Contemporary art writing sucks.
The writing in question: Gagosian Magazine Summer 2018.
Dense. Gargantuan. A monolith in your hands. Gagosian Magazine towers above the magazines that neighbour it as a beacon of bloated riches and oversized adverts, physically intimidating all who dare to move their hands toward it and pull out a crisp 20-pound note to acquire it. I am under no illusions that only a select number of people will shell out this coin for a magazine, but the quality of writing inside must reflect the price outside, and the quality of writing merits that of a free publication, too overcomplicated and aloof for any interested reader. Even if you could afford such an item, would you pick it up and want to read it? Would the contents be worth the price tag? No, they wouldn’t. Peer inside and you’ll discover undefined block of text after block of text, interspersed with massive glossy photographs and huge titles; is the purpose of this magazine to entertain and interest or to daunt? It certainly doesn’t invite you in. The articles are laboriously wordy, essentially unreadable affairs that foster regret for the money that has just left your account.
Delving into the belly of the beast, you come across an email conversation (thrills) between photographers Anreas Gursky and Jeff Wall discussing the state of photography, with some choice works of theirs for reference. This article is beyond boring, they each take turns in trading their thoughts on various works of each other’s that you may never have seen and discussing art schools you never attended or knew of. For four of the massive pages. There is no attempt from Gagosian to make this article interesting, no attempt to clarify the terms and places and movements the artists talk about, it is an impenetrable collection of letters and words such as “the classic Becher students followed Bernd’s doctrine of typologically…” and continues in this vein.
Another big advert.
Another herculean effort to turn the page.
Next up is a feature on the painter Jenny Saville, intersplicing quotes about her from art historians, critics, and contemporaries with quotes from the artist herself in separate chunks of text and the main body, it already looks confusing. The article is hard to read, the endless quotes break any aesthetic or literary flow, it is becoming difficult to even talk about how bizarrely clunky this piece reads. The inserted quotes look as if they can be skipped, interesting but inconsequential to reading the text, and the more quotes that appear, the less interesting the article becomes, your eyes skip faster and faster down the page until the final full stop. In addition, there are pointless references to art historians such as Clement Greenberg, assuming knowledge without explaining or elaborating on who these people are, not adding anything as to why they are important to Saville and simply boosting the word count.
If you flick through the pages and stop somewhere at random, you are guaranteed to find a sentence that will confuse and befuddle. The Jenny Saville article contains her “ambitious evolution of a radical visual language for the fluidity of identity”, whilst in the piece on the painter Dan Cohen, you can search out the line that states that “paint is being treated as a physical material as much as a vehicle for the communication of pictoral information”. WHAT?? Isn’t art supposed to be fun? Interesting? This impenetrable language is surely reserved for the art historians. There is a better way to talk about art, especially when it is worth twenty pounds, Gagosian is supposed to be a magazine, not an academic journal. It is tiresome enough even copying these sentences down, they are lost in a deluge of incomprehension after every lean over its huge pages.
Have I mentioned the magazine is too big?
On to Jeff Koons. An artist well publicised and often discussed, is interviewed here in the most boring fashion:
INTERVIEWER: blah blah blah?
ARTIST: blah blah blah.
It is lazy, it is dull, it has been done, and you don’t want to continue reading. The content is put across and Koons’ words have been copied down, but it could have been much more engaging. It could have been an exploration into the world of the artist, another insight into one of the world’s most famous artists today.
It is not all downsides. The standout piece in the whole issue is the one with the least words, on the painter Cy Twombly and his love of poetry, comprised just of his paintings and the poetry that inspired them. It is introduced well, provides beautiful images and gorgeous words, it is accessible and serene, informative without being dense, an oasis amongst the pseudo-academic articles that surround it.
In short, Gagosian is overly wordy, overpriced, intimidating and unreadable. There is a better way.