AJF members are representative of the field of contemporary jewelry at large. They are a mixed bunch of writers, curators, collectors, makers, teachers, and the 40 possible combinations thereof. (Few—if any—in this field are doing just one thing.) They live and work all over the world, and their diplomas can be distant memories or short term goals. They are old, they are young: they are the sap that makes AJF grow.
Seasoned art reporter and author Lindsay Pollock was named editor of Art in America in January 2011. She joins the magazine following a distinguished tenure as a contributor to Bloomberg News and the London-based Art Newspaper. Pollock has previously written for ARTnews, Art & Auction, and the New York Sun. In 2009, she founded an influential blog, Art Market Views, which provides breaking news and analysis on the art industry. Her biography of pioneering art dealer Edith Halpert, The Girl with the Gallery, was published in 2006 by PublicAffairs. She is a cum laude graduate of Barnard College with a BA in art history and earned an MS from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Susan Cummins, Tiburon, California: Art Jewelry Forum is an online magazine, and we produce a number of reviews and articles similar to those in Art in America. I particularly enjoy some of the regular features in your magazine, such as “Backstory,” “Muse,” “Books,” and “Reviews.” Have any of these, or any others in particular, been a popular section?
Lindsay Pollock: Thanks Susan! The reviews are a mainstay of the magazine, providing a monthly overview of global contemporary art exhibitions at a digestible length, melding description and opinion. These reviews serve curators, collectors, artists, and other specialists and enthusiasts. This documentation is also necessary for art historians of the future, who will need to understand how art was perceived and contextualized at the time of its making. In recent years, art magazine reviews have become even more essential as newspapers and other publications are reducing the amount of space they devote to cultural coverage.
I’m especially partial to our monthly column devoted to the artist’s voice called “Muse.” We invite an artist to write about some of the unusual factors motivating and inspiring him or her. These tend to be written in a personal, visceral voice and often shed special and new perspectives. Sometimes artists write about their mothers, or sexy cowboys, or their countries.
Marthe Le Van, Asheville, North Carolina: What article do you feel most proud of in your career?
Lindsay Pollock: I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to write about many intriguing art world events and characters. One of the most memorable and challenging was a series of articles about the once high-flying art dealer Larry Salander, who was eventually convicted of stealing from artists and artists’ estates. He is currently in prison.
Benjamin Lignel, Montreuil, France: How do you see your role as an editor, and to whom or what do you feel accountable?
Lindsay Pollock: My role is to help make Art in America the highest quality publication possible. To do this, I strive to enable my editors and writers to produce their best work, with the ultimate goal being to drive the conversation about contemporary art. I also feel accountable to our readers and the artist community the magazine has covered for 100 years.
Sienna Patti, Lenox, Massachusetts: The solitary writing practice must be very different from what you do now as an editor. When will you write again, yourself?
Lindsay Pollock: It would be rewarding to return to writing someday, and especially the sustained nature of book writing. As an editor, I do miss the thrill of researching articles and the challenge of daily writing, but I get a lot of pleasure out of working with others to bring their own ideas and articles to print.
AJF Team: Art is America is now an anachronistic name, as you report outside your borders. How does the journal attempt global coverage? Do you pay for critic’s travel to important global exhibitions? How important is it to cover non-commercial exhibitions in far-flung, non-commercial spaces?
Lindsay Pollock: The magazine was founded in 1913, and the name reflected the nationalistic pride and aspirations of US collectors competing with the old money and old world culturati in Europe and the UK.
The magazine has been internationally focused since the 1970s, when the contemporary art world became more global. We try to keep abreast of developments around the world to the best of our abilities, but we have a small full-time staff and limited resources.
We have contributing editors in international cities, who communicate with us and propose articles and reviews. In addition, each year I invite three writers or artists to write “Atlas” columns from different cities to help us understand what is happening in key locales for art production. This fall we continue the series with writers in Istanbul, Warsaw, and Detroit.
The bottom line is always a concern, and we have a small travel budget. I can send a writer in Berlin to Stockholm or Rotterdam, but it would be prohibitively expensive to send a writer from New York to Moscow, and there are so many important international art events that we must pick and choose. We also rely on a network of writers already based abroad to avoid travel costs, but it can be frustrating. I don’t have a writer in Romania or Israel, for example, and sometimes articles I’d like to commission aren’t feasible.
We do depend on press trips to allow our writers to visit certain far-flung destinations, although this is hardly an ideal scenario and presents all sorts of conflicts of interest.
AJF Team: Art magazines in print—at least the more general interest type—seem to have become the periodical version of coffee-table books: things you flip through to look at the images but never read. This may be because the media is under a huge pressure to promote, or in the best case, explain, rather than criticize art. Do you find this to be true? How do you address the problem?
Lindsay Pollock: At Art in America, we do strive to produce a good-looking magazine, but we certainly don’t want to be a toothless, slick read. We aim to publish cogent, timely, thoughtful, provocative, and lively articles without an overabundance of academic jargon.
The matter of criticality is something our editors constantly debate and discuss. Part of the challenge is finding writers skilled enough to make a well-argued, well-defended case against something. Another challenge is finding writers independent enough to tackle unpopular/negative views. These days, finding critics who don’t also teach or curate is difficult, and many people are reluctant to criticize for fear of alienating a future collaborator. It’s a problem and one that won’t be solved in the short term, but hopefully as publishing’s business model continues to evolve, a solution will emerge.
Marthe Le Van, Asheville, North Carolina: What is your ethical position on the editorial/advertiser relationship?
Lindsay Pollock: The magazine’s publisher is respectful of my editorial independence. These are not easy times for magazines in general, and as a trade magazine, we must constantly be mindful of navigating sometimes potentially awkward situations. I am supportive of the publisher to the extent I feel comfortable. I will go with her occasionally to discuss the magazine with advertisers and listen to their concerns, but ultimately our editorial plans are made independently from any business arrangements. The editorial team plans our issues months ahead of the advertising sales team working on a particular issue, so our independence is reinforced by the logistics of the production schedule.
We do depend on the support of the dealer network to pay the bills, and since the 2008 fiscal crisis, many galleries reduced the level of their advertising and it’s been an uphill battle to re-gain the lost ground. Galleries have so much overhead from art fairs that they seem to have slashed their print marketing budgets, which is obviously unfortunate in that it limits the scope of what we can do. Magazines are ultimately providing a service and need to be supported so this sort of writing can continue to be produced.
AJF Team: Will Art in America eventually become a digital-only periodical?
Lindsay Pollock: This is the big question for the future of publishing. It seems inevitable that there will be a time in the not-too-distant future when certain forms of print publishing will be obsolete, but will this take 5, 10, or 20 years? I wish I knew the answer. We do have a website and publish original material every day. The trick is to figure out how to replace print revenues with money from digital publishing, and at the moment, print advertising and subscriptions are far more lucrative than the net.
AJF Team: One of our board members once wrote that “AJF is single medium, and contemporary art practice concerns itself with idea-based, non-media-specific production. Jewelry has to find its own avenues, which have little to do with the larger art world.” Would you agree?
Lindsay Pollock: I’m always struck by the fact that there seems to be little overlap between audiences for contemporary art and contemporary jewelry. Art collectors are pretty focused. They don’t look at ceramics or glass or Victorian silver (unless they are someone like the polymath Sam Wagstaff). In some ways, collecting can be quite parochial.
But to get to your question, it’s true, most young contemporary artists don’t limit themselves to working with one medium—they may make sculpture, video, and also do performance, for example.
As I learn more about contemporary jewelry and look at the work of more artists, I notice formal overlap with contemporary art and certainly conceptual crossover. But, I do think contemporary jewelry will need to find its own path, and it does seem more of a fit within the broader decorative arts/design community.
Liesbeth den Besten, Amstelveen, Netherlands: After 45-odd years, art jewelry is still a niche, unknown to most people. Did you know about contemporary jewelry as a discipline prior to your involvement with AJF? Do you think a small field such as contemporary jewelry has any chance to survive?
Lindsay Pollock: I was very fortunate to have a mother who was a jewelry and silver appraiser and taught me to appreciate jewelry and decorative arts when I was growing up. I remember when she went to London in the 1980s and came home with jewelry from Electrum Gallery and a memorable Andrew Grima necklace from the Grima Gallery. I thought it was a remarkable and wild-looking object—an asymmetrical abstract pendant with watermelon tourmaline—quite unlike the diamond tennis bracelets other mothers wore around suburban Boston. My mother also bought on a small scale at Quadrum Gallery, pieces by Robert Ebendorf and others, and so I guess I always appreciated the artistry and relevance of jewelry and the participation of the wearer as a sort of accomplice. Somehow this early exposure planted a seed, and I’ve become even more interested in the past few years as I’ve been able to start buying a few pieces myself. Thanks to AJF, I feel connected to the field, even if most of the time it’s restricted to browsing online.
As to the fate of the field, I do see a future ahead, but this will take time, effort, creativity, and a lot of energy. The more I look at material, the more I am convinced that this is a rich and creative though grossly underappreciated field. There is a supply of great material that far outstrips demand. It’s the exact opposite situation in the contemporary art market.
It’s important to remember that the contemporary art market was relatively sleepy in the 1990s, both in the primary market at galleries and in the auction houses. The last two decades brought an explosion of interest and soaring prices, for better and worse. Markets do take time and nurturing to mature.
Tanel Veenre, Tallinn, Estonia: What do you think of the unprecedented speculation and record prices that we are getting in contemporary art at auction today? What is the impact of this speculation on our perception of art, and how do you think it should be discussed in art history books?
Lindsay Pollock: The wild record prices and rampant speculation are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the emphasis on collecting and money is a distraction from art’s more meaningful aspects, such as quality and art historical significance. On the other hand, some artists have been able to develop successful and lucrative careers, probably more than ever before in history.
There is a sense that when the art market is really strong, serious scholarship and art criticism are considered secondary to the machinery of the market, notably collectors, dealers, and art fairs. In times like these, there are a lot of really questionable art collections being put together, people buying on hype and for profit. In time, art historians will be able to take stock using all types of art writing, both the critical variety found in art magazines, alongside writing which purports to examine the art market. As someone who attempted to cover the market, it’s important to note that there are extreme obstacles to really getting any actual data or even many facts. Auction houses, dealers, and collectors are not incentivized to reveal much transactional information, and it’s mostly a closed club.
AJF Team: What did you think of the work submitted for the AJF Artist Award competition? What are your reflections on the process of this jury?
Lindsay Pollock: I was flattered to be invited to take part in the jury. Reviewing the applications was extremely educational. Having an opportunity to see so much work helped develop my eye and allowed me to understand some of the themes, materials, and techniques of young artists.
About a third of the work seemed either too commercial, derivative, or kitsch. Maybe another third was competent, but lacked originality or inspiration. Another third included work that was impressive from a technical or conceptual perspective. Debating the work with my fellow jurors was probably the most fun part of the job. Everyone was opinionated, and we certainly didn’t agree all of the time, although we were able to compromise. Overall, I was struck by how much strong work is out there, just waiting to be discovered. Contemporary jewelry currently lacks visibility, but initiatives like the AJF Artist Award will eventually begin to cultivate new audiences.