To mark the end of Artnet magazine, we repost painter, writer and blogger extraordinaire Joy Garnett’s take on writing for the pioneering magazine and its sad demise…
Long ago, in an art world far away and online, long before blogs, before Blouinopolis, Galleristopia, and HuffingPuffingtonia…..way way long before Hyperbolicallergica, Twittersylvania, Artfagolicious or even Newsgripe, there was Artnet…..
Somehow it doesn’t feel like it was that long ago. Summer of ’99, I was an artist working a full-time day job in a museum, typically bored, marginalized and underpaid. One day I answered the phone at my desk and it was Walter Robinson, who I’d never met, and about whom I had heard only some scant, low-level art world gossip. He was calling to ask me to write an article for something called Artnet. It was online. (So was I). He needed someone to cover a big, multi-faceted traveling show that had just opened at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts: “Cosmos: From Romanticism to the Avant-garde, 1801-2001.” I happened to be headed to Montreal that summer (how’d he know?). He would edit it, I would get paid. We’d do it all by email.
It was a struggle, writing my first review of a vast museum show. But after submitting my draft, for the first time I found myself occupying the weird terrain where negotiations between writers and their editors take place. It felt good. The results, “Romancing the Sky,” was not too terrible, and Walter invited me to consider a new project. Soon I found myself penning a regular column, “Into Africa,” for which I covered exhibitions of contemporary and tribal African or African-influenced art around town. Over the course of 18 months, I wrote nine pieces, secure in the fact that my fledgling efforts would be subjected to the stern rigor of Walter’s editing.
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure (and the pain) of working with other editors who continue to show me, through similarly weird processes, how to write well. But it was Walter who showed me how to write with seeming ease about art, how to be accessible without dumbing-down, how to be lively without being trashy (no, really), and how to be serious without being deadly dull.
After yesterday’s sad news that Artnet magazine would be ceasing activity, I visited its Wikipedia entry to see what needed updating. Someone had already posted the news and citations, so I looked at the very abbreviated list of contributors, and decided to make it inclusive. This took the better half of a morning going through Artnet’s archives. It struck me that nearly everyone at some point or another has written for Artnet. There are artists like myself, unknown and well-known, art writers, some of whom were just starting out and who now helm major magazines. There are curators, dealers, former museum directors, collectors, art fair instigators, pop-up scholars, bald capitalists, paparazzi, art astrologers, tricksters, bloviators, poets, speculators, gossips, and all manner of gadfly. Every one of these individuals has a diverting Artnet origin myth to tell, I’m sure. Artnet was pre-blog. After the dawn of the blogs it amazingly kept going. It was ahead of its time, and right on time. It will be missed.
Joy Garnett is a New York painter and writer. She serves as the Arts Editor of the Duke journal Cultural Politics where she edits projects by contemporary artists. She blogs about politics, art and open source culture at NEWSgrist.com, which she first launched as an email zine in 2000. Garnett is currently writing The Bee Kingdom, a family memoir that focuses on the life of her grandfather, A.Z. Abushady, poet, publisher and bee scientist of Egypt’s Old Regime.
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