The Art Issue

ISSUE III | October 2020

Massican Magazine

Massican Magazine’s Art issue celebrates the inspiration of five contemporary artists. The artists were selected from the 25 years of monographs published by Phaidon in their Contemporary Artists Series. Before introducing the artists and their work, we talked to their Editor, Michele Robecchi, about how he captures and memorializes the life of an artist in the pages of a book.

A Q&A with Phaidon Editor Michele Robecchi

You’re known in the publishing world as the go to guy for contemporary art – how did you earn your reputation?

That’s nice to hear – I wasn’t aware that I what I do warrants having an actual reputation! I started working at magazines like Contemporary and Flash Art. It was a fun time because magazines had prime access to an astonishing amount of information, and the responsibility of putting it out in a way that would paint a fair picture while resonating with the public’s expectations and appetite for education was enormous. I also organized exhibitions and edited some catalogues, which gave me a taste for book publishing. That’s how I ended up at Phaidon.

Did you ever make art yourself?

Not really. I was in a few student shows when in college. I occasionally dabble in performance art when invited but I am happy with what I do. Contrary to the cliché, not all writers are frustrated artists. I never subscribed to the notion that some people are creative and others just watch them create. Just as it’s important to make art and show it, it’s also important to talk about it.

When was the Contemporary Artist Series of books launched at Phaidon and by whom?

The Contemporary Artists Series was launched in 1995 by Iwona Blazwick, the Director of the Whitechapel Gallery, who at the time was an editor at Phaidon. Despite its illustrious history, Phaidon didn’t really have a contemporary art program back then. Iwona conceived a series of monographs where the work would be discussed through multiple authors. If you look at the Aperto section at the Venice Biennale in 1993 or at Parkett magazine, you can see how in the 1990s there was a preference for having plural viewpoints on a subject rather than relying on a single authoritative figure. Iwona’s vision was perfectly aligned with the zeitgeist. Most importantly, she wanted to make sure that the voice of the artist would be heard – a key point that has made the books in the Contemporary Artists Series unique.

What’s the thinking behind the current Contemporary Artist Series and how has it changed over the years?

The Contemporary Artist Series’s scope, in my view, is to reflect the current cultural climate, not to dictate it. Occasionally we dare to propose artists that have been making relevant work without having the recognition they deserve but in general the thinking behind the list keeps changing from time to time. Initially, it was pivotal to have artists that would validate the series. After twenty-five years or so, it is often perceived as the other way around. For my money, I would like the Contemporary Artist Series to maintain an edge. These books are designed to introduce, celebrate and surprise.

How do you go about putting one of these books together?

The simple version is – we contact artists first; once we secure their interest, we select the authors for the three main texts together. We then start laying out the book, and once we reach a place where everybody is satisfied, we go to print. The shelf life of our monographs is quite long. Artists are aware of the importance of creating a document that will stand the test of time, which often results in delays, but given the choice of having a non-perfect product out on time versus a perfect product late I always go for the latter, even if that invariably generates issues. As a fellow writer, I have the utmost respect for the people who contribute to our books and I give them the same degree of attention I have for the artists. Last minute changes are par for the course. Flexibility is key in this job.

Can you tell us a bit about the next instalments in the series: Cecily Brown, Adam Pendleton and Jim Hodges?

Cecily Brown and Adam Pendleton have been massively invested in the making of their books. They were very generous with their time, open to suggestions and fun to work with. They seem to be very pleased with the way their book came out which is the best possible reward for an editor. In Brown’s case I am especially happy with the way we were able to reproduce her work. Her paintings can be tricky to get right but I think our production department delivered in a big way. Most of Pendleton’s publications so far were project-oriented. This is the first comprehensive book about his work and I think he and his team could see how important it was to get it right. Jim Hodges is still in the making. It’s too soon to do a post-mortem.

Is there one thing that people should look for in contemporary art if they are having trouble finding their way into a piece?

No easy way I’m afraid. The response to an art piece or exhibition is so personal. There is a point where everything falls together. It might be something that hits you on the spot or something that stays with you for a long time until you finally work it out. It just has to be something that draws you to it. All you have to do is catch a great piece. After that, you’re hooked for life.

In This Issue