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Searching for Truth: Art Lies Interview

Art Lies is a Houston-based quarterly art magazine, published since 1994, that focuses on contemporary art in Texas and beyond. It began covering the art community in Houston but quickly expanded to include scenes elsewhere in the largest state in the continental United States. Art Lies publishes critical essays, interviews, artists’ projects and writings, and book and exhibition reviews. Part of a nonprofit organization of the same name, Art Lies also features a Critics Lecture Series, welcoming Roberta Smith of the New York Times on November 15, 2007. The magazine is distributed by the University of Texas Press and can be found in Barnes and Noble stores across the country.

CAA News spoke with Anjali Gupta, the editor of Art Lies since 2004 and a contributor since 2002, by email in October 2007.

What does the name “Art Lies” mean?

It is extracted from a Pablo Picasso quote: “We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given [to] us to understand.” While Picasso was probably speaking about his own work, I think the turn of phrase extends nicely into the postmodern era, with all our exhaustive, self-involved aphorisms. Best of all, it’s cheeky.

Recently the Atlanta-based magazine Art Papers changed its mission to focus on the national and international art world, not just the southeastern United States. Does Art Lies also feel pressure to compete with the major art glossies, or does it want to focus only on exhibitions taking place in Texas and on shows of Texas-based artists elsewhere?

What you are seeing is not necessarily a trend or a reaction to pressure but evolution in action. If the impetus for founding a regional journal and its scope and audience remains the same some twenty years later, I would sincerely question the need for that publication’s continued existence. Art Lies, Art Papers, Art & Text, the New Art Examiner: all these publications were founded to serve a specific need within their respective communities at a specific time. The same can be said of Artforum, October, and the Village Voice, for that matter. In our case, it was a dearth of critical writing in the Houston area, not a dearth of critical writing about Houston. We have since evolved into a publication that not only covers what occurs in Texas, but also positions Texas-based artists, critics, curators, and institutions within an international dialogue. We are designed for ideological export, just as we have always been.

What are the advantages and disadvantages in being a 501(3)(c) nonprofit organization, instead of being a commercial venture?

One major advantage is, like an academic journal, we are free to set our own agenda. I recently sat through a lecture by the editor of a major art glossy that made this distinction feel like a revelation. At one point, the speaker remarked that even the greatest critics have been “wrong,” meaning, they never considered so-and-so to be visionary, but today, that artist’s work goes for millions on the auction block. This made me fidget for several major reasons. Besides ostensibly obliterating the need for art theory both past and present, it also undermines the value of unmediated criticism. It reduces the role of critics to glorified real-estate agents who should busy themselves with ferreting out the best long-term investments for rich collectors. It cheapens the art object by judging it according to a premeditated gold standard rather than by its own subjective merits. And last (but by no means least) it implies that the art periodical’s goal should be to function not just in tandem with—but parallel to—market-driven fancy. All of this made me feel a bit naïve and ever-so-slightly Marxist, but it also makes me thankful that I still have the freedom to choose what part of this dialogue I can disregard, editorially speaking. Luckily, I have yet to discover the disadvantages of being a not-for-profit.

Most states don’t have their own critical art journal or magazine, but Texas has two: Art Lies, of course, but also the online publication Glasstire. Is this enough art coverage for the region—or not enough?

I’d have to say not enough. Before taking a job at Art Lies, I was a regular contributor to both publications. and Art Lies are two very different but complementary animals. I see as more of a resource—a community portal—than a critical publication, and I think they do an unparalleled job in that capacity. I also think people have to be careful to separate art theory from art criticism and arts journalism. When one successfully makes these distinctions in their mind, few publications look much alike, regardless of where they might be published.

And really, is the content of every one of the countless art journals, magazines, and webzines published in New York geographically determined? Well, that argument could go either way, but I think you know what I’m getting at: regional is not synonymous with provincial. Looking back at our Xeroxed and lovingly hand-stapled Issue #4, I see a Houston-based critic discussing Sophie Calle’s Romances running next to an interview with Paul McCarthy by Jerome Sans. Likewise, while still a tabloid, a 1979 table of contents for Art Papers includes Laurie Anderson, Mary Beth Edelson, Peter Frank, Donald Kuspit, Dennis Oppenheim, Michelangelo Pistoletto, and Nancy Spero. Art is not created, addressed, or exhibited in a vacuum; thus, geography need not predetermine or limit content.

Let’s talk specifically about Dallas and Fort Worth. Besides the major museums and art institutions there—which are many—what can CAA conference goers expect from the gallery scene?

The Dallas–Fort Worth area has a mature gallery scene with a respectable roster of heavy hitters and upstarts alike. I think CAA members are likely to find whatever they seek. If they’re looking for name recognition, they’ll find it; if they’re looking for edgy young turks, they’ll find them just as easily. Qualitatively speaking, people are likely to find the same ratio of good to bad work they’d see in Chelsea any day of the week.

Originally published in CAA News in November 2007.