Interview: Paddy Johnson
by Claire Ruud
Paddy Johnson is Art Fag City (and much, much more). While she was in Austin for the SXSW Interactive Festival, I spent an afternoon showing her around town and talking about art blogs, web technology and the NYC art fairs from which she'd just come.
…might be good: When I saw you’d received a Creative Capital grant for Art Fag City, I wanted to get in touch to ask you the “why art blogs now” question.
Paddy Johnson: Creative Capital has had an award open for online grants for three years, but when you’re creating a grant that supports a relatively new activity, it takes a while to establish evaluative criteria and so on. In the case of blogging, it’s almost an impossible task because things change so quickly. Half the time even people who do it all the time don’t know what they’re doing.
…mbg: [Laughter] Right. So who is your target audience at Art Fag City?
PJ: That’s a question with an evolving answer, but in a very broad sense, I try to make Art Fag City accessible to anyone who’s interested in culture, in general, and create an entry way into visual art world for them.
…mbg: Your intention to reach all kinds of "culture hounds" reminds me of the way you intersperse your straight up “art” posts with really off-the-wall links, like Hot Chicks with Douchebags [laughter]—so what is that about?
PJ: Laura Hoptman was quoted recently saying that the artists in Younger than Jesus at the New Museum have a “post-medium attitude.” The artists in this show are very multidisciplinary; no one works in any single medium. I think past working in a single medium. Artists are taking from sources that are incredibly diverse and don’t necessarily have a fine art label attached to them. So you know, I try to curate my links with the same sensibility. There are certain things that I’m interested in—Hot Chicks with Douchebags is definitely one of them. But you know, I do have to credit my intern Karen Archey for that particular link.
…mbg: Actually, I’ve read on your blog that your readers send you some of your best links.
PJ: Yeah, yeah. Interesting enough, I was speaking on a panel called "Curating the Crowd-Sourced World" at SXSW. A lot of my content, especially now that the blog’s becoming bigger, comes from readers. I’m always kind of impressed with the dedication of my readers, how often they come back with stuff that’s completely relevant that I would never have found on my own.
…mbg: It must be a skill to cultivate those kinds of dedicated readers, though. How many times have you clicked on the comments below an article and down drop a bunch of meaningless one-liners.
PJ: You know, I do get a lot of that, but I’ve stopped approving a lot of stupid comments, and that makes the people who have valuable things to say more inclined to engage, I think. I use Facebook for one-liners, or twitter.
…mbg: I had a conversation with Bill Arning last week, and he told me that he uses Facebook for arts events listings. Do you?
PJ: Absolutely not. I’m using Facebook more or less to track how fat my friends from high school have gotten. [Laughter] And—
…mbg: And who broke up with whom. I’m asking you all these technical questions because your work bridges a gap between two worlds—the art world and the web world—so I’m wondering what insider knowledge you might have about the web world that the art world can take greater advantage of.
PJ: Here’s a little known secret: major media has not been online for that long. So a link from me is worth way more than a link from a lot of news sources, although The New York Times drives a lot of traffic. The art world doesn’t see things in that light. Sometimes it’s frustrating that if I write a review of somebody’s work on Art Fag City, it’s less likely to be listed as a valid review on an artist’s resume than if I write it for major media online.
…mbg: Even though way more readers are seeing it if it’s on Art Fag City, you don’t get paid for those reviews in either money or… social capital, I guess.
PJ: Yeah, yeah. Also, I think there’s a lot the art world can learn from the UbuWeb. It’s a massive archive of mp3’s and videos, and it’s one of the most valuable fine art resources on the web. Then again, I think the art world is doing much better than it has. Two years ago, I was still complaining about major galleries didn’t have a website. But today, I don’t know of a major gallery, that doesn’t have a website.
…mbg: So enough about the web, let’s talk about art. What are you interested in right now?
PJ: Actually, I was really interested in the art fairs this year. Beforehand, I had heard that the Armory had a lot of people drop out. So, I was wondering, will there be that much there? Will the quality of the galleries be lowered? But it turned out a lot of people just brought their A-game.
PJ: Yeah, well, the bling-bling collector has left the premises and there’s not a lot of money out there, so the bling-bling art has gone away. I’ve never really liked that stuff to begin with. So now maybe the art collectors left out there are actually into critically engaging art. I saw a lot of really conceptually strong work at an art fair of all places!
…mbg: Wow. Examples?
PJ: I was really excited about Jane Corkin Gallery. She had the N.E. Thing Co. there, a Canadian collective that was started in 1968. They were concerned with categorizing all the visual material that’s around us. The booth presented all these objects with these corporate-looking labels expressing aesthetic approval and disapproval. Now, you see this kind of engagement with a corporate sort of administrative system all the time, but it was exciting to see a really early example of it. [Paddy wrote about the N.E. Thing Co. on AFC, too.]
…mbg: So what about very contemporary work at the fairs?
PJ: There was a lot of Kris Martin for whatever reason, and I think he’s a conceptually strong artist. Museum 52 had a show that had an Unmonumental feel to it. I looked at it and thought, “I don’t know what this is.” But somehow I’m still talking about it now. The objects really did have resonance.
On the other hand, I was pretty disappointed with the showing at Pulse. They looked like they had not weathered the recession very well. Volta had more conceptually strong work. Of course, these are all still art fairs. For example, you didn’t see a lot of political art anywhere.
…mbg: Surprise, surprise.
PJ: And you did see Julien Opie there. It isn’t an art show unless Julien Opie shows up.
…mbg: [Laughter] So, it’s not some sort of utopian transformation.
PJ: No, no. The art fairs are still the art fairs. They’re still doing all the, you know, sort of commercial crap that they’ve always done. But there really was a lot more talk about art. When the art market is through the roof, the talk is all about how much money people are making. The market becomes so bright it washes out all the art and the art conversations. But with the recession, I’m not saying it’s good for dealers, but dealers actually get a chance to talk about the art they’re showing. Chatting with them, I could see their level of investment and engagement with their artists. It was really exciting.
Claire Ruud is Editor of ...might be good and Associate Coordinator of testsite.