- Do you see this series and your work as an editor as a natural progression of your work in other areas? Working as an editor with Lund Humphries allows me to foreground the voices on contemporary art that, to my mind, we most need to hear. And I’ve come across these writers while researching topics that strike me as particularly relevant today. Many of the studies in the series are books I’d have liked to have found in the past, when I was doing research on those questions.
- You are also a senior lecturer at Sotheby’s Art Institute in London. Does your teaching inform your work as an editor? When commissioning books, I sometimes have my students in mind — what interests them, the art writers they are drawn to. It’s fascinating to see how their concerns have evolved over time. To give you just one example, many are keen now to talk about the decolonisation of art institutions. The next book in our series will address precisely that issue.
- How do you choose the topic of the next book? I choose topics in consultation with Lucy Myers, the director of Lund Humphries. We have now brought out books on about a third of the topics we would like to cover.
- Tell me about the genesis of the series and the need it aims to meet? We wanted to provide accessible books on some of the more fiercely debated issues in today’s art world. The intention was not to publish introductory texts or surveys but interventions in vital debates — polemical books written not in what has come to be known as “International Art English” (wordy, opaque prose) but in lucid and engaging language, accessible to students as well as to seasoned insiders.
- The format is fairly small, the books relatively short—can you tell me why you went for this format? Is it your intention to publish more digestible books? Are you aiming to initiate debates?The books aren’t aiming to start debates. They respond to existing ones. Richard Willilams in The Culture Factory, for instance, is reacting to the widely held view that many recently built art museums (or extensions) are vanity projects by starchitects rather than buildings designed for the optimal display of artworks. We hope that each of these books will recast an existing debate in vital new terms.
- Is there a topic that the series hasn’t touched upon but you would like to see included? We’d like to commission a number of new books, including one on the significance of scale in contemporary art. Books on other topics, such as art as a means of addressing environmental degradation, are in the pipeline.
- What are the current challenges the art world is facing? The art world faces huge challenges, but these vary from place to place. In some areas, it is too small — the infrastructure necessary to support the efforts of artists and curators is lacking. In others, the infrastructure is there but it is skewed towards the commercial sector. In many parts of the world, state support is in decline, with the result that institutions are increasingly reluctant to show more daring work. But perhaps the biggest challenge is this: in most places, the art world is unrepresentative of the broader population.
- What are the changes that most concern you in the art world just now? Two trends particularly interest me. One is the possibility that the art market and the apparatus of art world validation (museums, critics, etc.) will diverge more than they already do, that is to say, that more artists esteemed by critics and curators are passed over by collectors and vice versa. The other trend is the rise of immersive art and art-like experiences, such as those put on at Superblue in Miami or by teamLab in Tokyo. The first trend clearly doesn’t benefit the gallery-going public and I’m sceptical about the second one too.
- Do you have any suggestions, any tricks you can think of for budding art writers? There are no tricks or shortcuts, not that I know of. You just have to read and write as much as you can. If you can get feedback on your writing, that may save you some trouble. If I could start over, I would use a pen name for a few years and only then start using my real name.
- What do you hope to see in 2023 in the art world? 2022 was an amazing year in the art world. It was such a relief to see offline shows again — and in ruangrupa’s documenta 15 and Cecilia Alemani’s Venice Biennale we had two ground-breaking megashows. I hope artists and curators can build on those examples in 2023. And of course, I would like to see increased funding for art schools and public galleries, but in the current climate that looks unlikely, particularly in the UK.
Learn more about this captivating series New Directions in Contemporary Art, and here is a discount code to get 20% off on this series! Visit Lund Humpries website and use the promo code NDHT20, valid till 28 February 2023.
- The greatest influence in your life (person, theory, model…) The Frankfurt School, Fredric Jameson. My wife. The pharmaceutical scientists who came up with the medication I take for migraines.
- An object you can’t live without. Our local swimming pool.
- Favorite book. Flaubert’s L’éducation sentimentale.
- What’s your idea of happiness? Fresh water swimming.
- Your favorite art moment? Seeing sprinters fly past me at Tate Britain in the summer of 2008. As I learned shortly afterwards, they were running on Martin Creed’s instructions, as part of his Work No. 850.
About Marcus Verhagen
Marcus Verhagen wrote his doctoral dissertation at Berkeley on visual culture in France in the late nineteenth century. Still working on nineteenth-century art, he taught in the nineties at universities in both Britain and the States. Working primarily on contemporary art in the years since 2002, he has taught at art colleges in and around London and has written more than seventy articles and reviews for art magazines such as Art Monthly and Frieze. He has published in a number of periodicals, including Representations, New Left Review, Third Text and Afterall. His book Flows and Counterflows; Globalisation in Contemporary Art, published by Sternberg Press in 2107, was reviewed in ArtReview, Third Text Online, Critique d’art, and New Left Review. Another book, titled Viewing Velocities and focusing on art in a culture of speed, it is due out with Verso in 2023. He edits the series “New Directions in Contemporary Art” for the specialist art publisher Lund Humphries.