"Most art sucks," complains Mat Gleason. "But art magazines won't take a stance."
So last year Gleason launched Coagula, a free tabloid that Art in America called "the newest publication that the art world loves to hate." It's full of acid editorials, vicious gossip, no-holds-barred reviews/thrashes and reader surveys on the order of "The Most Obnoxious People in the Art World" (Christo and Jeff Koons, among others) and "Most Overrated Artists of the 20th Century" (including Julian Schnabel and Picasso).
"We want to concentrate on the art," insists Gleason, a graphic designer at his father's Huntington Park ball-bearing plant, where he also publishes Coagula. "But the art world is so full of who knows who and who's sleeping with who and who's not paying who that you can't talk about the art."
Gleason's career as gadfly began when he was an art major at Cal State L.A.; he put out an underground campus paper that regularly upset the administration. "I had followed the contemporary art scene in L.A. since the early '80s," he says, "so we started an underground art paper." Now 20,000 issues of the "Bicoastal, Bimonthly Art Journal" go out to coffeehouses, galleries and other arty-type spots in L.A. and New York.
"(Coagula writers) are wild and unpredictable and fun," says Melanie Suggs, project manager of next month's Eighth International LA Art Fair. "They're a healthy dose of irreverence, which the art world really needs. It's kind of underground, kind of hip, definitely in your face."
Definitely. Coagula has already racked up a defamation lawsuit (by a SoHo gallery employee the paper accused of embezzlement) and a Mai-Tai tossing (at managing editor Lisa Henschel). The latter was by an artist the paper had dished; it was followed by a leap for Gleason's windpipe.
But the seven-person staff remains undeterred, no matter that they are unpaid. Local ads cover some expenses; Gleason picks up the rest. "I think, maybe once, we made enough off of ads to buy a burrito," he says.