Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Artnet Magazine – R.I.P.

Walter Robinson, founder-editor of Artnet Magazine, appears on the Kostabi Show's Name That Painting quiz.   Courtesy of
Walter Robinson, founder-editor of Artnet Magazine, appears on the Kostabi Show’s Name That Painting quiz. Courtesy of

Since the dramatic closure of Knoedler & Company last year, we have all had to get used to the unsettling fact that the art world boasts few institutions “too big to fail.”  Now we learn that Artnet magazine is no more: news and criticism are bereft of a spirited and singular outlet.

Knoedler and Artnet have in common that they were ancients in their respective fields – albeit that the venerable trading house dated back to the early 19th Century whereas the pioneer online art magazine was a relatively tender sixteen.  But like canine years, cyber years need multiplication to tally with a sense of longevity.  Artnet was the oldest web-exclusive art magazine.

It is with no sense of triumph but merely sadness and trepidation that artcritical must now ponder the probability that it is the oldest survivor in that category.  Although launched as David Cohen’s personal website in 2001, dates its foundation as a fully-fledged journal, with contributing editors and officers, and an array of contributors, to 2003 when it underwent its first redesign.  We will brag about our anniversary when it arrives.  Now the business at hand is to thank Walter Robinson for his stalwart journalism and publishing enterprise, and mourn his creation.

In announcing its closure to the world, Artnet cited the fact that in sixteen years the magazine failed to break even financially.  But that fails to register as the reason for its demise.  The magazine was always the cherry on the Artnet cake in which an array of services – auction records, auctions, gallery and artist homepage hosting, etc. – was the sponge and cream.  It seems rather more likely that a change in leadership for the publicly listed German company has produced a night of long knives of fiscal and managerial adjustments.  Again, Artnet’s exit from magazine publishing recalls Knoedler’s closure by an exasperated lawsuit-embroiled parent, the Armand Hammer Foundation, a Pontius Pilate-like gesture, more Murdoch and News of the World than Lehman Brothers.

For those of us who visited the shows or read the reviews of these art world fixtures their closures might each seem gratuitous.  But who were we?  Mere visitors.