Friday, August 5, 2011

Art Critic Brian Sherwin Interviews Art Critic Mat Gleason

This article, originally posted on FineArtViews by FASO, is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City.

Mat Gleason is known for being a bare-knuckle art critic. He founded Coagula Art Journal in 1992-- which has focused on giving the lowdown on high art for nearly two decades. Coagula Art Journal has been described as "the publication that the art world loves to hate, and loves to read" by the Village Voice-- and has been referred to as “The National Enquirer of the Art World" by the New York Post. Gleason describes Coagula Art Journal as an antidote to the theory-addled and fashion-driven forces in the world of contemporary art.

Brian Sherwin: Mat, you founded Coagula Art Journal-- a freely distributed contemporary art magazine-- in 1992. The publication, which is known for its tabloid style, has been praised widely for the love/hate relationship it has had with the mainstream art world-- including mentions of the influence it has had on art writing by art critics such as Jerry Saltz. Can you reflect on the founding of Coagula Art Journal? What spurred you to see it in print?

Mat Gleason: In college I had success publishing an underground newspaper so I kept the same model with a raw approach. I prefer immediacy in writing and art and reactions and was deeply into punk zines, so it was just a word dominated punk zine for the art world.

BS: One could say that the bare knuckle style of art criticism that has fueled Coagula Art Journal has been a direct influence on a new wave of art writers-- specifically those utilizing blogs and social media. After all, most art bloggers are very confrontational in their writing style compared to traditional art publication writers-- and are considered mavericks by 'professional' writers. Do you feel that you have had an impact on other art writers? Or is it simply that art writing, in regards to public critics, if you will, has reached a boiling point compared to the comfort zones traditional publications tend to embrace?

MG: We are all bloggers now. This is just the wave of things. I judge artistic influence by what things would be like if the artist had never existed. The blogging landscape in regards to art would be exactly the same if I had never lived so I may get points for doing a lot of things in the context of the art world first, before anybody, but there is nothing I did that punk zines and many other things also did. I did top ten lists to be ironic and now that is a staple of websites because it guarantees you ten page views per reader. Who the hell knew?!?

BS: In the past art magazines such as Art in America and ARTnews enjoyed a stranglehold on the ins and outs of the art world-- the Internet has changed that. Individuals have been able to ‘infiltrate’ the art world with blogs, Youtube, and other forms of online media-- giving readers/viewers information and fresh content faster than traditional print magazines can realistically do. In other words, print magazines can be a week or month behind breaking art news. With that in mind, do you think print art magazines will eventually be a thing of the past-- or will they always have their place?

MG: It will trickle on for a few years or so and then it will all be web. Actually, I am confident of that scenario but after what happened in Egypt last week – them shutting off the internet – I am not AS confident. I could see a president shutting down the internet and everyone relearning desktop publishing. It is a long-shot scenario, but other than that long-shot, magazines are as finished in 2011 as the horse and buggy was in 1911. Books too, they are going to find some exotic niche and stick around another century but then “bye, bye“.

BS: There are some art blogs that receive more traffic per month than art magazines have subscribers. In that context-- one can argue that blog readers are not as focused as print magazine subscribers-- that said, the strength of audience that some art bloggers have established can’t be denied. With that in mind, which audience do you feel is more important to the advancement of visual art within culture?

MG: My goal in publishing Coagula was to get readers to habitually pick up a copy when they saw a stack of magazines in a gallery or coffee shop or bookstore. So whoever creates a habit with people will win out. The stereotype of old art collectors only reading magazines ended last year with the iPad. Every single old art collector got one from their kids and is playing with it. One more blow to print.

BS: Within the so-called art blogosphere there tends to be a pack mentality-- it is not hard to observe art bloggers working together toward the goal of blog promotion while treating other art writers like outsiders. That mentality has worked well-- specifically for art bloggers based in New York. Do you think there is a danger in regards to that mentality-- or do you feel it is natural for inclusive groups to be formed?

MG: Well they never get organized enough to form blog networks – that might actually amount to something successful so you know New York Bloggers are congenitally allergic to it, so I see them more as high school popularity contests. And hey, I am there, too, screaming about who is going to prom as much as the next guy. The problem is that so many of them are in denial that they are operating at this level. Look at the Art Forum blog – it is all about who wore Prada glasses to the party and who wore a condom when they got laid at the art fair and who didn’t.

BS: Having written about art for half a decade I’m no stranger to receiving hate mail due to my opinions in regards to art and specific artists. I assume you have probably received far more than I since 1992. I’m curious to know-- does criticism or hostility fuel your motivation to go further with an opinion? Do you view it as a sign that you must be doing something right?

MG: I absolutely love arguing and love it when I piss someone off with my writing. I am highly suspicious of people who want to be my friend or get to know me or compliment me-- very paranoid at times. But when someone is angry and challenging me, that is the ultimate honesty in a person. I completely love and trust people who lay into me with logical arguments, personal attacks, or emotional rants. Years ago I did have to stop dating them, though.

BS: You have done work with other art writers, Alan Bamberger for example, who tend to rail against key aspects of the mainstream art world. Can you talk about your experiences working with like-minded writers? Also-- can you name a few writers that you feel may be of interest to our readers?

MG: Actually, I hate working with writers on one level because once in a while Alan will write something and I will be like “Fuck, I was thinking the same thing now I can’t write it” so when people have the same outlook on things as you it can be a bit cramped, sort of like sharing your studio with another painter and all of a sudden your images are in his pictures too.

I get obsessed with writers I hate more than ones I like. I read everything Christopher Knight writes in order to form an opposing view and I get angry when I agree with him, like I have a moral failing. I read sports blogs of teams I hate. It fires me up, very sort of taboo to be in the enemy camp. On the plus side, I have been publishing Gordy Grundy for years and he is a good read now that he is with the Huffington Post Arts Section, he writes like the last man in the world who is going to see the elegance of it all beneath the shit-stained surface and in spite of the absurdity of being an artist in this tape-recorded farce we call a culture.

BS: The Internet has also changed how success in the art world can be interpreted. Not long ago it was assumed that an artist can’t ‘make it’ unless he or she moved to a major cultural hub-- New York, Miami, Chicago… and so on. There was, and I’m sure still is in some circles, a hard-line view of what “success” in the art world means. However, with the Internet artists can reach a global audience-- and offer opinions and images that can impact readers from the comfort of their own homes. What are your thoughts on this? What is your definition of a successful artist?

MG: When you get laid because you are an artist you are a successful artist. I am a biological reductivist, it all comes down to propagating the species and shelter, so being able to afford a place to live and make art is the reward and the occasional art groupie is the bonus. The problem with the internet is that most art used to look terrible in jpegs so it was hard to judge but now the art looks so much better on the internet that it is easy to become seduced by mediocre art. But you didn’t get laid if it wasn’t in person.

BS: What advice do you have for emerging artists who face obstacle after obstacle in claiming their slice of the pie, so to speak?

MG: There is a whole culture built up that you can do it yourself. Most people are impatient so they do all this self-marketing and end up with half-assed art and half-assed self-promotion. Make the art and show up on time-- find people you trust to do the other bullshit.

BS: What advice do you have for artists in general?

MG: Art is not verbal. Do not submit your art to some political philosophy, trendy theory, art historical narrative, anything that has a structure someone else controls. There is a Coagula interview with Richard Serra in 1996 and we posed this same question to him and he said “Work out of your own work, don’t work out of anyone else’s work.” Of course, if every artist did that these laughably inadequate and out of touch art schools would be out of business, so they blab on and on about everything but the artist and the art. Look, don’t listen; think, don’t preach; draw, don’t trace.

BS: In closing, is there anything else you would like to offer in regards to your plans for Coagula Art Journal-- or any other advice you have for artists and writers in general?

MG: I am building an internet radio station with coverage of the art world. Print is dead except in the form of unique objects and editions so I will be doing more issues of Coagula that follow the format of a book rather than of a traditional magazine. I will give the artists the same thing I say to my girlfriend, she is an artist, before she goes to the studio every day: Make great art. Writers, well, don’t be boring, and if you reflexively attempt to rationalize your boring writing when confronted with that, realize that lots of us are on to you.

To learn more about Mat Gleason and Coagula Art Journal please visit his website at--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

No comments:

Post a Comment