An Interview with Art Handler Magazine Founder Clynton Lowry: Looking at Labor, Trade and Kickstarter

by Paddy Johnson on September 24, 2015 Interview

Art Handler Magazine

Sleeper by Clynton Lowry. Photograph by Felix D. Cid.

The first issue of Art Handler Magazine looks different than any trade magazine I’ve seen. It includes an interview with Britton Bertran, the man behind Installator, a widely popular tumblr focused on images documenting the art installation process; a photo essay by Victor Hugo in which the tools of art installation become the work itself; and a how to article by Inbal Strauss that describes how a custom made clamshell shaped pouch helps protect irregularly shaped objects.

All of these articles focus on art handling in some way, but more broadly, labor as it exists in the market. (Unsurprisingly, the magazine also frequently publishes headier articles such as Joshua Simon’s essay on the exploitation of art world creativity.) Earlier this year, they ran an Art Handling Symposium which similarly focused on the business, labor, and the culture of art installation.

These are great successes, but as a new independent publication, they still have many hurdles to clear. Number one is funding. The magazine currently exists as a labor of love in which everyone volunteers their time. Art Handler would like for this to change. Thus, in preparation for the publishing of their second issue, the magazine has launched a kickstarter campaign in which they hope to raise $30,000. This money will help them pay contributors, printing and design costs. If all goes according to plan, they will print the issue in November.

With only nine days to go, time to pledge is running out. Yesterday, I reached out to Founder and Editor in Chief Clynton Lowry to see how the campaign was coming along and get the full scope of the project. We discussed the campaign, the magazine and symposium, and why this project is so important to so many handlers.

Paddy Johnson: How are you feeling about Art Handler right now?

Clynton Lowry: I’ve gotten past the nerves of the Kickstarter campaign. It was pretty exciting to be at the book fair and talk about the publication and it’s been pretty exciting to get the word out. I’ve never worked on a magazine before and it’s been over a year now. I’ve learned a lot of things.

I’d never written so much as a press release before I started AFC either. Sometimes the quickest way to learn is just by throwing yourself into a project. What are your goals with the kickstarter campaign?

In terms of the campaign, on a basic level it shows we’re serious about the magazine. The biggest thing we want to accomplish with this is paying contributors for the second issue. We have over 33 contributors so that’s a lot. There’s so much we could do if we could pay for this labor.

Well, you also launched an art handling symposium back in March, so that has costs too. I’m interested in both the symposium and the magazine, because they’re not a typical trade publication. You’re focused on labor, whereas I think many other art magazines use glamor to get readers. Can you talk about that focus a little?

With the symposium and the magazine we’re interested in the culture and pushing the subject of arts and labor, in much the same way as Christoph Lang’s Art Handling Symposium in Zurich. We want to bring intellectual energy to this realm, which on a basic level would go beyond getting an object from point A to point B.

We want Art Handler to be a resource and to have a platform dedicated to these jobs. Hopefully we can fill that need. The majority of our platform is about ideas and where they can go which is particularly important for us. As an art handler, you’re rarely consulted about what your opinion is. Your opinion is secondary.

So you’re right, it’s not your standard trade publication. We also want to expand the “How To” section. There are different ways to hang a painting, for example. But all of that takes resources and time. It was also more exciting to examine the culture. Many of the handlers are artists, so that informs their interests.

One of the difficulties, though, has been getting people to talk about their labor. They want to be seen as artists first—most are focused on the exhibition space. So it’s been important to establish a bridge and look at the life of the artist from the worker’s point of view.

So, it’s a magazine by art handlers for art handlers. How do you define “art handler” as a profession?

The practice is broad: You have craters, framers, shippers, people who work in galleries…typically below the line labor within the art world. In general, labor that exists behind-the-scenes. The backhouse labor. It’s looking at everyone who is a facilitator and any person who has a responsibility to care for the art. That goes for conservators, assistants, designers, and more.

That inclusiveness is important. There’s room to think about other relationships around the art  that aren’t just about the art, but involves all types of production. Maayan Strauss produces the magazine with me as the managing editor, so she’s been really helpful in thinking about these issues too. (Also, Laurel Schwulst designed the website and Steven Sarkozy designed the printed materials, including the sample issue.)

It seems like not everyone thinks the trade is that broad. Tom Zoufaly, the head preparator of Art Installation Design told audiences at the panel on art handling that I moderated that he described his handlers as “Art technicians”. The marketing here, is that the skill is very specialized.

I don’t disagree with him, though. We’re the problem solvers within the industry. So, for example, when you’re crating an art work, essentially every crate for that object is a custom crate. So you’re designing a new object for every art work. It’s a technical skill.

What was your biggest accomplishment at the symposium?

Everyone liked the last talk on organized labor, which was moderated by Brian Kuan Wood of e-flux and included Lise Soskolne of W.A.G.E., OWS Arts and Labor activist Antonio Serna, and Stephen Sewell and Jilian Tysh of the Art Handlers Alliance. The concern at this panel was how to consolidate terms for art workers or behind-the-scenes labor and it was difficult to come to an agreement. The majority of us are artists who do a variety of things to sustain our practice. We have museum shows but are not getting paid for it. How do we get by?

We need to speak about these things, and at this panel people were jumping in and the conversation was very lively. What was most rewarding for us, though, was just the fact we pulled the conference off. Everyone participated for free and at the last minute. We’re just two people doing this. We have very little means at this point, but it’s all about believing in it.

[You can donate to the Art Handler Kickstarter here]

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