Wednesday, November 11, 2009

James Wagner

The recent New York Times articles about the New Museum have helped
publicize the issues that James Wagner blogged about six weeks ago at A few weeks after his initial
post  the editorial staff at the Brooklyn Rail emailed me after
they saw it. Having read it myself earlier and twittering about the
absurdity of it all I was pleased to see the Rail responding to the
post as well. When I got back from LA I met with James and Barry and
we had a great discussion about the ethical issues and the changing
direction of the museum. I interviewed Tyler Green and Paddy Johnson
so I understood their positions and concerns.
With consideration to their critical voices I made my drawing as
sensational and outrageous as I could because that's how it appeared
considering the museum's history and commitment to a non-mainstream
program. What the Times seems to have overlooked amid the reporting is
James' early, provocative, and justified criticism. I feel he really
started this critical inquiry from a passionate concern over the
overtly commercial transformation of yet another alternative
non-profit space. This trend doesn't bode well for unknown and
emerging artists without representation, especially as the gallery
system contracts.
While the interest in my particular take on the imaginary museum
series has been strong I want to make sure that it's known that this
drawing was a collaboration with the support of people who don't just
accept the status quo. Particularly James, Barry, Tyler, Paddy, Phong
Bui, and the Brooklyn Rail.  [Note: I will be meeting with the Rail editorial staff next week to discuss an ongoing series of editorial cartoons for the Rail.  Maybe I could call them the imaginary drawing series.]


William Powhida


kalm james said...

Yikes, I posted this on the November 2 thread, and it wasn't "approved" by blog owner. Let's see if this makes it.

Hey William,
This is perhaps the best cover the Brooklyn Rail has ever published, and I should know, I’ve been writing for them for nearly ten years now. It’s also one of the best, most cogent and timely pieces that you’ve ever done as well, so congratulations, I’m proud of you.

Praise aside, the issue regarding the different covers is troublesome. In all the time I’ve been contribution to the Rail, to the best of my recollection, there has never been alternative covers, NEVER! Also, it took a week for me to lay my hands on an actual hard copy with your great cover. All the listed drop points were void of Rails.

As we all know, with the shrinking publishing world hardcopy art content is under severe pressure. Even though it’s a total volunteer organization, the Rail is not immune. I’m afraid to cajole donations and advertisers, and to guarantee continued access, they’re backing off their mandate to ask the tough questions, present the most challenging work, and cover the side of things that the mainstream art press ignores. I hope I’m wrong, I love the Rail and what Phong and John Yau have accomplished. But how valid can your “institutional critique” be when you have more invested in maintaining the “institution” than in presenting the “critique”?

William said...


Sorry, I've enabled comment moderation to deal with spam and trolls. I can't believe that's a sentence that means anything, but there it is. I also can't approve comments from my blackberry, but your initial comment about the cover showed up Nov 14th? Was there one from Nov 2nd that you submitted? I'm not seeing that.

Anyway, I was as surprised as you when Phong announced the three cover deal. I know Phong had other covers ready to go, since my drawing was scanned the day before the deadline, but it does look like the Rail may have decided to soften the blow. I also think that Phong may have already told artists featured in the issue their work was going to be on the cover and found himself in an awkward position making a last minute decision to go with my drawing on the cover. Thus, the three way deal.

Aside from that, what I do find problematic is that the drawing is not included on the site as a contribution to the entire issue, not just a partial cover. Visitors to the rail site cannot yet access a high-resolution version.

I don't think though that the Rail is backing off asking the tough questions, and I'm meeting with the editorial staff tomorrow about contributing more drawings on a regular basis. More about that this week, but the indications I've gotten suggest they want to move in a more critical direction.


kalm james said...

That's good to hear, they've been walking a tightrope for years and, like I said, I understand the pressure everyone in print media is under. Because of their oppositional take on a lot of what's out there we've both been involved, and I just hope to keep at least a part of the Rail's tradition of badassed speaking truth to power alive.