments at universities, and other players in the art world… to having deeper and more meaningful discussions about art and where the art world is going, to going to conferences and panels, or helping people learn more about ways that it is possible to think about art in connection with politics or other key issues happening in our world. For me, it is a win-win. What I hope to gain is just more knowledge sharing and interconnectedness over time, and seeing the good that can come out of that – to which I’m not yet even aware of the extent. This year with Artifactoid I’m hoping to both publish more in Spanish (like I’ve done previously for Vice-Versa Magazine), while opening Artifactoid up to even more of the global community. And, most importantly I aim to welcome an increased number of outside contributors. So, if you are an art writer reading this and relate to some of the ideas/concepts I’m describing, please reach out!
NB: How do you know the difference between good art and bad art?
This question always makes my chest feel tight because art is such a broad category to speak about in terms of good or bad! I think that to be general and at the same time accurate, good art has strong integrity of intention, and at the same time, is masterfully executed. For instance, if it accomplishes what it is trying to do, and then demonstrates an exquisite level of skill in doing that. This can apply from anything from a 14th century oil painting, to a piece of performance art this year. I think that beyond that, this question can get really subjective. For me personally, I love art that is thought provoking or that makes me feel deeply. I love art that connects in interesting ways to art history, politics or technology – but a lot of that is different for different people. There is also the question of, “is this good or bad art for what context?” Something can be an incredible piece of art, but you would never want it in your living room. Or if you’re an art collector, “good art” can also just be a simple and very valid personal question of, “do you love it?”
NB: How can you tell the difference between good writers and bad writers?
AG: I think that good art writers are good at sticking to the core journalistic principles (don’t write what isn’t really there) and are able to articulate the art in a clear way, bringing the reader into the world of the art without being confusing and over using “art speak.” A good art writer will choose concrete adjectives that help people vividly visualize and better understand what’s going on with a certain work of art or art show. Gilda Williams helped make that really clear to me in her book. For example, a better art writer might say, “sun drenched blue” instead of “beautiful use of light and color.” Good art writers can enhance someone’s experience of the art, and work with the art, at times even elevating it. I also want to note that there are cases where there should not be any text at all accompanying certain pieces of art. I’d be interested to explore more about those instances as well.
Good art writing often ties the art into the art's larger historical context, or current social, cultural, or biographical context about the artist when appropriate. And finally, great art writing can be also poetic, daring, and highly personal, but in those cases, should present itself as such. One art writer I really admire is Seph Rodney at Hyperallergic. I think he is a wonderful example of a good art writer.
NB: Seph Rodney is great, he wrote for Whitehot Magazine before Hyperallergic, I love his writing - I love Hyperallergic too. Back to you though, let me ask you this: Is art important in the face of all the distress and negativity in the world?
AG: Absolutely. For instance, I love art from Latin America, and I think that one reason I love art from Latin America so much is that many of the artists from the region grew up in this environment of general political distress with a lot of negativity going on;whether that have been in the form of dictatorship, corruption, or economic crisis. For example, at Y Gallery (where I am currently Director), a recent exhibit was “Be My Memory,” a group show of contemporary art from Peru curated by 2016 ICI honoree Miguel Lopez. The show presented different ways in which artists from different generations in Peru have tackled intense political issues, including acts of terror committed by the Maoist guerrilla group Sendero Luminoso in the ‘80s, and the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori in the ‘90s. There is this inherent beauty to me in witnessing activism through art, this redemption of spirit that happens when creative voices rise in the face of distress and negativity. There is so much power in that!I remember even one of the earliest art articles I wrote for Artifactoid was about a painter Jan de Ruth, who I learned was interned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and would find ways to steal coffee grinds and pencils, risking his life, to create drawings on shredded scraps of his own clothing, the only material he had. How does that make you feel? To me, art is strength. It’s extremely important because think about it – imagine the opposite – imagine a world of distress and negativity with no art and no creativity. What does that thought feel like? To me it feels very dark and very defeated. I’m looking forward to seeing how art shows its intense power as a strong voice of opposition over the next several years, both in the US and around the world.
Inversely, I was having a conversation the other day with artist Tomás Espina, and the topic of art and politics came up. He said something that really resonated with me, which was that in his opinion when artists work with current politics it can be opportunistic. That being said, I’m looking forward to doing the work and deciphering what is profound art versus what is gimmicky art in the coming years.
NB: Do you see how artists and collectors are often opposing to each other politically?
AG: I am not certain that that is entirely true. While many collectors tend to be more affluent individuals, and would maybe therefore be more likely to be at least fiscally conservative, and many artists, at least many that I know, regardless of their personal economic backgrounds, can tend to have a more communally-focused or liberal and activist attitudes politically, I think a lot of times, art collectors can be connected to, and may desire to be, a part of the political ideals of the artists. I really think it depends on who the collectors are and what they are collecting, because I think there are plenty of at least socially liberal collectors. There are even artists who become collectors, and collectors who are artists. And also, I’m sure that there are some politically conservative artists! I have met a lot of people across the spectrum and would have to explore this more to make up my mind about it.
NB: Is there anything positive you feel that you could do in our current political climate through your publishing platform and your writing?
AG: Absolutely, and I’m beginning to do it right now. I’m just one voice, but I think every voice counts. I think highlighting the conversation about politics will be more important in the coming years than ever in the US, and I look forward to playing an active role in amplifying it. I’ve also done this in the past, for example, when the North Carolina discriminatory gendered bathroom laws surfaced, I wrote about Baño Revolution, a 2009 art activist project created by Syd Krochmalny and Nacho Marciano created to highlight discrimination in the gender binary bathroom system in Buenos Aires. I also wrote about a series of powerful women photographers who impacted history, based on a panel at an Americas Society and NYU Institute of Fine Arts on November 9th 2016, the day after Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump in the election. Most recently, I turned attention toward art in the context of politics in my article for Whitehot this week about the current show at bitforms gallery related to the cold war, surveillance, and in my opinion, the US political situation right now.
Maybe because of my time spent in Latin America (I was living mostly in Buenos Aires from 2010-2012), to me, art and politics are inextricably linked. I look forward to hopefully just being a part of this collective growing voice of writers and artists and other activists worldwide that is pushing together in a certain direction promoting awareness and change.
Also, importantly, I leave each article on Artifactoid open for comments, and continue to welcome more and more comments and input from readers; to build and incubate a living dialogue about art and politics right there on the webpage.
NB: Would you encourage other people to start writing and publishing about contemporary art?
AG: I would encourage people to write and publish about any topic they have a real passion for sharing. If that is art for them, I’m sure that if they approach it with care and real focus, and strong intent to be educational and provide something useful, it will have the potential to become something that is a great gift to their readers. WM
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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