Archive of Paddy Johnson

Paddy Johnson is the founding editor of Art Fag City. In addition to her work on the blog, she has been published in New York Magazine,, Art in America, The Daily, Print Magazine, Time Out NY, The Reeler, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, and New York Press, and linked to by publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, New York Magazine, Boing-Boing, The New York Observer, Gawker, Design Observer, Make Magazine, The Awl, Artinfo, and we-make-money-not-art. Paddy lectures widely about art and the Internet at venues including Yale University, Parsons, Rutgers, South by Southwest, and the Whitney Independent Study Program. In 2008, she became the first blogger to earn a Creative Capital Arts Writers grant from the Creative Capital Foundation. Paddy is also the art editor at The L Magazine, where she writes a regular column.

Paddy has written 1546 article(s) for AFC.

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Paddy Johnson

Goodbye 2020, Goodbye R.M. Vaughan

by Paddy Johnson on December 31, 2020

Documentation of R.M. Vaughan’s “Super-Diviner” (2014) at Videofag, Toronto

Some experiences I wish I could recall with clarity vanish almost as soon as they occur. Artist and writer RM Vaughan’s “Super-Diviner” (2014) performance marks one such instance: an unusually perceptive tarot reading I still regret not committing to memory. Held at the now defunct Toronto artspace Videofag, visitors were instructed to enter the storefront alone, take three cards from a pile of assorted divinatory decks, and silently slide them under the screen for a blind reading. After he was done, we were asked to rate the accuracy of what we were told. Vaughan couldn’t see who I was or what I looked like, but still made profound observations. I gave him a perfect score.

As soon as he’d given it, I forgot my reading, assuming I’d have another at some point. We were already friends, and later Richard became a regular contributor to Art F City, covering the Berlin arts scene with a discerning eye and acerbic wit.

I never got to pull another tarot card from his deck, though. On October 23rd 2020, two weeks after he went missing in Fredericton, New Brunswick, police found his body. The police assumed no foul play. Friends and family deduced the cause was suicide.

Two months have since passed, and Richard has been justifiably memorialized in obituaries, tributes, and even a video art program. Friends and colleagues brilliantly captured his humor and uncanny ability to perfectly capture the absurdity of our shared cultural experiences. As a queer artist and writer living in Toronto up until the last five years of his life, he worked as a tireless connector, advocating and supporting other queer creatives from the 80s through to his death. I don’t think he ever got the recognition he deserved, as many others not only observed in their obituaries, but made visible with the craft of their prose. We all want to write something Richard would like, which requires a dash of poetic levity mixed with unsparing prose.

I’m unsure Richard would enjoy this observation even if he begrudgingly respected it: he could be a real jerk, prone to the jealousy and insecurities we probably all have, but tortured by it in ways that sometimes destroyed friendship and trust.

I always forgave Richard for those qualities, though, because he was also amongst the most generous, affable people I have ever met. He often shared pitch ideas and contacts with other writers, a diminishing professional courtesy in the field. When my sister-in-law needed to raise money for an operation the Canadian healthcare system wouldn’t pay for, he offered to help connect her story to others in the Canadian media to raise awareness. In comment threads and editorials he always returned scorn with respect—even when unearned. I watched this first hand as he fielded ad hominem attacks in response to his contentious Art F City review of Amy Feldman’s show at Berlin’s Blain|Southern

Richard knew how to generate conversation and debate, and did so fearlessly. His hilarious 2006 Canadian Art Magazine pan of the exhibition, Intertidal: Vancouver Art & Artists, at MuHKA Museum for Contemporary Art Antwerp used descriptives like “garbage” and “ugly” to rightly mock Vancouver photo-based art as some sort of vaunted cultural export. Canadian arts media, which thirsts for global recognition, perceived the review as sacrilegious in its dismissal as did many professionals. The diaries prompted an outraged letter from superstar photographer Jeff Wall, and so upset the art scene that one reader went so far as to compare him to Hitler. (Richard appropriately parlayed the response into a book deal of collected essays entitled Compared to Hitler.)

Richard’s craftiness helped him survive through leaner years. As I watch freelance writers on Twitter list out what they got paid for assignments this year, I think back to our industry conversations. Sure, we lamented the dwindling freelancer rates, but more often, we bemoaned the organizations who still owed us money. Like everyone who does this kind of work, he often had to wait six months or more before getting paid some meager amount. No one takes into account the amount of time a freelancer has to spend hounding people just to get paid.

I watched the resentment accumulate and weigh on Richard over the years, and when he disappeared, I learned his moods worsened during the COVID-10 lockdown. He needed more access to support than he received. As a culture that still debates the value of universal healthcare and basic income, we don’t doll out help in equal measure. We talk about those suffering from the virus, yet neglect the mental health issues arising from the lockdown. (In the U.S., morality has sunk to debating who should be willing to die. Illnesses like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder barely register.)

Richard tried to put a good face on this. In June, he wrote a humor piece for The Globe and Mail about the humbling experience of moving in with a friend during lockdown and helping to manage the COVID anxiety of their 12 year old daughter. Not two sentences in, he told readers he considered himself “one of the lucky ones.” In the context of his mentorship, the sentiment made his death seem all the more cruel.

“Childhood anxiety is anxiety on amphetamines.” he wrote in the Globe. “Yesterday, I talked the kid down from a psychological ledge by explaining how it would be against the laws of physics for the COVID-19 virus to spread through electrical outlets. I know nothing about physics. Which brings us to my second tip. Just lie.”

It’s a funny line, but in retrospect I began to wonder if “lucky” was his lie. He’s dead. Then again, maybe we need to tell ourselves happier narratives, especially when we’re feeling down about ourselves or the world. At the very least, we start taking seriously the sometimes all-too-easily dismissed experiences of our children.

I can only speculate on what Richard felt, but I know for certain that death didn’t scare him. “I grew up in Atlantic Canada,” he told me in a 2018 piece I wrote for Garage about artists’ paranormal faith. “All the conversations I heard from adults included ghosts at some point. People talked about them in a very natural way—the way you might talk about the weather.”

I don’t believe ghosts spend their time in metropolises like Berlin or Toronto—giant cities exude too much energy for an afterlife to survive—so I’m glad he died in Fredericton, just over an hour from his birthplace, St John. The smaller Maritime center seems more friendly to spirits. Wherever he is now, I’m sure he’s found family and friends, along with the solace he couldn’t get here. 

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Explain Me: Standing in Quicksand

by Paddy Johnson on February 12, 2019
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We cover a lot of ground in this episode of Explain Me. That ground looks something like this:

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Museum Board Members Fail Moral Challenges, Museum Exhibitions Exceed Expectations

by Paddy Johnson on December 4, 2018
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Donna DeSalvo assembles some of Andy Warhol’s greatest work for his retrospective at the Whitney Museum, while revelations that Whitney Vice Chair Warren B. Kanders owns a company that sells tear gas used at the border shake museum staff. Soul of a Nation at the Brooklyn Museum looks at the history of political activism, while Jack Waters offers a mix of bag of awe inspiring abject art paired with groan inspiring sculptures and paintings. Jack Whitten at the Metropolitan Museum dazzles, Art and Conspiracy flops, and Amazon is going to drive Queens residents out of their homes.

Listen ——>

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Live From Forward Union: Four Women Who Are Using Art to Change the World

by Paddy Johnson on September 29, 2018
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It’s been a rough news week. Between Thursday’s testimonies of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Kavanaugh’s near appointment to the Supreme Court Friday, many of us are exhausted. We would like a win for women.

Sometimes the quickest way to achieve that is to do it yourself. As such, this episode of Explain Me celebrates women who have made waves in the world of art and activism, through a series of interviews with four major figures—Mia Pearlman (Make NY True Blue), Jenny Dubnau (ASAP), Nancy Kleaver (PARADE), and Mira Schor (Selected writing).

In the first half of the show, Mia Pearlman and Jenny Dubnau talk about their work pushing for changes at the city and state level and how being an artist makes that job easier. In the second half, Paddy Johnson and Nancy Kleaver talk about their new public art organization, PARADE, and Mira Schor talks about the history of feminism in art from the 1970’s through to today, and her contributions. Stream it. Download it. Listen to it. This one’s important.

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Explain Me: What it Really Means to be A Mid-Career Artist: A Talk with LoVID’s Tali Hinkis

by Paddy Johnson on August 21, 2018
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LoVID‘s Tali Hinkis joins us in the studio to discuss the challenges of being a mid-career artist outside of New York. In this episode we discuss how to navigate it all from engaging a general audience to getting grants and networking. A refreshingly frank talk about what mid-career actually looks like for artists and what it takes to get there.

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We’re So Not Getting the Security Deposit Back: DC Edition

by Paddy Johnson on August 5, 2018
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Last October, we published the first edition of our zine series, We’re So Not Getting the Security Deposit Back: A Guide to Defunct Artist Spaces in partnership with Beltway Public Works in DC. Today, we’re making it freely available to all in the form of a PDF. (If you want the physical version please contact AFC directly

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Explain Me: The Case for Taxing The Hell Out of Peter Brant

by Paddy Johnson on July 16, 2018
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In this episode of Explain Me William Powhida and Paddy Johnson discuss the horrific business practices of Peter Brant and Interview Magazine, a fundraising campaign at University of North Carolina so misguided that firing is in order, and the latest headscratching Creative Time project. To help us discuss all of this, and how the new tax code will affect artists accountant and painter Hannah Cole joins us.

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Explain Me, Part II: Doug Aitken’s New Era, Worst Show of 2018

by Paddy Johnson on June 7, 2018
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In Part II of Explain Me, William Powhida and I discuss the difference between relational aesthetics and social practice, the whims of the auction market and the perilous affect it can have on artist careers, and Doug Aitken’s train wreck of a show at 303 Gallery along with a handful of truly remarkable shows. Those shows listed after the jump.

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Explain Me: Bags of Cash Help New Galleries

by Paddy Johnson on June 6, 2018
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In this episode we discuss how the Frieze Art Fair’s failing air conditioning units won’t help global warming, sales strategies for emerging artists, and galleries that have come and gone. Look to Part II where we discuss the difference between social practice and relational aesthetics and discuss the Doug Aitken show at 303.

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Explain Me: Related Utopias—Bitcoin Economies and the Art World

by Paddy Johnson on May 1, 2018
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This week on Explain Me, William Powhida and Paddy Johnson talk with artist Kevin McCoy about Blockchain, Bitcoin and the Monegraph. This episode is your ultimate bitcoin/blockchain/monegraph explainer.



Seven on Seven, 2014

Public Key/Private Key


Hito Steyerl – If you don’t have bread, eat Art!
Does Digital Culture Want to be Free?
How blockchains are transforming the economy of cultural goods

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