Kaput: The Part of Artnet that Non-Millionaires Care About


Artnet.com collects and tracks sales data from fine art auctions for subscribers; they have begun to host their own online auctions, as well. Artnet.com also publishes an online-only magazine that covers art issues and the art world with personality and verve. One of these was unceremoniously shut down on Monday. Can you guess which one?

auctioneerOn Monday morning, there was something online about a shake up among upper management. By early that afternoon, the shoe that people without art collections care about dropped, and it was announced that the magazine was kaput.

Story continues below.

To read about it over the past few days-here, for example, and Artnet’s own statement available here-you’d think a scrappy mom and pop arts writing site had tragically and inevitably succumbed to whatever causes scrappy mom and pop endeavors to fail. Which, I suppose is technically true: it failed because it was never profitable. But this is no mom and pop story.

The Artnet corporation (which is German) is being hostilely taken over by Gordon Gekko a group of shareholders led by Russian billionaire and a German art-as-commodity broker.

It is in this context that the beloved Artnet magazine, edited by the beloved Walter Robinson, has stopped publishing. The most charming, personal, and elegiac response is by Jerry Saltz.

I guess I expected the coverage to be more along the lines of outrage at the myopic bankers who took over Artnet and closed down the cultural interest part of the site so they wouldn’t be distracted from weighing their art collections against huge piles of gold.

Of course, that kind of response is over-simplified and specious. I’m not advocating it and I don’t think it’s correct. But I expected the internet to react with more melodrama and focused vitriol than it has. Go figure. I don’t want to make light of this-no one likes to see any valuable source of news and information disappear. It is sad and disappointing, whatever the back story or context.

A more tempered way of expressing the relationship between the general reader of Artnet magazine and its auctioneering parent corporation: The fact of the matter is that Artnet’s auction side (now its only side) is a legitimately important factor in the art world. But one of niche interest. It is entirely possible to be very interested in art, the art world, and even the gallery scene without ever having to care about auctions and sales. While no one interested in art should pretend that it’s not a stratospheric global power market, most people interested in art also think it’s more than that. And it’s possible to not be na√Øve about the fact of the market while ignoring what happens at auctions.

But I do think there was value-for the reader-in the art-market power brokers having a side project in arts writing: Everyone who went to Artnet for the articles found themselves being reminded of the market status of the field. Now, I predict that we won’t hear anything more about Artnet at all after a little time passes. They’ll still be treating art exclusively as a commodity, but we will increasingly forget Artnet exists.

And you’d think a clearinghouse for tracking art prices could stand to carry a money-losing art magazine. If for no other reason than to help augment those prices. Art that gets written about, discussed, or identified as important by experts accrues the kind of cultural capital that easily converts to regular capital. Fame, recognition, and value are tied together in the art world just like they are everywhere else.

Artnet doesn’t owe it to anyone to keep the magazine portion of the company afloat, but if they had, we wouldn’t all find ourselves suspiciously talking about, and tsk-tsking at, Russian billionaires and corporate raiders. Instead, we could have been talking about art parties, gallery openings, and bons mots by clubby, insider writers.