Rebel with a Cause, an Interview with Derek Guthrie
Norbert Marszalek: The New Art Examiner was originally published from 1973 to 2002. It had a long and rousing history. What made you want to relaunch the magazine in 2015?
Derek Guthrie: I love art and I like talking about art. I am an artist on the side but I don’t exhibit. I thought the demise was unnecessary. Though the then new regime listed me as publisher emeritus it meant I could no longer write for the New Art Examiner (another example of Chicago heavy-handedness). I found a colleague in Cornwall, Daniel Nanavati, a small publisher also with a degree in Theology and Philosophy from Balliol College Oxford. We evoked discussion and given my past experience and with the enthusiasm from previous colleagues, it seemed a natural development for all of us. Given the problems of art and culture, I sensed an opportunity to revive the New Art Examiner. Many people tell me they miss the publication. I am devoted to creative and intellectual adventure. This is not complicated, the art world is. I like art.
NM: What are some of the major differences between publishing the New Art Examiner in 1973 and the relaunch in 2015?
DG: The art world has changed. Dealers are hurting. Money is in short supply. The avant-garde culture has retrenched or faded. Academia is now run on corporate lines and has lost imagination. Social media has made artists dumber. People no longer read. The control of money is well dug in. Collectors and tax write-offs are more important than art. Museums have to kowtow to collectors. Optimism is in short supply. Public relations has replaced criticism. The worst aspects of populism are dominant. Anti-intellectualism is dominant. The deal is all that counts. Power plays are the cultural game. Generosity of spirit seems to have faded. Class definition seems to rule the art world. It seems as most people are waiting for the Messiah. The dream that art signaled is faded.
In short, the United States is in decline—it no longer is the beacon admired by the Western world. My colleagues and I publish the New Art Examiner simply as it is an intellectual adventure and our humanity is put to the test. We keep dialogue on the visual arts alive. Even in a declining culture art can flourish. A session that history teaches. The relaunch of the New Art Examiner includes other locations than Chicago. We also cover Washington DC, Toronto, London, Madrid, Milan, and Cornwall. Simply there is not enough generosity of spirit or finical resources in Chicago. I am reading the famous book Don’t Make No Waves.Don’t Back No Losers: An Insiders’ Analysis of the Daley Machine by Milton Rakove. The New Art Examiner is in the tradition of Jane Addams. She cared about losers and the ideals of America.
NM: With your last answer you say: “Social media has made artists dumber.” Don’t you think social media has made it easier for artists to promote their work and that it also makes the art community more accessible to each other? Plus, I know more than a few artists that were picked up by respectable galleries through Instagram.
DG: Social media has helped some artists but things are lost also. The market is not the only issue in art. Much bad art is sold on the matter. We respond to art whether it is economically successful or not. Do you respect Thomas Kinkade? Many of our artist heroes did not originally sell like Van Gogh and Cézanne yet their contribution is enormous. The issue of quality will not go away. Social media has helped the New Art Examiner in that we have an international audience. Does publicity outweigh serious criticism and informed debate? Trump has trampled on human dignity and rights all in the name of the deal. Many Artists who were economically successful have faded from sight and history. Economic success does not guarantee originality or quality. The public today is not necessarily more informed than before.
NM: Yes I see your point. We both agree that social media can be a good thing if used wisely. You mention that social media has helped the New Art Examiner attain an international audience. Overall are you satisfied with the readership and attention that the New Art Examiner is getting so far?
DG: Naturally, I am pleased that social media has ensured a great success for the New Art Examiner. At the time of writing, we have reached over 11,500 visitors. A point of consideration is our visitors increase month by month. I suggest we examine this in context. The rejection of the New Art Examiner is well established in Chicago. I can provide ample evidence. So why does the New Art Examiner have a growing presence on the international art scene? Simply, the international art scene responds with emphasis and interest. I suggest the simple answer is a respect for quality and intelligence.
After many years of trying I had to face the fact that Chicago is so political and culturally repressive. Two favorite expressions that define or come out of Chicago: “Make no waves and don’t back no losers” and “Nobody wants nobody that nobody sent.” There is an institutionalized sleaze. Chicago is its own swamp. Insider trading. The New Art Examiner is a unique achievement yet shunned. Nobody else has produced quality art criticism or practiced such a liberal philosophy. We acknowledge and publish all the letters we receive. I speak with candor. I will be satisfied when I can publish intelligent art talk and not be afraid of retaliation. I have achieved this internationally but not in Chicago which in my opinion is mired and doomed to sterility as long as it stays in its present culture. All the universities, museum and suburban art centers should have an interest in the amazing success of the New Art Examiner which emerged from community. They have not. History will provide the answer.
NM: I noticed something odd. Why are there currently two New Art Examiner websites?
DG: There are two websites calling themselves the New Art Examiner. I as founding publisher control one website. The other is controlled by Michel Ségard who was working with me in Chicago in reviving the New Art Examiner. Michel Ségard attempted a coup, better defined as a hijacking. We were informal. Michel Ségard was the designer but did not have much art experience. In fact, he was quite naive with little knowledge of the art world.
I was secretly expelled by underhand manipulation. Our lawyer, appointed by Lawyers for the Creative Arts, has just received notification from the Trademarks Commision that they have awarded the Trademark “NEW ART EXAMINER” to me and my colleagues. Now Michel Ségard and his friends are in default. Previously, we shared a Facebook page and a bank account. They stole both and have collected revenues in our name.
If Michel Ségard and his friends had the courage and drive to start their own magazine I would have wished them well. It is not acceptable to steal the long and noble tradition that the New Art Examiner has earned over many decades. This feels like Chicago—the gangster city—and very provincial. As Nelson Algren says, “City on the Make”.
In response to being shut out of Facebook, we started a website, New Art Examiner – Without Fear of Favour, which has capitulated the New Art Examiner into international status. We average over 350 new readers a month. The harm done falls on Chicago as the second city once again gives evidence to an inherent tendency to provincialism and small-minded banality.
NM: If you and Michel Ségard were working together on reviving the New Art Examiner what caused Michel Ségard to attempt the coup? And why were you secretly expelled? There must be more to this story?
DG: All was fine until Michel Ségard objected to a cartoon illustration that originated in England. He said it was too “old-fashioned”. This was an example of a designer challenging the publisher’s decision. I pleaded with him to no avail. It was agreed that the United States editor was responsible solely for American copy and likewise the British editor to have sole responsibly for British copy and the publisher to have the final say. His response was to suggest that he become a joint publisher and the Chicago group to have total domination. They cut me out from Facebook which I originated and shared with them as colleagues. I have to assume I was secretly expelled when Michel Ségard claimed the title of publisher. Annie Malkovich responded to an ad hoc poll saying that she supported the publisher’s final authority as opposed to a committee for editorial decision.
They then called the New Art Examiner an English New Art Examiner. I suggest you ask Michel Ségard for his version. I think it was Chicago opportunism and chauvinism. They forget that the New Art Examiner from 1978 was supported from two offices, one in Chicago and the other in Washington DC.
After I and Jane Addams retired from the New Art Examiner in 2002, it took two years for the New Art Examiner to die. Chicago is not large enough to support a viable art magazine and does not have the imagination or generosity of spirit to accept critical discourse. There is a long story here that needs to be aired.
The New Art Examiner is now represented at Art Basel, the most important art fair out there. We have increased readers and overall brand awareness and offer advertising at the give away cost starting at $12 and yet Chicago is non–responsive and hostile.
NM: It definitely appears that you and Michel Ségard are not working in concert so it’s bizarre to have two New Art Examiners. So are you saying that Michel Ségard believes he is doing the American version of the New Art Examiner and you are doing the British version?
DG: There is only one version of the New Art Examiner. The New Art Examiner responds to all communities. Not a question. We have been awarded the title by the Trademarks Commission. Therefore, Michel Ségard is publising illegaly. If he wants he can start his own magazine but he will have to create his own name and brand. The New Art Examiner is not a name he can use.
NM: This whole situation must be very disheartening for you. Have you reached out to others of the Michel Ségard version of the New Art Examiner team like Tom Mullaney or Annie Markovich? I thought they were your friends and colleagues.
DG: Annie Markovich stayed loyal. Michel Ségard and Tom Mullaney dumped her when she disagreed with the course they were taking—removing me from the bank account and from the shared New Art Examiner Facebook. Michel Ségard and Tom Mullaney were my colleagues. We shared all until they threw me out. The situation was dreadful … however, I survived. The New Art Examiner is flourishing. We now have a new Detroit editor. Michel Ségard’s version in Chicago, unfortunately, is withering on the vine.
NM: As you previously stated, since the trademark of the New Art Examiner has recently been awarded to you do you believe that Michel Ségard will now stop and desist?
DG: I understand they might appeal the decision.
NM: Well, good luck.
DG: Thank you.
Norbert Marszalek lives, works and was born in Chicago. He received a Bachelor of Arts from Northeastern Illinois University and has also studied at the American Academy of Art and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
His paintings, works on paper, and sculpture have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums throughout the United States, including the George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles; the Richard Levy Gallery in Albuquerque; the Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Fort Wayne, Indiana; and the Beverly Arts Center in Chicago. Marszalek also has work in numerous permanent collections, including the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art in Iowa.
3 thoughts on “Rebel with a Cause, an Interview with Derek Guthrie”
I met Derek when he visited Toronto in December 2018. I was impressed.
I agree with you; Derek is impressive, as he has one of the finest minds I have ever known. He never forgets a name, a place or what was said at a particular event regarding the art world and holds a wealth of information from his over 40 years as publisher and co-founder of the New Art Examiner. He also has an ability to see and interpret art work that makes it come alive. I visited the Tate St Ives with him a few years ago, and suddenly the whole museum illuminated with his comments – it was fascinating and a visit I will never forget. I am also very fortunate to have a near daily dialogue with this great man, which I have grown to cherish.
What is unfortunate is that some of the “established” art world see him as a threat, instead of respecting him for his discerning mind and for being a master of art criticism.
The New Art Examiner will take up the “untouchable” art issues of “who” is behind “what” and what it may “really be” better than any other art publication. For this reason the NAE has been kicked down the stairs, beaten up, slashed, burned and copied but it still stands tall. The fact the NAE survives is a testimonial to its integrity and vision. This is in part thanks to the guiding spirit of Derek Guthrie and his late wife Jane Adams Allen, who founded the magazine in 1973 after being censored in Chicago. The only option they had, if they chose to report the stories about art as they saw them, was to publish, and publish they did – hence the NAE. Now the historic ties to the last century are kept alive with the storied experience Derek may tell, important as they are to the current turf of understanding the unfolding art world plays. With the advent of Pendery Weekes as Publisher and Daniel Nanavati as Editor holding down the European front and with our budding American team, the NAE is swimming into the present with all due confidence. We fight to say what is in our hearts, not what is “expected or projected to be said”. This is why we publish and move forward. And this why we welcome all to participate and move forward with us.