CONTEMPORARY MAG VS. ITS WRITERS
What’s going on with Contemporary magazine? Last year, the art magazine’s publisher Brian Muller moved from London to Panama City, along with the mag’s administrative offices -- a counterintuitive business move, to say the least. Contemporary’s most recent managing editor departed in December, and is yet to be replaced (Muller currently serves as both editor and publisher). And most strikingly, a large number of writers say that they have been unable to get paid for their work.
Last week, Artnet Magazine was contacted by an angry writer, who claimed that Contemporary owed her several hundred dollars, and that after being unable to track down Muller to get paid for her work, she had communicated with former Contemporary managing editor Emiliano Valdes. According to the writer, her communication with Valdes led her to believe that “Brian had no intention of ever paying writers” and that “none of the writers were likely paid in the last couple of issues.”
A round of inquiries to former contributors to Contemporary and its spin-off Contemporary Conversations (launched in August of last year) supports the notion that Muller is having difficulty paying his writers, to say the least. Every contributor to Contemporary who responded to Artnet Magazine’s inquiries said that they either had not been paid for their writing, or had had difficulty getting paid. In fact, only one writer, Lisa Bosse, said she had received her fee -- though Bosse said that it had taken her over a year to get payment for a long article on Hanne Darboven.
Aside from Bosse, the writers’ stories follow a similar pattern: being published, waiting to get paid, contacting Muller, receiving excuses and promises, and then no longer being able to contact Muller at all, and finally giving up, deciding that the paltry sums involved didn’t justify the effort.
Among those who said they had difficulty receiving payment after being published: Kara Manning, who did a cover story on Kate Nash for the inaugural Contemporary Conversations (and whose article about the collaboration between Underworld and the Tomato Design Collective is still listed as an attraction of Contemporary’s upcoming issue 96); London-based Coline Milliard, who said that Muller told her over the phone that he paid writers in cash when he visited London, but never followed through (“Once my piece was handed in, they stopped answering emails and I never got paid”); and Walter Seidl, who said he had worked with Contemporary since 2003, but stopped communicating after he hadn’t received payment for three articles.
“At one point I offered to forget my payments if they would send me a few copies of the magazines I had pieces in,” wrote another former contributor, L.A. critic Clayton Campbell. “They never replied.”
One writer, King’s College London lecturer Luis Rebaza-Soraluz, said that he had not received any writing fees -- but that he hadn’t expected any, as it was “standard practice” to write for free in the academic world.
Reached via Facebook, former editor Emiliano Valdes -- still listed as “managing editor” on the magazine’s website -- suggested that his tenure at Contemporary had been an unhappy one. “I was put in innumerable uncomfortable and compromising situations of which Mr. Muller never accepted responsibility and which put me in the position of having to explain the company's un-complied [sic] policies.” Valdes left Contemporary in December 2008, and now works at the Centro Cultural de España in Guatemala City.
When contacted by Artnet Magazine, Muller insisted that Contemporary pays its writers. After suggesting that some problems may have been due to unreliable Panamanian mail service, Muller reiterated that any writer with a problem need only contact him: “If they phone me, or email me, they can get hold of me” (the North American number listed on the Contemporary website forwards directly to Panama). “I don’t want to deceive writers, or anyone,” he said, adding that Contemporary is a labor of love. The move to Panama, according to Muller, is designed to enable him to spearhead a Spanish-language edition of the magazine.
As to Valdes’s suggestion that there was a pattern of deceiving writers, Muller claimed that his former editor is being “duplicitous,” and that such a pattern would be news to him.
“Please. . .,” Valdes responded in a follow-up Facebook message with Artnet News, after being told of the charge, “there were lists, spreadsheets, emails, phone calls on the subject, etc. In the end, I would ask writers to email him directly when I didn't know what to do anymore. I have lost friendships and professional relationships over this issue, it's not something I would fool around with.”
The paltry pay scale for art writing, and the occasional difficulties that small art magazines may have with keeping up with authors’ payments, are facts of life in the cottage industry that is art criticism. The case with Contemporary is a further demonstration that art writers are notoriously abused, receiving rewards that may primarily be of the spiritual rather than the material sort. It’s a wonder that so many people want to write art criticism at all.
A case in point is Toronto-based writer Randy Gladman. The artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer recommended Gladman to write the piece on him for the most recent “Text” issue of Contemporary, after being impressed by a cover story Gladman did about his work for Canadian Art. Gladman was never compensated. The frustration of such instances has led him to abandon art writing entirely for more stable work.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened to me. The now defunct magazines ArText and Smock both owe me money I'll never see,” Gladman writes. “The difference is they actually went broke. Contemporary is just a dirt-bag organization that operates with a flair for cheating and lying.”
URS FISCHER AT THE NEW MUSEUM
“The Generational: Younger than Jesus” -- which has been extended to July 5, 2009 -- is hardly going to be the last provocative exhibition at the New Museum. The next big thing on the horizon is due this fall, when Urs Fischer is scheduled to take over the entire building, Oct. 28, 2009-Feb. 14, 2010. “Choreographed entirely by the artist,” the show promises “towering monuments” and “a labyrinth of mirrors.” Fischer is, of course, the Zurich-born Brooklyn artist who smashed holes in the walls of the Whitney Museum for the 2006 Whitney Biennial, excavated the floor of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in 2007, and in 2008 installed a group show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery over custom-made wallpaper picturing the gallery’s previous exhibition.
In the meantime, summer programming at the New Museum is taking a decidedly political slant, with an exhibition of photos by South African photojournalist David Goldblatt, July 15-Oct. 11, 2009; a survey of posters and prints from 1966-77 by Black Panther artist Emory Douglas, July 22-Oct. 18, 2009; and a site-specific mural by Portuguese art activist Rigo 23, July 15-Oct. 11, 2009. Rounding out the summer, in the realm of sexual politics, is “Dorothy Iannone: Lioness,” July 22-Oct. 18, 2009, the first U.S. solo show of the Berlin-based 75-year-old known for her pop erotic self-portraits with Dieter Roth.
NAPOLEON IN PICTURES AT THE MET
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is welcoming summer with a show of photographs of Napoleon III, focusing on the transformation of Second Empire Paris under the emperor and his master urban planner, Baron Haussmann. Featuring approximately 35 photographs and 10 works in other media, all drawn from the museum collection, the show spans the period from 1851 to 1871. The show begins with portraits of the new emperor and Empress Eugénie by Gustave Le Gray, includes photos of areas of the capital slated for demolition by official City of Paris photographer Charles Marville, as well as photos of the “New Louvre” by Charles Baldus, and ends with images of the ruins of Paris in the months after the Commune. The exhibition is organized by Met curator of photographs Malcolm Daniel.
SONIC YOUTH: THE MUSEUM SHOW
No rock band can be completely fulfilled without an art museum show, and the groundbreaking No Wave band Sonic Youth is getting a blow-out exhibition this summer. “Sonic Youth etc.: Sensational Fix,” May 30-Sept. 20, 2009, at the Malmö Konsthall in Malmö, Sweden, features album covers, flyers, fanzines, posters, and writings by band members, as well as photos of the band by artists such as Sofia Coppola, Richard Kern and James Welling. “Sensational Fix” includes works by numerous artists connected in one way or another to the band, ranging from Beats like Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs to West Coast artists such as Mike Kelley and Raymond Pettibon to New York artists including Vito Acconci, Rita Ackermann, Cindy Sherman and Reena Spaulings. The show also includes a pavilion designed by Dan Graham, presenting Sonic Youth’s complete audio output along with recordings of other bands. The show is organized by Dutch curator Roland Groenenboom in collaboration with Sonic Youth, and was produced by LiFE in St. Nazaire, and the Museion in Bolzano, in collaboration with Kunsthalle Düsseldorf and Malmö Konsthall.
MATTHEW BARNEY, ELIZABETH PEYTON IN HYDRA
Artists Matthew Barney and Elizabeth Peyton are collaborating on a site-specific installation on the Greek island of Hydra in the Aegean Sea this summer. The exhibition, which takes place in Dakis Joannou and the Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art’s new project space on the island -- aptly if grimly dubbed the Slaughterhouse, since the building was formerly the island’s slaughterhouse -- begins on June 16, 2009, and extending through the spring of 2010. A book is expected to result from the project, which has support from the city of Hydra and Hydra’s Ecologist Society.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AT CHARLES COWLES
The new 50th anniversary exhibition devoted to Frank Lloyd Wright at the Guggenheim Museum, May 15-Aug. 23, 2009, has a short-lived special adjunct at the Charles Cowles Gallery on West 24th Street in New York’s Chelsea art district. “Child of the Sun: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Florida Southern College,” May 19-24, 2009, features photographs by Miami photog and local TV host Robin Hill of the celebrated architect’s largest concentration of buildings, including his only planetarium, a theater-in-the-round and a circular fountain called the Water Dome. Located in Lakeland, Fla., and completed in 1958, the campus -- named Child of the Sun -- is currently undergoing renovation; it was placed on the World Monuments Fund watch list of endangered sites in 2007.
VICTORY FOR JEFF KOONS IN ALIMONY BATTLE
Artist Jeff Koons has triumphed in his long-running court battle with his former wife, the ex-porn star Cicciolina, over child support for their son, Ludwig, who is now 17. According to a report in La Repubblica, the Italian supreme court has ruled that the formula used to determine the amount of child support has been miscalculated-- Koons has been paying €15,000 a month since 1998 -- and sent the case back to the court of appeals with instructions to determine the amount spent on the boy, separate from the funds used by his mother. According to the newspaper, Cicciolina could lose as much as €2 million. The custody dispute has been long-fought and contentious; Koons has not seen Ludwig for three years, the paper said, and now hopes to spend the summer with him at the seashore.
CX ON "ART CRITICS AS NOMADS: A PANEL"
Artnet News already announced that the U.S. arm of the International Association of Art Critics is presenting a panel at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York -- but got the date wrong. So let’s go again: The event takes place on Thursday, May 21, 2009, and is titled "In Translation: How the Nomadic Lives of Contemporary Critics Affect Their Writings."
Moderators are Artforum reviewer Marek Bartelik and ARTnews deputy editor Barbara A. MacAdam, and panelists include Brooklyn Rail publisher and editor Phong Bui, Art in America contributing editor Eleanor Heartney, former Village
Voice critic Kim Levin, and freelance critics Lilly Wei and Linda Yablonsky. The panel is free -- it begins at 6:45 pm -- but reservations are required: contact email@example.com
PHOEBE HOBAN ON ALICE NEEL
Art lovers can get a preview of author Phoebe Hoban’s forthcoming biography of painter Alice Neel, scheduled for publication by St. Martin’s Press in spring 2010, at the Watermill Center in Watermill, Long Island, this Saturday, May 23, at 2:30 pm. Hoban, who is the author of a 1998 best-selling biography of painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, is scholar-in-residence at the Watermill Center. Admission is free but reservations are required; see http://phoebehoban.eventbrite.com/
GEORGE KING TO HEAD AFA
George G. King, director for the past 11 years of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, N.M., has been named as the new director of the American Federation of Arts, a New York City organization (celebrating its 100th anniversary this year) that organizes and circulates art exhibitions to museum around the world. He succeeds Julia Brown, who resigned late last year.
YASMIL RAYMOND NEW CURATOR AT DIA
Yasmil Raymond, a curator at the Walker Art Center since 2004, has been appointed curator of the Dia Art Foundation, in charge of Dia’s exhibitions and public programs at Dia:Beacon in upstate New York, the Dan Flavin Art Institute on Long Island, and at the Hispanic Society of America in Washington Heights in Manhattan. She succeeds Lynne Cooke, who is chief curator of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, and who serves as Dia’s curator at large.