If by some small chance you don’t already know it, Art F City is one of the most broad-ranging, clear-eyed, informedly opinionated and intelligent art blogs out there. It’s also more active and multi-mediated than ever. After recently hearing about some very interesting new projects on AFC’s near horizon, I thought now would be a great time to check in with the publication’s founder and Editor (and former Art Editor of The L Magazine) Paddy Johnson.
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Some of our readers, and maybe even many of your newer followers at AFC, might not be aware of the years of hard work you put in to transition from an artist and art handler to an art writer and founder of such an influential, singular art blog. Would you mind taking us back a few years—say, eleven or so—to say how things got started for you?
Sure. Well, I started the blog in 2005 for the same reason as most other people who had blogs at the time: misery. I had worked in galleries as an administrator for four years and been fired from every one of those jobs. Eventually, it became difficult to explain why I left all those jobs, so I wasn’t easily able to acquire new work. And I didn’t want it. So I had a lot of time on my hands and was pretty directionless. I wanted to engage more directly in the art world but didn’t know how. So I started the blog. Originally, I thought I would write it anonymously, and I did so for about three months. But it’s hard to interview people if they don’t know who you are. So I dropped that. And when I started the blog, I called it Art Fag City, a name that was eventually abbreviated in 2011 to Art F City so we could do basic things like maintain a Facebook page.
I have an opinion on almost everything, so I never had a lack for stories. And I’ve also never met a flame war I didn’t want to engage with. So in the early days there was a lot of blogger brawling both with each other and with commenters in the comment section.
As AFC has grown and matured, how have you gone about building your roster of writers? Do you have any kind of general mandate for art coverage?
A lot of the growth was organic. I needed an intern to help edit me so I didn’t put typos in all my headlines (I still do that.) Then I took on several interns because I couldn’t produce all the content myself. Then some of those interns didn’t leave. So the team of writers emerged organically and to a great degree shapes the publication. Every writer has their own beat. But of course, that does fit into the larger mandate of AFC, which is concerned with tracking and exposing the work of new emerging artists, following the artist-run and artist-centered galleries (which tend to produce more exciting work), and addressing issues of affordable workspace.
I should mention that in 2015 we became a non-profit, and that has expanded the scope of what we do quite a bit. At this point, we’re a non-profit organization that includes a publishing platform and a curatorial and event program that explores political and social aspects of space online and off. Concretely what that means is that we publish daily on AFC, we produce conferences like Stay in New York (the affordable workspace conference that took place at The Queens Museum last year), and run a semi-nomadic curatorial platform and project space called Fine Art Gallery (F.A.G.)
What’s the coolest or craziest or funniest or most bizarre thing you’ve ever covered at AFC?
Michael was trolled by Fox News at Art Basel this year. This was right around the time that the Republican party was debating whether they would kill baby Hitler but not abort the fetal Hitler, so when Michael was asked whether the Republicans were grounded in critical thinking the answer was pretty clear. The whole conversation is basically the Fox takedown you’ve always wanted to see.
Okay, back to the present. You’ve got some really interesting new projects to tell us about. First, the GIF show! Everyone will want to know about the GIF show.
This is a show six months in the making, and I still can’t believe we’re pulling it off! There are over 25 artists included and more than 100 animated GIFs. It’s the largest online show I’ve ever curated, so thank god for co-curators Michael Anthony Farley and Rea McNamara!
The show, which Providence College commissioned, focuses on the emergence of fully realized environments as animated GIFs. Practically speaking, what this means in terms of the show are barren landscapes, glittering cityscapes, creepy chain store interiors, and even war-torn battlegrounds. I think we see a lot more of these kinds of GIFs thanks the increased availability of software, but as my co-curator Michael Anthony Farley often points out, it’s hard not to see these works as a reflection of generational anxieties: powerlessness in the face of climate change, a nearly-nomadic lifestyle as a result of gentrification, and the ever-accelerating changes in the natural and built environments. These GIFs exist in an “ungentrified space,” to borrow a term coined by artist, GIF-maker and blogger Tom Moody some years ago now.
Anyway, the show launches Tuesday March 22nd and includes artists such as Hugo Moreno, Milton Melvin Croissant III, Petra Cortright and more. 25+ artists and I will be sharing the shit out of it the day it launches, so be sure to watch for it on social.
Another nice project on AFC‘s more or less near horizon is the SPRNG BRK benefit party and art sale. I know that one of the things you needed to make sure all your bases were covered was a spray booth for fake tans, and that wet t-shirts are involved, and that I’m not allowed to enter the ‘man boobs contest.’ In other words, it’s going to be a fun time. Tell us more!
Honestly, my only regret about our SPRNG BRK Benefit party is that I have not yet been able to enlist you in the man boob competition. Surely the glory and fame afforded to the winner must be a lure!
I’m still working on the spray tan booth—the logistics are a bit of a nightmare, but if I got Takeru Kobayashi to eat hot dogs at our 2012 wienerfest benefit (and yes, that did happen), you can be sure there will be something insane lined up. I mean, at the bare minimum, you get all the rum drinks you could possibly want inside Otto’s Shrunken Head—the famed Lower East Side Tiki Bar—plus entertainment for the evening. We’re calling those tickets “Basic Beaches“. For those who want their own private island—a seat at a booth—they will get all that, plus a work of art to take home with them.
Aside from all the party fanfare, though, we’re honoring Carol Cole, an artist, collector, feminist and philanthropist who has done more behind the scenes to help other artists, writers and cultural workers than almost anyone I know. She is one of those super-connector people Malcolm Gladwell talks about—she’s connected so many people I know, it’s hard to keep track. I think the big thing to know about Carol, though, is that she believes that the kind of raw, unfiltered creativity that artists throw out into the world is what needs to be nurtured. How to do that isn’t always easy in a world where people travel from art fair to art fair and expect an artist’s creative vision to come in a perfectly manufactured and editioned box. I know it sounds cheesy, but I do think that we understand ourselves and others better through creating, which is why it’s so important to honor the people who work so hard to support it.
You and I have talked a bit about the significance of artist-run initiatives, and how they seem to be much more than just minor curiosities or a fleeting fad. Are you planning to broaden that conversation through AFC in the coming months? What other big art-world discourses do you hope to dig further into this year?
We’re still working on how to best respond this, but the rise of artist-run galleries, not just in New York but around the country, is definitely more than a trend. If anything, it’s a movement that has arisen out the of the rise of social media, and thanks to our more nomadic existence because fewer of us are able to purchase property. These artist-run spaces often don’t have a life of more than three to five years, but they do give artists the ability to push back against the commercial demands of the art world. Within this world, artists aren’t doomed to think of their art only as precious commodities that have to be groomed and protected—they experiment, they can fail, they can do whatever the hell they want. And for artists, that’s essential.
What can we do as artists and art writers to make the presidential campaigns even more WTF?
If Vermin Supreme isn’t running a campaign he calls art, I’ll do it for him because his candidacy can only be described as art. For those who are unaware of the presidential candidate that came in fourth in New Hampshire recently, a look at his pink geocities-esque website will get you up to speed pretty quickly. An excerpt:
“In an election climate where candidates succeed by discouraging citizens from engaging in independent cognitive activity, repeat Candidate Vermin Love Supreme (the only bona-fide American Presidential Candidate to actually donate a living organ) has broken away from the rat pack.
“Whatever public office he’s seeking, Vermin’s participation in electoral forums raises the critical questions that your run-of-the-mill apparatchicks will necessarily ignore. But once raised, these issues have refused to die.
“Only through Vermin Supreme’s diligent campaigning over the years have certain questions and issues of policy come to the foreground, specifically: Dental Hygiene Law, Flying Monkey Public Safety Assurance Program, Time Travel Research Funding.”
He’s also promising every American citizen a pony. Who’s going to beat that?