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Our 40th-anniversary issueEXPAND
Our 40th-anniversary issue
L.A. Weekly

40 Years of Art Writing in Interesting Times

In the course of perusing the archives, pulling items from a Memory Lane leading all the way back to 1978, I started thinking about the art writing that has lit up the L.A. Weekly pages and website through the decades. So many friends and colleagues who started there and blew up, or who made the city and the paper their new home later in their careers…

When people hear I’m writing about art at the paper again, an astounding number of them say, "Oh yeah? I used to write there!" It’s like meeting new family all the time. Honestly, regarding the galaxy of Los Angeles–based art critics, it would almost be easier to list those who haven’t worked here.

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As award-winning L.A. Times arts writer and one-time Weekly staffer Deborah Vankin recently told me about how she came to join the team 20 years ago, “It was 1998, Buzz magazine had just folded and I’d suddenly lost my job ... and my only link to what felt like a remote and disjointed literary scene in this new city I’d just moved to. I took refuge at a tiny cafe around the corner from Buzz and cried — then I picked up a coffee-stained, alternative weekly newspaper lying on the table next to me, the annual Weekly Literary Supplement. I read the exhaustive chronicling of local authors and publishers cover to cover, newly inspired and hopeful."

Within a few weeks Vankin had joined the staff as an intern/fact checker. Soon, as a hired arts assistant, she recalls “roaming the city’s music, arts, books and nightlife scenes, sharing my discoveries with readers — getting to know my adopted hometown was now my job. I spent seven years at the L.A. Weekly, eventually editing its Books and Food sections; it launched an unexpected career in arts journalism, something I still care deeply about as an arts and culture writer at the L.A. Times. I found so much more than a job at the Weekly — more, even, than new friends and my place in the city: I found my voice as a writer there."

Thank you for that, Deb. I think that experience has been true for a lot of us.

As with food, music and film, it’s impossible to adequately summarize the depth and breadth and eclecticism of what the paper has covered, praised and panned during its first 40 years. If you’ve got time for a rabbit hole, there are some lively and surprising art stories in the archive — by acclaimed critics including Catherine Wagley, Andrew Berardini, Matt Stromberg and the multitalented Doug Harvey, who today are all strong and active voices across local, national and global art writing.

Tulsa Kinney took her severance package and founded Artillery Magazine, one of the best art-world print publications this city has ever had. And I’m not just saying that because we all write for it, too!

Ralph Rugoff, who never was one to shy away from shade or sauce, and landed on the pages in 1998 with spicy and prescient dispatches on the likes of Dali and Warhol, is now the head honcho curator at the Venice Biennale. His introduction of his vision as the artistic director of the 58th edition on this biggest of art-world stages champions the same kind of paradigm disruption and unconventional practices he covered in the Weekly pages 20 years ago.

May You Live in Interesting Times will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today,” Rugoff writes, “including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the ‘postwar order.’ Art cannot stem the rise of nationalist movements and authoritarian governments in different parts of the world, for instance, nor can it alleviate the tragic fate of displaced peoples across the globe. But in an indirect fashion, perhaps art can be a kind of guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times.’”

My friend Peter Frank really made his mark on the paper during his years here, especially his iconic “Pick of the Week” feature. He was such a pillar that his departure itself made for news of Elvisian proportions. Unsurprisingly, his profile as a writer and curator has only continued to grow since then, and he’s as much of a living legend as ever.

He wrote that last day (July 9, 2008), “Art life in this town has been crowded and scattered and wildly varied for longer than I’ve been writing for the Weekly, and will continue to get more and more so. And, thus, I’m not leaving the art world, I’m not leaving Los Angeles, I’m only leaving the paper. .. Who knows, the tyro I edit today could be writing here tomorrow. Just as it should be.”

Happy anniversary, LAW, from that very tyro! Thank you to everyone who has made its history so smart and vivacious, and thank you now for your continued support. All the best in the New Year, and though we do indeed live in interesting times, here’s to many more to come.

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