Past, Present, Future: an interview with Tulsa Kinney on the 10th anniversary of Artillery
By Jacqueline Bell Johnson
Ten years ago, Tulsa Kinney took on the project of creating a publication that would champion the Los Angeles art scene in a down-to-earth way. Her position as founder and editor has kept her immensely busy, but also makes her extremely insightful as to the goings on of the LA art scene. In this interview, we found out how it all started and where it’s headed.
Jacqueline Bell Johnson: Tell us about the beginnings of Artillery.
Tulsa Kinney: Artillery was born in 2006. About two years before that, I was writing for the LA Weekly about art. A couple years before that I was guest editor on the magazine, Coagula. I had been doing a bit of writing for Coagula and Mat Gleason asked me if I would take a turn as editor. I did and I got hooked. I really enjoyed putting the magazine together and putting my vision into it. If you look at Coagula that year, you might see it’s a precursor to what I was going to be doing with Artillery, though I didn’t know it yet.
I got a lot of compliments for Coagula. My husband, Charles Rappleye (who worked at the Weekly) is a news editor. He had a lot more experience with how to launch a magazine. When I said I want to do an art magazine, my husband said he would help get us started. He helped me with the mechanics of putting a magazine together. We set up departments, columns and decided what the content should be. He says he’s not a co-founder, but he really is.
I had felt the need for a contemporary art magazine in Los Angeles. It felt like the art world was exploding at that time and especially in Los Angeles. To me, there was nothing out there that was capturing the vitality of the new work that was happening in our city. I wanted to create a true magazine with reviews, profiles, news, and with some lightness to it. I included poetry; I put comics in. I wanted it to reflect the real art world, not just the academic one.
JBJ: Your name is synonymous with Artillery. Do you feel like you’ve lost any of your artist identity taking on the magazine?
TK: I’m not doing art now, but I am an artist, I’ve been an artist all my life. I cannot make art right now because the magazine has taken over my life. Artillery is my art expression right now. I miss the physical activity of making art, but as far as the mental creativity, the magazine satisfies my need for creating something. I do identify fully with the magazine; it is my identity. It’s a huge, huge undertaking and you just can’t do anything else.
JBJ: You started when the internet was really kicking in, why didn’t you go with an online magazine instead of a print one? What made you choose print?
TK: I still ask that myself! Print is very expensive, but it does end up paying the bills because of our advertising. We’re a for-profit magazine, so we have to sell ads to make money. On the web, I guess we would sell web ads but still there was no money there to pay the writers. We didn’t know how to make money off the web in those days. Plus, I’m still from that analog era and I wanted a print magazine.
I have been a graphic designer and I appreciate a beautiful page layout. My creative designer, Bill Smith, was the director at the LA Weekly. He’s a wonderful designer and I consider that an art form too — graphic design and page layout. I like magazines, I appreciate that format. I think that’s just me, a bit old school. Eventually it might end up being online. Our online magazine has more content and our website is doing quite well. There may be a shift in the future, but right now print has been the only way I’ve figured out how to monetize this magazine.
JBJ: I’ve noticed you’re starting to do things with The Theater at Ace Hotel. Is that a new aspect to Artillery? Are you starting to put out shows and present art work?
TK: We are mainly entertainment. I’m not into presenting artwork. I feel like that’s a conflict of interest, to push certain artists. However, we have a new brand event that we’re working on. It’s a new event series called “LIVE ARTILLERY Presents.” We started with the Marnie Weber screening at the Ace Hotel. I had been talking with her for a couple of years and I knew she was working on a full feature film. I always said we wanted to show her films.
We have another event scheduled at the hotel with Guy Richards Smit. He’s a New York artist but he’s also a writer and does a really funny art soap opera. We’re going to screen that.
We have the resources, working with all these talented artists and writing about them. It’s a great spin-off to have a venue in LA. The Ace Hotel really wants more cultural art events and they like working with us. It’s a beautiful thing and, yes, we are going to do more. The Marnie Weber event was a total success. Ace was very happy working with us, so you will see more.
JBJ: I have one last question for you. I saw a video of you talking at RAID Projects in 2011 about how LA artists were not getting shown in LA. Right now Rosamund Felsen and Mark Moore galleries are closing, but Hauser Wirth & Schimmel and The Broad are opening. There seems to be a huge shift happening this year with the LA art scene. Do you think it reflects how the artists of LA were not getting shown in the past? Is this shift connected to the other? How do you feel about the art scene right now?
TK: It isn’t necessarily Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a very important art center. Things that happen in Los Angeles will also be happening elsewhere. We have more art and art venues. There are over 300 galleries now. Mark Moore and Rosamund Felsen were two very established art galleries. They’ve been in the business well over 30 years and are two people nearing retirement age. They have had a very respectable career in Los Angeles and they are ready to close their doors. Hauser Wirth & Schimmel and The Broad are two museums. It’s interesting that you put them together because Hauser Wirth & Schimmel is very museum-like. I think museums are going to take over eventually and push out small galleries, because, like what Mark Moore said, the younger collectors are going straight to the auctions or to the fairs. Older collectors are sticking with auctions now because they want to turn over. They see art as a smart investment these days. It used to be contemporary art wasn’t — in fact contemporary art didn’t even sell. You had to wait until artists died.
This shift in the art world is happening all over, not necessarily just LA. It’s propelled by money now, and so propelled by the über rich. They are shoving out small galleries. Just like the world that we live in today, the art world is catering to the super rich. The middle man in the middle galleries like middle class America, are the ones that are suffering and not getting anywhere. Good luck to these little galleries that open. Sometimes it happens, like it did for Night Gallery. They were a little gallery in Lincoln Heights and now they’re one of the top galleries. Blum & Poe was like that at one time. A few of the small ones make it, but the middle ones eventually get shoved out.
JBJ: Thank you for your time today.
Tulsa Kinney will be moderating a panel discussion, Is Art Our Last Safe Space? on Thursday, October 27 at 7:00 pm. Rhodes College art historian David McCarthy, ceramicist and Gulf War veteran Ehren Tool, and writer, curator, and professor of Visual Studies at the California College of the Arts Karen Fiss visit Zócalo to discuss whether, in violent times, art provides a vestige of protected provocation. http://www.zocalopublicsquare.org/event/art-last-safe-space/
Coming November 11, Artillery is hosting a screening of all episodes of the show, The Grossmalerman!, at Ace Hotel, 929 S. Broadway. The show is followed by a Q&A with creator and star, Guy Richards Smit, and costar Jibz Cameron. Doors at 7:30, Screening at 8, Q&A at 9:30, Cocktails to follow