Reading, Watching 11.12.23
Force and Fraud
On his Substack, art critichas a great piece on the implosion of Artforum due to the firing of editor-in-chief David Velasco over a letter protesting the war in Gaza. Ammirati points out the implications for art criticism, which was not exactly a hale beast to begin with:
Now the the question is: what will take its place? Along with tales of artists being blackballed by collectors that are delivered in hushed tones at the beginning of the night and heatedly by the end of it—and yes, reprisals are really happening, folks—the topic of the post-Artforum critical universe has been implicit or explicit in most of the (extremely many) conversations I’ve had on the subject of Velasco’s firing in recent days.
Magazines are no longer curated collections of writing and pretty pictures, if they ever were. Rather, they’re cachet machines; they mine it out of social wattage like in-group crypto. That’s how they can remain a viable economic proposition today, in a fragmented environment hostile to print media on a legacy model. With Artforum’s cachet gone poof, the ad revenue that the magazine slurped in from galleries and luxury brands will gradually stop flowing into the coffers of PMC Media. It will await capture by some other enterprising souls. But who?
It’s possible no one will. It’s possible that galleries will realize that their audiences are so specific that magazine advertising is pointless for all but the big players on par with other luxury brands and that therefore no real trade rag of the peculiar sort Artforum was—that is, actually about art, not about artsy lifestyle or auction prices—will rise to take its place. In that scenario you end up in the anarcho-libertarian vision of contemporary media that we’re so often sold: Substacks and Discords on one end, Hauser and Gagosian’s glorified in-flight magazines on the other, and nothing in between.
As usual, Domenick says things much better than I can, but I’ve got some of my own thoughts on the debacle at Artforum. I’ve contributed to the magazine and although I have no intention of signing any letters to the effect—not my style and the only writing I feel comfortable signing is my own—,I can’t really write for the publication anymore since this happened. And I know I’m not the only one that feels this way. Even if it didn’t bother my conscience to do so, it would be impossible for me to face my peers: I would, in effect, be crossing a virtual picket line. I’m not saying all this to make a show of my moral indignation—who cares, anyway, I’m just one writer—and I’m certainly not trying to pressure others to leave the magazine or no longer work for it—it’s not for me to tell others how to make a living—but to point out something about the political sociology involved and how the war is playing out in American cultural institutions: as class and generational conflict.
For the most part, the labor side—writers, editors, staff etc.—is vocally pro-Palestinian and the side closer to capital—donors, collectors, publishers—is either pro-Israel or sheepish about political statements of any kind. Does this mean, as Marxists-Leninists might think, that the war of national liberation in Palestine is a proxy for class struggle across the world? Not exactly. Or, as antisemites think, that this reveals the real existence of a Zionist syndicate in control of the media? Obviously untrue, since both Jews and Gentiles can be found on both sides of the issue and evidently no one is really able to control anything. Or, as cynical, Machiavellian “elite theorists” might think, that this is really about relatively subaltern sections of the elite fighting against their betters and vice versa? Or, even more cynically, that it’s about fashion and peer pressure without much real political content at all. Not as such, either.
The fact is that these two groups exist in different social and epistemological worlds: the young and left grew up in a world where Israel is a villain, an occupier, colonial oppressor; the old and established have a different image of Israel, a carefully curated one no doubt, of Israel as brave little nation standing up against the odds, the refuge and redoubt of a persecuted people. This is the Israel, not of the occupation and Gaza and the wars since, say Lebanon in 1982, but the Israel of ’67 and ’73. It is a stark contrast: neither side understands how the other could find the other’s chosen cause sympathetic in the slightest; after all, they are just clearly siding with butchers.
One other thing to note: in the grand scheme of things this might seem very parochial, art collection and criticism is, after all the most rarefied of worlds. But across the board, the younger generation—particularly the cohort in that generation that creates words and images—does not much care for Israel. The traditional defenses and justifications are not working. And all the pressure campaigns, censures, and firings are likely to be counterproductive and just create more outrage. Across the world and just about in every arena, Israel is losing the daily plebiscite of public opinion and therefore the war, which was begun with the intention of severely diminishing and ultimately destroying that nation. With Israel’s own help and the help of its “friends,” that effort may yet succeed.