So Long

by Whitney Kimball on February 13, 2015 · 14 comments From the Desk of AFC

Dear readers,

After four years, and with a heavy heart, I’m moving on from Art F City and probably the art world at large.

I consider this leave from the art world as a lifeline. I saw my career flash before my eyes, a looping treadmill through an animatronic hell where robot choirs sing the same praises of blue chip artists and hollow prefab trends. I’ve watched an art dealer praise a mirrored Damien Hirst sculpture for its reflective quality; I’ve watched collectors in Miami contemplate buying a multi-million dollar artwork, because “that would go with the one in the foyer”; I’ve watched galleries stock up on safe painting, zombie abstraction, and bland conceptualism all calling back to the same Modernist touchstones. And if an art writer wants to eat, this is the world you’ll be covering for your for-profit collector-driven art magazine.

Can you blame the galleries for perpetuating this crap? A few years ago, rent in Chelsea hit $30,000/month; I can only imagine how much art you have to sell to stay in the game now. “There isn’t a place for us in this world”, one of my friends observed a few years ago. That conclusion has not changed. Worst of all is watching my emerging artist friends aspire to break into this system.

I joined this game relatively late in 2011, years after Robert Hughes’s damning “Mona Lisa Curse” and just months before Occupy. The tail end of conversations about digital media shifted toward conversations about class and gentrification. The race for traffic was at its peak, a war AFC never tried to win: ultimately a good thing for quality of writing, but not for lifestyle. And as I’ve seen increasing numbers of all-male group shows and rising numbers of male writers, I understand now that the patriarchy is real.

Over my four years in Chelsea, the art fairs, and the blogosphere, I’ve grown to appreciate just how special AFC is. Very few publications cover emerging artists, or anything outside the Chelsea silo. Fewer still force its writers to take a hard stance in a public forum, before the brightest minds in their field (maybe with inconsistent punctuation and a few grammatical errors in the mix). Through challenging and re-challenging their own opinions– often for knowledgeable and relentless commenters– young writers find their voice.

As ex-editor Will Brand (who also left criticism) used to say, AFC plants a flag on the North Pole; art discourse is a fog of sameness and unsubstantiated posturing, but now that someone’s staked out a point of view, people know where they stand in relation to that. You can point to it, and say, there, that’s somewhere; that flag doesn’t represent me; that flag is off-point; etc. In an environment of bland truisms and blurry press speak, AFC’s banner leads us to…somewhere.

Here I learned that it’s a good thing to fear your boss. The AFC offices are located at the end of a very long hallway, at the end of which someone has to hold the door open for you to get in. Quite possibly the longest minute of my life was the full sixty-second march toward my interview for the position of Art Fag City Editorial Intern, a very large opportunity for a recent painting graduate with no professional writing experience. Standing in the doorway was Paddy Johnson; I was exchanging very long, and very awkward, eye contact with someone who’d been called one of the most feared critics in the art world.

For this reason, I probably uttered about ten sentences during my first three months at AFC; it took about that long to publish my first piece. (My first never-published stab, “Poup to Nuts”– a piece on places to eat around the museum mile– got me banned from blogging for a few months.) If I remember correctly, one of my early reviews came with Johnson’s edit “You might be able to write that somewhere else, but you’ll get ripped a new asshole on this blog”.

It was our morning conversations I looked forward to the most; debate over what’s on Twitter, gossip, and arguments– shared opinions we could never publish. (“If I am not typing or talking to someone at every second of the day, this whole ship falls apart”, Paddy Johnson half-jokingly said this morning, pouring over her inbox on extraneous tasks.) Long hours in our google doc comments have taught me more than hundreds of hours of art school critiques ever did. Rather than passively digesting fellow artists’ personal anecdotes, I was forced to defend why I thought any idea was good. We were getting somewhere– what I had naïvely thought was progress for the whole field of art discourse was mostly just my own development as a writer. I still don’t consider that journey complete (and a lot of those early pieces still give me the shivers) but AFC has kicked it a long way down the road. Whether that driving force attracts bright people, or shapes them, the blog has produced the strongest young critics today. I consider myself very lucky now to join the ranks of AFC alumni Marina Galperina, Matthew Leifheit, Rhett Jones, Karen Archey, Dave Harper, Julia Halperin, Will Brand, and Reid Singer.

We were poor together. I still remember every Seamless order and cab ride we shared together– rare luxuries, which made the experiences all the more sweet. We bought a coffee maker to save on the price of bodega coffees. We slept two people to a cot for the Miami art fairs. We spent many late nights writing grants, right up to the midnight deadlines. As much as it sucks to scrape together your pocket change for a bag of chips (lunch), it builds a camaraderie stronger than any I’ve ever had. When you know all of your colleagues’ opinions on mustard (Paddy Johnson HATES mustard), and what they look like doing Jane Fonda workouts, you know you’ve made some bonds. Anyway, there’s still a ways to go til the golden days of limitless Seamless lunches, and I hope more than anything that AFC will get there. (Paddy Johnson here: “We can with your help: Donate!”)

I’d like to give a big thank you to everybody who’s been following my writing over the years (a special shoutout to commenter “strunken white”). If you’re reading this, you made the job worth doing.


Rainey Knudson February 13, 2015 at 5:47 pm

I’ve been tempted to quit many times, and probably would have long ago if I lived in the jowls of the marketplace as you do. The good news is, art is doing just fine. The bad news is, it’s long since left what you describe, and what we’ve traditionally called, “the art world.”

WhitneyKimball February 13, 2015 at 6:09 pm

That’s true. I’ve seen plenty of great art in the emerging scene over the years, as much as I’ve seen artists scraping by to get a foot in the door. I plan to enjoy art unprofessionally.

strunken white February 13, 2015 at 5:57 pm

I’ve been working in the offices of a now fairly established internet company for the last 3 years and it’s getting to the point that company emails circulate daily about this or that old standby employee leaving. They’re interestingly intimate documents that testify to the personality of an endeavor draining away in the face of its continued economic performance. I’m saddened to see their language reflected in yours as you recount dissatisfaction with the purchasing power of the very rich. Everything that you’re saying about the uniqueness of the site is true and it is sad to see you stop being a part of it. All the best

WhitneyKimball February 13, 2015 at 8:46 pm

I’m sad to hear that this is a familiar letter, though I know the “goodbye to the art world” and “goodbye to New York” have already become cliché. I don’t have much more to add to that, just that your thoughtful comments have always been a consistent highlight around here. Thanks, again, for following and keeping the comments section alive

christianviv February 13, 2015 at 8:06 pm

You are tough cookie and should be proud of the work you’ve done AFC, which, despite the headwinds, just keeps getting better and better. Hope one day you can return to the art club, if not to stay, then at least for a decent visit. Better yet, I hope the club will somehow find new relevance. In the meantime, I’ll tell you one thing true about your moving on: It’s our loss entirely. Be well and keep thriving.

Christian VF

WhitneyKimball February 13, 2015 at 8:36 pm

Thank you, Christian– a comment like this makes me realize how far Paddy’s helped me along. I’ll still be here following you all, and I do hope that writers and artists with more investment will make a new art world. And I’m leaving, but I’m really excited to see what the next person brings. Paddy will keep building the army!

Paddy Johnson February 13, 2015 at 9:06 pm

Aw, Whitney. Your work makes us all a little bit sharper. You will be missed.

Sharon_Butler February 13, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Whitney–Thanks for participating for as long as you have. Maybe down the road you’ll return as an art collector. Stranger things have happened 🙂 All best wishes.

Tyler February 14, 2015 at 9:37 am

Godspeed Whitney. I was an outsider to the art world and I attempted to stay out of the discussion of criticism despite my growing interest in the larger art community. I then found AFC and it was like finding a familiar face in a strange land. (Sorry for the terrible metaphor.) Hope the best for you and your next venture.

Klo Joan February 14, 2015 at 10:46 am

Great art is being made every day, some of it is super expensive, some of it is free. Who cares how much it costs if you’re not buying it? Blockbuster movies never stopped experimental filmmakers, and pop music never stopped indie musicians. And by the way, some blockbuster movies are awesome, and some experimental movies suck. Why do rich people buying distasteful expensive art offend us? Because humans have this innate tendency to worry about the undeserved enjoyment of others. Let’s rise above this tendency and focus on the stuff that we just really like.

Saranac Art-Projects February 18, 2015 at 6:38 pm

We love your writing, and the information/insight you bring to the conversation. We know this whole project is a grand struggle, and the you are not out of the woods yet, and may never be. We hope for your future. We stand with you as you look to hope and engage.

District 5 guy February 18, 2015 at 10:33 pm

The bar does need to be raised higher, far higher than those in the art scene realize. Until art has relevance in our world, that it has the same benchmark writing and reporting had long ago, That music in its art sense, European and Indian classical and jazz, with a few scattered like Dylan, Marley and Allman Bros could bring forth through an understanding and use of the Blues. When visual art strives to communicate, it is the visual language, and having one does not mean it communicates well or has anything to actually say, when it can sing like VS Naipaul or Gabriel Marquez, well then it will be worth reading about again.
Thanks for trying, it is appreciated and a needed first step, baby though it may be.

Francis Thiebaud Winters February 26, 2015 at 4:08 pm


Robert Stanley March 16, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Not sad at all. Your authenticity showed, and it it hard to imagine you will not keep its power within.

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