The art world is always on the hunt for something new, and this week Canadian Art magazine announced it had replaced editor Richard Rhodes, who stepped down after almost 20 years, with critic and author David Balzer.
How do you go about filling Richard's shoes?
I think the answer is that I don't. I bring my own vision and expertise to the role. I'm not going to disturb his legacy. I've worked with Rick for the past five years. He's a mentor, he's a colleague.
Sure, but you're from a different generation, one that often sees old institutions as ripe for disruption.
I wouldn't use that word. I'll give you in brief a tripartite strategy of mine. We'll be covering contemporary art, but we'll also be covering contemporary culture through a visual art lens. Second, it's very important to me that there be a diversity of voices in the publication: geographical diversity, identity-based diversity, gender diversity, diversity of all kinds. Third, there are a lot of art magazines that are very much married to jargon and art-speak. Our writers know what they're talking about, but they're not going to use the language of critical theory to talk about it.
Why are you making those changes? Because diversity is important – ethically important? Because you hope to grow the audience? Because your audience is itself changing and expects new things?
That just sounds like a leading question to me, and sort of a bi-natured definition of what publishing is, so I'm not sure I can answer that question.
I don't know what you mean by a 'leading question.'
Well, you're answering the question and asking it.
Oh. Sorry, I wasn't trying to answer the question. Okay: Why are you making these changes?
Because I've been asked to make the changes. And there's obviously a concern, whenever there's a departing editor and an incoming one, that there be a new voice, and that there be a commitment to growing the audience. Obviously we want to be the voice for visual arts in Canada. We want to be advocates for artists. We want to place Canadian art in an international perspective. We want to unite the country in a discourse about visual arts.
It seems to me these are things you agree with, so it's not just that you've been asked to do them.
I'm curious about the magazine – wait, should I call it a magazine?
I like the word "publication," because it entails print and online.
Okay. I'm curious about who you see as the publication's competition?
We're looking at other international art magazines as our sort of peers and competitors. But we would like to be read by people who also read arts and culture sections in big newspapers, we'd like to be read by people who read up on culture in publications like The Economist and The New Yorker, and then in Canada like The Walrus and Maclean's. These are our peers as much as our competitors, and we'd like to share that readership.
Many media outlets that used to serve large constituencies lost audiences to niche publications: Music fans now go to Pitchfork rather than newspapers. Is Canadian Art less susceptible to the disruptive headwinds facing some media outlets?
We're aware of all of the same exigencies and we do have a concern about that. I think we're lucky to have a niche audience. Artists depend on publications to further their career, and to an extent the art market also depends on coverage to sort of make sense of things. I think our biggest challenge will be to figure out how to invite people from outside the community inside.
What do you mean?
There's been a lot of talk in art critical communities how art critics are now only talking to – it's all inside-baseball, essentially
Well, that's been the case for 20 to 30 years, no?
I would say yeah, 10 to 15 years. But there's been a turn in our criticism. I've written about this. It might have a lot to do with just how the Internet operates and how clicks operate and how eyeballs operate. But I think I would aspire to, while not have every single piece of our content be relevant to people outside the visual arts community, I would like occasionally – once or twice a month – for pieces that we publish to go beyond the usual suspects.
This interview has been condensed and edited.