Vanity Fair Dec 06 “The Art Issue”

Does anyone have any comments on the fact that Vanity Fair have elevated (dropped?) Art World participants to the same level as media titans and celebrities? This (Dec) issue is their first ever Art World focus. A first and last? Or a status that will endure?

And of course they used Brad Pitt on the cover instead of the usual group pic…vanity-fair-dec-2006-cover

5 thoughts on “Vanity Fair Dec 06 “The Art Issue””

  1. I think your last line says it all.

    The artworld may have grown glamorous enough to warrant a special issue of VF (then again, so did The Environment), but I note that Graydon Carter was not willing to risk the newstand-sales impact of putting an artworld luminary on the cover. Thus, bare-chested Brad.

    Part of the problem is that there’s no member of the American world who has anything near the Q rating of Damien Hirst (or even Tracey Emin) in England. Rich and powerful, sure. Actual celebrities? Not so much. Because any American Idol winner could outsell even the most famous artist on the newsstand – unless that newsstand was in a museum. I wrote a piece about this call “Mrs. Lennon and Mr. Bjork” for Monopol.

    Just as as mental exercise, consider this: If Graydon Carter was forced to actually put someone from the artworld on the cover, who would he choose? Will think about this myself and come back with some answers…

  2. Not only Vanity Fair, but that other great cultural arbiter, W magazine, also had an “Art Issue.” There are various canaries in the mine shaft, but this kind of gooey-eyed media coverage is a fairly strong predictor, historically, of an impending downturn.

    They say that companies that build shiny headquarters are usually in deep financial trouble buy the time the building is finished (current example: the NYT). It is probably also something approaching a sociological law that by the time big media arrives to the art world party, it has probably already peaked.

    Having said that, the VF section was quite good, I think. The chart with the art world as a galactic constellation was inspired, well executed, and as far as I can tell, quite accurate. A kind of window into the typical artworld brain.

  3. An interesting chart. Though a little US heavy and a little ROW light.

    Re the VF cover: I think the cult of celebrity has made today’s editors terribly conservative, but maybe it has always been true. In 1985 I photographed a selection of then contemporary artists in Paris for a US general features magazine. The shots were in black and white, carefully lit, and each artist was in front of one of their works. I think a number of these could have made good covers; the Art drawing the eye to the Artist. But this was 21 years ago and although there was a boom in NY (hence the interest in the Paris story), the contemporary Art world in Paris still meant little. So no cover. One other interesting thing: all of these artists (selected by a panel of curators/commentators in Paris at the time) have now sunk below the radar.

    Any bets on who survives from the current crop? It may be that the W and VF articles are the only reference point, for some, in 21 years time.

  4. I’ve taken some time now to read through both VF and W’s Art issues.

    Obviously, it’s noteworthy that both mags accord so much real estate in their year-end issue to the artworld. That said, it’s not THAT much real estate, maybe 25-30 percent of the editorial pages and nothing near what the editors would devote to actors in The Hollywood Issue and pop stars in The Music Issue. The production and photo-shoot costs alone of the triple-gatefold covers VF does for its annual entertainment specials probably run more than everything it invested in their Artworld-special pages.

    I’m less appreciative than András of the VF art cosmos. It’s got most of the right names, but aside from the first ring of planets around Gagosian it all seems pretty random. I wouldn’t class Thomas Ruff and Luc Tuymans with Sarah Sze and Josiah McElenhy. Lumping Pinault among the other big collectors is weird, given the results Christies, which he owns, has posted lately. Etc. (BTW, “Crab Nebula: Louise McBain”? Ouch.)

    I also felt like the section on artists that VF photographed ages ago – an echo of the same issue’s “Vanities discoveries” for Hollywood stars – feels too much like a bid to suggest VF actually cared about the artworld this whole time. As for the article on Francois-Marie Banier, that’s classic VF – a fawning profile of someone socially super-connected – but I guarantee you 97 percent of the artworld was going, “Huh?” And yet it was almost as long as the piece on Eli Broad, who is the biggest fish on the West Coast, with the possible exception of David Geffen (currently cashing out his collection…)

    Vanity Fair has two major specialities as a magazine – spotlight-awarding and bomb-throwing. As both a reader and a journalist, I would have liked some of the latter mixed in here. But that doesn’t fit the new art-is-glam meme. I’ve long hoped to see art covered like any other high-profile industry – in-depth, aggressively, with insight and analysis. Still waiting…

    As for W, I was surprised, perhaps because I’m not a regular reader. There were actually fewer “WTF?” moments than with VF (Do you really think Kristin Baker works in towering yellow pumps? In W she wore sneakers. Yes, yes, she looks smoking in VF… but still.) Oddly, W’s artworld special was in many ways more insider than VF – the Michael Govan profile was interesting and it actually dug much more into the LA agita surrounding the bigfooting Broad than the VF profile. And there was a ton more art reproduced in W, including a huge Richard Prince section, and many more profiles of actual artists. I think in a weird way, W seems readier to take the artworld as it is, while Vanity Fair wants to pull it into its own very particular paradigm.

  5. At the end of the day, Vanity Fair is an, albeit generally well written, upmarket gossip rag with political pretensions. We therefore shouldn’t expect too much. But I too was disappointed they didn’t show or discuss more actual work.

    Interesting to hear about the W article. Haven’t managed to find a copy here in Beijing…

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