Back to the Brink

A year after the New Art Examiner got an infusion of cash from real estate developer Lewis Manilow and reinvented itself as a sleek national and international vehicle for midwestern art, the 29-year-old not-for-profit magazine is shutting down. Editor Kathryn Hixson left abruptly in late April; a week later her replacement, former senior editor Jan Estep, notified the magazine’s freelancers by E-mail that the staff was taking a hiatus without pay and that the July/August issue had been canceled. Wrote Estep: “We’ve now finally reached the point where there really is no more money.”

Not only is there nothing in the till; the Examiner is $150,000 in debt. Board member Curt Conklin, who stepped in as the magazine’s publisher a month ago, says the extent of the problem took him by surprise. After “a couple of board meetings where it was clear that this thing was just spiraling out of control,” Conklin says he came in, spent one “fun” week working on subscriptions and selling ads, and then “got a call that we couldn’t make payroll. So I wrote a check out of my checkbook. A couple days later I learned that the landlord was preparing to evict us. [After that] I suspended operations.” Hixson had been at the magazine nine years; buzz at gallery openings last weekend was that she’d been fired by Conklin. He says that’s not the way he thinks of it: “Kathryn had written a letter to the board saying that she wanted to leave at the end of the summer. The board would have loved to pay her through [then] but we didn’t have any funds to do it. So we accepted her resignation on an abbreviated schedule.” Hixson, who’s “proud of everything I did for the Examiner and grateful for the support people gave all those years,” says she did not resign. “I was told to leave on April 26.”

Conklin says the mission of the magazine needs to be “reimagined,” and Estep’s letter talks about coming up with a “tighter, riskier, more creative, and more interesting critical product.” The strategy announced with fanfare a year ago was to narrow the Examiner’s focus to the midwest only, get national and international distribution, and grow subscriptions. Jason Pickleman designed a luxe new 9-by-12 format, and color pages were increased to 85 percent of the book. The only thing that seems to have gone as expected after that was greatly increased production costs. National and international distribution proved elusive; subscriptions, up from 2,500, stalled at about 4,500; and some local galleries–miffed by what they felt was an insular attitude and an editorial bias that favored “the young and the pierced”–withheld ads. Even so, art scholar James Yood, who edited the Examiner in the 80s, says it’s irreplaceable. “With the recent demise of Dialogue, the loss of the Examiner would do tremendous damage to the national profile of art in the midwest.”

Manilow’s money, reportedly $100,000, was used for the redesign and to hire a publisher (Conklin’s predecessor, Caryn Koplik, who left last winter); he hadn’t been involved in the last year and “was surprised and disappointed to learn about the finances,” according to Conklin. “I’m in for $75,000 to $100,000 myself, including what I’ve given and my salary,” Conklin adds. “My goal right now is to raise $150,000 in contributions of $20,000 to $30,000. August 1 is my drop-dead date. If we can’t get it done in three months, we have to stop the bleeding.” On the other hand, he says, “If I can eliminate this debt there’s no doubt in my mind that revenues can exceed costs. The fundamentals are terrific.” Best-case scenario: a new New Art Examiner up and running with the September/October issue.

Who Made the Glowing Bunny?

Poor Eduardo Kac. First they wouldn’t give him Alba, the green, glowing bunny he claims to have commissioned; then they started saying Alba wasn’t even made for him. As reported in Wired last year, the French scientists Kac says created a genetically altered rabbit for his art project GFP Bunny told reporter Christopher Dickey a number of green rabbits already existed when Kac called. Instead of having a mutant animal made for art’s sake, Dickey’s story says, Kac merely appropriated one that had been created for research. But Kac, whose exhibit “Free Alba” opened at Julia Friedman Gallery last week, isn’t changing a hair of his story. He says he initiated creation of the rabbit (who glows green only under blue light) and planned to bring it home to live with his family in Chicago. It’s the scientists and administrators at the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique, overwhelmed by the publicity Alba generated and by fears of public backlash, who are telling a new tale. “I would not have worked with them if they had simply given me something they already had,” Kac says. “This idea of inventing life-forms has been part of the artistic imagination for a millennium. Now, all of a sudden, you can allow the legend to leap out of imagination into life.” Kac’s exhibit documents his ongoing campaign to get the French to release Alba.

The One With the Best Paintings Wins

Metropolitan Museum of Art director Philippe de Montebello delivered one of the briefest star-attraction speeches in memory to an audience of 360 Chicago art-world stalwarts at the Smart Museum’s $300-a-seat benefit dinner honoring local collector Muriel Kallis Newman last week. After Newman was presented with the Smart’s biannual Joseph R. Shapiro Award for her discerning eye, de Montebello took the podium and noted that great collections don’t always end up in the cities where they’re collected. “Chesterdale’s went to the National Museum [in Washington, D.C.], and I think you have some of the Kress collection here,” he said, “although both lived across the street from the Metropolitan.” What he didn’t have to say: Newman promised her collection to the Met two decades ago.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.