Art Lies tells the truth about its future
Founded in 1993, Houston-based art journal Art Lies has developed a loyal following for providing an international forum for the critical examination of artistic practice, theory and discourse surrounding contemporary art. Previously limited to a quarterly publication and archival website content, Art Lies has declared an expanded online presence to complement its print publication.
The non-profit publication's move to more public content echoes its initiative for expanded public programming, such as membership events and the Art Lies Annual Distinguished Critic Lecture Series. As an internationally-respected publication with local roots that provides a platform for both criticism and actual artwork, Art Lies provides a singular perspective on contemporary art, and as its format evolves, it's poised to possibly become a game changer in online art journalism.
CultureMap met with the publication's interim editor Kurt Mueller and interim director Elizabeth Murray to discuss the implications of enhancing its forum for discussing art on the Internet.
CultureMap: Tell us about the decision to expand your online presence.
Kurt Mueller: We used to just reiterate the printed journal online with limited access until an issue's shelf life was over, and then it was granted full access in the archive. We started in April doing original online content. Since then, we've been commissioning weekly online reviews. We also want to start doing original online features.
This week, half of the featured content will be online, released basically every week. It's an experiment to see what kind of content works online. Currently, our content management system doesn't allow much flexibility, but in the future we'll have more web-based artwork appear. Charles Brozowski is making an artwork based on an online chess game, which we'll host outside of our normal pages.
Elizabeth Murray: Basically what we're doing with the website redesign is stripping away the rigidity of the current format. Before, it was very structured and really was a reflection of what was printed beforehand. Hopefully with the April launch, we'll be more flexible with the sort of things we can show.
KM: We'll still hold on to the aspects that can only be expressed in print. For our current issue, there's a MAD magazine-style fold-in, and a postcard insert. As we expand the online system, we're also opening up the journal itself in terms of what forms we can play with. There are also QR codes in the print edition that, when scanned by a phone, will redirect to online content.
CM: What sparked this transition?
EM: We've been growing towards this for awhile, for at least a year and a half or two years. It's about expanding the audience and reaching different people. It's also really about being able to create different kinds of content as we're simultaneously expanding our public programming. We're trying to create entry points into the organization and entry points into the content that can relate to different audiences from a local, national and international base.
KM: It seems like a natural growth. Art Lies started off in Houston as a hand-stapled publication, practically on newsprint.
EM: It actually was newsprint.
KM: It became a glossy magazine that was nationally distributed, and so we were trying to reach larger and farther away audiences — the web's the easiest way to do that. At the beginning we were only engaged to an audience by copying the issue in an inadequate form.
EM: One of the reasons we're so excited about the new content is that it's not only about reaching people who are farther away, but also better engaging our local audience. We've always had reviews in the magazine, but because we're quarterly, the show's down by the time the issue comes out. Now, you can read the review and then go see the show.
CM: That is to say that the online content is going to focus on exhibition reviews?
KM: Right now, it's evenly split. We're curious about which content makes more sense, sorting "timely" content with "timeless" content. Part of this is just a response to an online shift and media getting away from print. I think those relationships have yet to be totally defined. The logical thing in my mind is to have quick, short things on the web and longer pieces in print.
But on the other hand, E-Flux Journal and Art Review are producing long content on the web. We're trying to find whatever is the most engaging content for each platform.
EM: It's still an exploration of where things go and naturally fit.
CM: Are you following a model?
KM: I don't think we're doing anything that original. We're interested in what East of Borneo is producing, and Triple Canopy is redoing their website, so I'm intrigued in where that's going to go. We're looking at our peers, but I don't think we're necessarily replicating any of them right now.
EM: We have other organizations and publications that we're interested in. We're striking out in that we're finding what works best for our audiences.
CM: You're an art journal based in Houston — is that an indicator of anything?
KM: I think it speaks to Houston's interest and support of the arts. The publication's mission says its rooted in Texas — I would say it's Texas focussed. Something in each review needs to be Texas related: either the artist, the writer or the venue. And the features are oftentimes connected to Texas.
The fact that we're able to produce this in Houston is similar to the way the Contemporary Arts Museum exists here and can call on international talent, as well as expose things that are happening in Houston to an international audience. I think that's a brick and mortar model similar to our media.
EM: Our member base is very regional, although we have members all over the country. It reflects that our region is willing to put in the time, energy and money to reach out to our community here. We provide this platform. Readership and donations allows us to project this platform onto a larger audience.
KM: Just as a member of the art world, this is a very interesting thing to watch Art Lies evolve. There are only a handful of non-profit, independent art journals, and then there are very few exclusively focussed on art. There's Art Papers in Atlanta, East of Borneo from LA, but there's nothing in print from Chicago. The fact that Art Lies is continuing to grow speaks a lot about local art and high quality production, both by artists and writers.
CM: What can you say about the art publication as an object?
KM: I think that at least for the immediate future, we will have books, and we will have magazines. Still, one of the things that makes us unique is that we have art in our pages.
It's a media space; it's an exhibition space; it's a play space. It's a space where artistic interaction can occur, and I think that's exciting and valuable. I don't think that will ever go away. As long as this space exists, artists are going to want to engage with it.
Even though we're growing online, I'm very intrigued by those publications that have no print component. I think we'll always claim both sides. So I think that's where we'll uniquely position ourselves: finding a complementary model. I would like the experience to be ideally integrated. The focus is to remain a forum, not a closed journal. It's about exchange.