Sarah Hromack / Writing / An Idea for Interview

An Idea for Interview

A memorial op-ed on Interview Magazine (1969-2018), "an enduring symbol of downtown cool, even as downtown became Disney"

Andy Warhol would have loved the series of reader tributes to his magazine, Interview, that have circulated via Instagram in recent days – Andy could have invented the photo-sharing app – since its publisher, Brant Publications, announced the title’s imminent closure. Give #Interview a cursory scroll: Cher, Grace Jones, and Stevie Wonder in 1982, 1984, and 1986, respectively; Madonna’s infamous crotch grab, shot by Herb Ritts in 1990; Marc Jacobs styled as Warhol himself for the June/July 2008 issue. The world is ‘sooooo saaad’ (heartbreak emoji) to lose a title that had achieved proper cult status in its nearly 50 years of publication with its splashy covers, stunning fashion photography, and dishy, wildly-ranging celebrity interviews. So many people hold distinctly personal memories of this magazine, which occupies a rightful place in American pop-cultural history.

One of my own: Growing up in the northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1980s, in a similar socio-ethnic position as the Warhola family, I spent endless after-school hours in the library, poring over old issues of Interview and exhibition catalogues of Warhol’s work – images and narratives whose complexity of meaning were beyond my experience and captivated my fierce little imagination. Andy was my childhood spirit animal and his magazine was a mental escape hatch from the oppressive blandness of my post-industrial town.

I interviewed with Warhol protégé and then-Brant Publications CEO Glenn O’Brien shortly after moving to New York in 2008 from San Francisco, where I had just finished graduate school. He signed off on my hire for what would be, for me, a brief role as Web Editor of the then newly-launched website for Interview’s sister publication, Art in America. I wore a leather jacket. We had an easy, speculative conversation about the internet and its impact on the future of publishing. O’Brien was the real deal, secure in his late-career and aware of the fact that his company’s magazines were arriving very, very late to the internet party – too late, in fact, a particularly ironic fact where Interview was concerned, given that the magazine might be rightfully considered a paper proto-chat room of sorts.

On the job, however, I wondered what futurist Andy would have thought of the company’s stuffily aspirational Broadway offices and territorial, technophobic vibe: digital staff were seated on metal folding chairs shoved up against the sorting counter of what had recently been a cramped mailroom. Even more troubling was the pervasive sense of self-conscious tension that seemed to colour that moment in time, as publishers, editors, and writers alike worried about the broader cultural effects of the web. (I recall arriving to work early one morning to a colleague’s panic over the need to Photoshop a wee trace of coke away from a party-goer’s nose, in a snapshot captured the night before at artist Terence Koh’s then-prodigious Chinatown gallery, A.S.S., before posting it to the Interview website for infinite posterity.) The markets had crashed. Reality was setting in.

O’Brien was ousted in 2009 and sued by Brant thereafter for breach of contract after speaking openly to the press about the company’s failure to pay its bills – a fact that I myself had noted as writers sent increasingly-desperate pleas for payment.

A decade later, it is sad if not outright shameful to see ‘the Crystal Ball of Pop’ allegedly drained of its resources. A recent series of lawsuits by former employees, including long-time Interview creative director Fabien Baron, have claimed unpaid wages. Meanwhile creative director Karl Templer faces harassment charges following a Boston Globe investigation – he left the publication in April. Interview’s closure appears to have been a bottom-line business decision made by its ever-entrenched owner, Peter Brant, who acquired the book in 1989 from the then newly-established Warhol Foundation. Brant is an inveterate collector of Warhol’s work – an insider’s insider. He should know better.

Yet, his ultimate decision to fold Interview speaks to a particular kind of blindness Brant exhibits toward what marketing professionals would deem the brand perception of his companies – a distinct lack of intuition about the enduring value of Interview’s cultural capital. In other words: Interview was the coolest thing Brant Publications has ever done, by far.

If there is one thing the working class has always been good for, it is adding a sense of authenticity to otherwise-sterile or stodgy ventures – throwing a handful of glitter onto a blank canvas, if you will. Warhol wrote the book on this social phenomenon. Delightful in its vulgarity, Interview was the book.

Magazines are about readerships and publics – actual and imagined. In its most ideal form, a magazine is a community whose interests are represented through the collective thinking of those who publish, edit, and write it. Interview certainly was, for a time: a platform through which Warhol operated as an artist, a hustler, and a public intellectual; a place to collect and assemble people, conversations, ideas, and images. An enduring symbol of downtown cool, even as downtown became Disney – an idea.

Perhaps more importantly, however, is the way in which magazines function as sites of aspirational identity formation – places where readers’s imaginations are transfixed by representations of realities that eclipse their own. Reading a magazine is an act of self-identification through text and image that transcends time, place, and class.

Time moves forward, and yet it stands still. Some are suggesting that Peter Brant return his property to its rightful steward, the Warhol Foundation, a move that I suspect could slow and stifle its latent potential; cash acquisition by a fashion-centric media company seems more likely, sadly. Nostalgia and desire are powerful emotions – the driving forces behind all manners of human behaviour. A magazine, however, can be anything. What if Interview—the magazine-as-idea—to become something else entirely in the future? It could be.

Updated on June 02, 2018

As a critic, I have written for publications including Frieze, Artforum, Art in America, Red Hook Journal (Bard College), Mousse, Print, Paper Monument, and Rhizome, amongst other websites, blogs, and print publications. While my interests are manifold, much of my published writing has considered the social mediation of art institutions and publications through digital media.

First launched as an art school thesis project and now long offline, my blog, Forward Retreat (2000-2008), was part of the early cohort of American art blogs that bore initial influence on then-emerging digital publishing practices in the arts. My work has been supported by a Creative Capital|Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.

Since giving birth in 2017, I have been writing about more personal and honestly, more pleasurable subjects including (but not limited to) motherhood — material that I haven't yet decided to publish and may never do.

Some Essays

An Idea for Interview

2018 Frieze
A memorial op-ed on Interview Magazine (1969-2018), "an enduring symbol of downtown cool, even as downtown became Disney"

Narcissism in the Digital Age

2017 Frieze
A review of Kristen Dombek's "The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism"

Sign on the Dotted Line

2016 Frieze
An op-ed in support of W.A.G.E. (Working Artists and the Greater Economy)'s efforts at New York's New Museum

It’s Complicated: The Institution as Publisher

2016 Superscript Reader, Walker Art Center
An op-ed on the politics that govern institutional publishing, written by invitation on the occasion of "Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age" at the Walker Art Center

What is Metahaven?

2015 Frieze
A feature on the Dutch design studio Metahaven

Another ‘C’ Word: On Content and the (Techno) Curatorial

2015 Red Hook Journal, Bard College
An essay on digital, linguistic, and curatorial intersectionality that begins with Raymond Williams's "Keywords" and ends at the NSA's XKEYSCORE

The Real Power of Open Innovation

2014 Mousse
A conversation with New York-based artists João Enxuto & Erica Love about the critical intersection of technology and institutions

The Museum Interface

2014 Art in America
A conversation with Rob Giampetro, Creative Lead, Google

Safety in Numbers

2014 Frieze
I and others including Laura Poitras, Trevor Paglan, Jordan Ellenberg, Martha Rosler, Mercedes Bunz, and Shoshana Zuboff responded to a question posed by editor Jörg Heiser: “Algorithms, Big Data and surveillance: what’s the response, and responsibility, of art?”

Douglas Davis (1933–2014)

2014 Artforum
In kind memory of artist Douglas Davis (1933-2014)

Beyond the Scene and Herd Effect

2013 Artpapers
A consideration of the social web's impact on art magazines' websites and editorial strategies over the course of time

Off the Page

2011 Frieze
A profile of Paul Chan’s new publishing venture, Badlands Unlimited

A Thing Remade: A Conversation with Paul Chan

2011 Rhizome
A conversation with artist Paul Chan

I Was Here

2010 Paper Monument | N+1
An investigation into the social role of gallery sign-in books as physical relics of experience in the digital age

Collective Collections

2010 Print Magazine
A homage to art collective Group Material’s seminal work from the 1980s and 1990s; in collaboration with Project Projects

What It Is: A Conversation with Jeremy Deller

2009 Art in America
An interview with British artist Jeremy Deller on the occasion of his solo exhibition at the New Museum, "It Is What It Is: Conversations About Iraq"

A Theater of Absurdity: Parody, Power, and the Politics of Display at the 4th Berlin Biennial for Contemporary Art

2007 California College of the Arts
Graduate Thesis in the MA Visual and Critical Studies program at the California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA (essay version)