Art issues is dead. The provocative Los Angeles-based journal that has taken an unorthodox view of contemporary art and popular culture for the past 13 years ceased publication on Dec. 8.
A letter to "readers and other interested parties" from the bimonthly magazine's publisher, Foundation for Advanced Critical Studies, put it this way:
"Every project has a life. Ours spanned an era during which significant art and cultural writing shifted from a technical, academic style emerging out of the cities and contexts where culture is distributed (New York, Europe) to a more freewheeling, creative public discourse emerging out of the cities and contexts where culture is produced.
"This has been an exciting period in which to work, and we feel fortunate to have grown as an organization in tandem with it. On a more practical level, we believe that over the next few years it will be necessary to devote more and more of our time to fund-raising, and the efforts needed to maintain our editorial standards may suffer as a consequence. That would be unacceptable.
"Therefore, we have chosen to end this project at a time when it is still financially viable, and while it is enjoying the height of its popularity and prestige."
Gary Kornblau, who launched Art issues in 1989 and has always been its editor and philosopher king, said the magazine "has done what we wanted it to do."
But its demise surprised many artists, critics, curators and museum directors, who reacted with dismay.
"Art issues provided an important critical forum for the discussion of art and ideas, which is a vital part of the cultural life of a major city," said Elsa Longhauser, director of the Santa Monica Museum of Art. "Los Angeles shines less brightly with the loss of such a serious critical platform."
Peter Schjeldahl, art critic of the New Yorker, said Art issues was "the major, perhaps the only, art magazine of thoroughly independent intelligence in the country. It was just immensely refreshing. I shared it with students to indicate that the art world was not a thoroughly corporate entity."
New York artist Jason Middlebrook, who was in Southern California to install a show of his work at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, said the magazine "showed a side of the West Coast, including the Las Vegas art scene, that the New York art world isn't educated about. It was regional, but it was also informative on a critical level and it had expanded [its coverage] to New York and Europe. The other magazines, Artforum and Art in America, became so dependent on advertisements and fashion companies that they changed their identities, while Art issues remained true. It was committed to artists."
Kornblau said the decision to cease publication had more to do with aesthetics than finances. The magazine garnered about $60,000 in grants, along with donations to the foundation and about 3,000 paid subscriptions in 2001. But more money would be needed in the future for the publication to thrive, he said. Those funds could probably be found, he said, but it would it take too much time from the editorial work that he loves.
What's more, he said, it's time to move on.
"Right now the magazine is doing exactly what it should do," Kornblau said. "But you have to become more of an institution as you grow, and there are more and more institutional pressures involved with fund-raising. This is a very difficult decision for me because it's very hard to give up something that is working. But I believed from the start that the aesthetics come first. When things aren't going to function in terms of aesthetics, then you stop it. I wish the rest of the world would work that way."
Kornblau started Art issues with $30,000 of "scrounged-up" money in 1989 because he "wanted to read interesting and coherent writing about issues of art," he said on the magazine's fifth birthday. "I had no idea it would fly." It did, but Kornblau ran out of money in 1991. Art issues became a nonprofit publication the next year, under the auspices of the Foundation for Advanced Critical Studies.
Since its earliest days, Art issues has provided a forum for many writers, including art critic Dave Hickey, who won a MacArthur fellowship this year and is cited in the Dec. 17 issue of Time magazine as one of many innovators whose ideas are changing the world. The magazine also spawned a press, which has published seven books. Among them, Hickey's "Invisible Dragon," a collection of essays on beauty, won the College Art Assn.'s 1994 Frank Jewett Mather Award.
Art issues Press will continue, Kornblau said, but no projects are currently in the works.
"I won't be doing anything for a year," he said. "I'm taking some time off to do nothing and travel. I'm thinking about doing various things; I might teach high school, but I don't have time to think about that now."
He knows what he thinks about Art issues, however. "I'm doing the right thing for the magazine and myself," he said.