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On Art Practical

Art Practical brings international visibility to the artistic practice and sensibilities of the Bay Area, which is home to some of the most experimental and innovative artists in the country; the cutting-edge, self-starting, and visionary spirit that fuels Silicon Valley also pervades the region’s artistic practices. However, many artists reluctantly leave the Bay Area simply to garner from elsewhere the greater visibility required to support their long-term career goals. To counter this migration, or at least to cast a different light on the Bay Area’s role as an incubator for emerging artists, Art Practical produces art criticism that deepens appreciation of the work produced here and nurtures its development.

That critical content takes the form of reviews, essays, serial writing, interviews, and profiles that we publish in bi-weekly issues. Since our launch in late October 2009, we have produced sixty-five issues and over six hundred articles. Art Practical is also an information source, producing a daily list of exhibition openings, events, lectures, and performances; a feed of relevant news; and an editorial list of Picks, which are events and exhibitions that should not be missed. Very significant to our existence are our partnerships in promoting the Bay Area’s role in the international art scene: Bad at Sports, the weekly podcast, Daily Serving, an international online art journal, and Happenstand, an event listing site.

Additionally, Art Practical produces workshops for emerging art writers, thematic issues focused on prevailing artistic practices in the Bay Area, and periodic live programs to encourage open critical dialogue within a public sphere. We actively work to expand forums for critical dialogues around contemporary art production through a residency program that includes issues dedicated to other cities. In March we dedicated an issue to the public interventions and collaborative, socially engaged practices of Kansas City, and this fall, we are dedicating an issue to Miami.

Thirty-four artists, writers, educators, and curators comprise the group of regular contributors; there are over forty additional occasional contributors. Their individual interests shape our content, and since they are diverse in their practices, we review a broad spectrum of exhibitions. Art Practical benefits from the overlap between socially engaged and critical practices that are prevalent in the Bay Area, and from the frequently ephemeral nature of social activities, which are documented and expanded upon by corresponding texts. We also benefit from the extent to which artists engage with philosophy and critical theory, particularly in graduate school, as a way to contextualize their practices.

There are numerous artists who contribute to Art Practical and much of the dialogue we produce emanates from their artistic practices and academic training. Writing promotes correspondence between and awareness of other practices and establishes a community of peers. There is little money to be gained from either an artist writing criticism or presenting their activities in a text-based form. The value arises from the further distribution of ideas and documentation of work than can be had by the immediate experience. Between nine and thirteen thousand people read each issue, and forty percent of our audience is from outside of California, so the critical dialogue we are producing resonates far beyond the local studios and galleries.

A complex system of reception exists around a work of art.  Whatever material form or ephemeral gesture a concept takes, an artist understands that those objects or actions are conduits by which they convey their position, critique, reflection, experiment, exploration, etc. to someone who will consider them, and will most likely, introduce their own terms into the conversation. And so for any artist concerned with the value of their work beyond its market value Art Practical encourages them to think about who they want their audience to be. In many ways, each of our articles poses the same set of questions to artists: Who do you imagine thinking about your work, and how do you imagine their reception, in the same way you ask people to think about your intentions?  Who do you imagine sitting across the table from you in conversation or hanging out in your studio? How do you see this work in operation in the world? Where do you intersect with the larger culture?

Art Practical is a reactive forum, responsive to the activities that happen around us. SFMOMA’s community producer Suzanne Stein has observed to me that we are an instituting force in the Bay Area, and that is true.  We are creating and simultaneously archiving a series of overlapping narratives of this particular moment in contemporary art, perceived through the lens of this community.

And while that community is greatly fueled by the various academic institutions in the Bay Area, our coverage essentially begins at the point where the individuals that pass through those institutions step out into the world and intersect with a broader audience that is not just their faculty and peers. The “Practical” in our name comes in part from the fact that what we are reflecting on are ideas not in theory, but in practice.


This article is adapted from a conversation with Brandon Brown, which appeared on SFMOMA’s Open Space blog as “Bohemia of Finances, (pt 6).” 


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