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Doug Harvey's run--and an era in arts criticism--ends at the L.A. Weekly

December 22, 2010 | 10:25 pm

528398743_92aceb3604_o Another chapter at the L.A. Weekly is over.

A features editor at the paper who had overseen its visual arts coverage for 15 years, Tom Christie survived the paper’s change of ownership in 2006, when the New Times "merged" with Village Voice Media and shed many positions.

But this November Christie left his post -- "a mutually agreeable parting of the ways," he says. Bylines by regular Weekly critics Doug Harvey (right) and Christopher Miles, both known for a lively sort of intellectual brinksmanship in their writing (and for curating and making art on the side), have not appeared since. Now it’s unclear who will cover gallery and museum shows for the paper.

Miles, who has written for the Weekly for five years (and has also contributed to the Los Angeles Times), says he had been on hiatus for a few months to pursue other projects but "had plans with Tom to start publishing regularly again in December. After his departure, I attempted to contact the publishers of the Weekly and haven't heard back. I don't take it to be a good sign."

Harvey, who freelanced for the Weekly for 13 years and served as its lead art critic for much of that time, says his situation is clear:  He will not be writing for the paper. "They don't want me," he says, explaining that his last article -- a review of the William Eggleston exhibition at LACMA that had been greenlighted by Christie -- was not accepted for publication by Weekly Editor Drex Heikes.

"Drex wanted me to completely rewrite it in a simplified fashion," says Harvey. "He was pretty dismissive of it -- said it was 'academic' and 'rough sledding.'" After responding that he hadn't budgeted the time for a rehaul and suggesting that the piece be run more or less as is, Harvey received an e-mail from Heikes saying: "This seems like a good time, with Tom's departure, to end the relationship with the Weekly."

Heikes confirmed the basic facts: "It is true that I did not run that review. I asked him to make changes. He did not want to make the changes I wanted him to make," he says. Asked about the sorts of changes requested, Heikes said: "He did many years of great work for the paper, let's leave it at that."

As for Harvey's replacement, Heikes says that the Weekly's visual arts coverage is "on hiatus right now" while he is hiring a new deputy editor. "We’ve posted a job for a deputy editor that we hope to fill in January who will have responsibility for arts, culture, entertainment. And we’re stepping up our arts blogging."

"Tom was a terrific editor and a great wordsmith with a deep knowledge of the art scene in town," adds Heikes. "But he’s no longer here, so we’re looking to go in a little different direction. We want to bring in new writers. We want critics who are accessible, not academic at all. That's a key thing for me."

Harvey questions the label. "I take exception to being called academic. My writing can be convoluted. It is wordy and sort of literary sometimes. But there's a lot of humor in it."

Christie calls Harvey “one of the most important voices on art in the city” with a “range of interests — music, comics and more — that made him a great fit for the Weekly."

"Both Doug and Chris Miles are brilliant," he adds. “There are other writers who write well but have far less to say."

-- Jori Finkel



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Comments () | Archives (38)

What a dismal move on the Weekly's part. Doug Harvey is indeed “one of the most important voices on art in the city," not least because of his willingness to write about vital work that is largely off the beat of the Times' reviewers or the art magazines---comics, "outsider art," shows at obscure venues or in neighboring counties--and to persuasively enlarge the "insider" art discussion. He writes from the perspective of one familiar with the university-trained art world, but is not "academic" in the usual sense. It's a shame that there are so few venues for a serious and lively art critic to get paid to write on a regular basis, and entirely depressing to see that that the Weekly, with a rather distinguished history of art writing extending back to the years Ralph Rugoff was their principal critic, is bent on tossing away their position as a meaningful player in the region's artistic culture.

To keep your job as a critic in the arts field these days - whether movies, books, art, music, etc. - you'd better make yourself indispensable to your employer. Like winning a Pulitzer. Since that probably won't happen, my suggestion is to raise your public profile by doing guest stints on television, like doing critiques on the local news or, as people like Jerry Saltz have done, appear on a national show. Good writing alone isn't worth a damn in this age of free bloggers and sites that just aggregate overall scores. Personally, for me I don't care one bit about an art critics' views; it's one of the most subjective things out there in a field that's already overly academic and pretentious to begin with. Just show me a calendar listing of what's out there with some representational imagery of what I can expect, and I can make up my own mind -- it's the way movies do it with TV spots and trailers; critics have become almost completely irrelevant to box office performance.

More and more newspaper editors have the impression that their readers don't want real writing about art. Earlier this year an editor returned a review I had written with comments similar to those made by Drex Heikes. I took my name off the piece, threw my hands in the air, and became a blogger.

This is sad for LA art criticism:
"We want critics who are accessible, not academic at all"
Really. That is a very narrow view to believe that accessible and academic are mutually exclusive. One would think that a editor would know better.

Dear LA Weekly;
What dopes you are for firing Doug Harvey! You have this art critic who is read all over the country, is smart, snappy, original, has an independent open eye, a quick wit, is not boring and never academic and you let him go. The you say he’s “academic!” Hah! Then LA Weekly Editor Drex Heikes decides to get glib and says, “Harvey did many years of great work for the paper, let’s just leave it at that.” As John Lennon said, “Time wounds all heels.” (What? Did six people who have secret axes to grind against Harvey tell Heikes & Co. say “Oh, Harvey’s academic and not that good anymore, you know.” Too bad. You had a very good art critic who wasn’t LA-centric and anti-New York, was read nationally, and you canned him. And the LA Weekly wonders why publications like it are struggling. Fine by me. “Instant Karma’s gonna get you….”
Jerry Saltz
Senior Art Critic; New York Magazine

For me, a young artist, writer, and curator, Doug was the highlight of The Weekly. My fear is that the end of his "academic" contributions will bring a tide of mediocrity, dumbed down criticality, and a dilution of the dominant arts discourse in the city. I will sincerely miss your writings Doug.


Can't wait to read what these new, dum dum, non academic, accessable art writers have to say. What a great way to make L.A. mirror its stereotype of being vapid and unsophisicated.

I dont know this guy as LA Weekly is for college level kids, not grown adults who deal with reponsibilities and reality every day. But Academic does suck, always has always will, its the value system of mediocre hacks trying to makie a living and outside eveyone who doesnt have a MFA, which has toilet tissue worth.

And Saltz's definition IS todays academic, clever and word based, not passionate, soulful and seeking the essence of humanity, defining who WE are, exploring nature, and reaching for what we call God. It is fashion for the self styled elite, absurdist humor for the effette and intellectualy bankrupt. It is illustration of childish ideas raised to Imperial Clothing, amusing their masters their patrons, and defanging for control over the art world.

This artscene is hollow, with no skills developing a visual language that communicates purely through the senses, with the intellect being but a tiny section of the frontal lobe, artists untilize the entire brain and range of emotions. Art but a triggering device to feeling life intensely and purely.

One less buffoon, so what? There are still pleny of jesters to amuse their masters. And be ignored by 99%+ of humanity. It is not creaive art, Contempt art is entertainment, the fashion of the decadent. And died its useless life in our depression, which is far from over. true Modern art will return, it was made into simplistic formulas in its post WWII triump over academicism, til this new one rebuilt its temple of narcissim.

Save the Watts Twoers( Nuestro Pueblo) destroy the Bastilles of Ivory Academicism.

Academic = smart.

Academic = thoughtful.

Maybe if Doug had rewritten the review to fit in the format of twitter....

For some reason we're still taking the LA Weekly seriously. I know old habits are hard to break, but...

Smart + thoughtful= meaningless mediocritizing pseudo intelligentsia

The mind is s terrible things to waste. And to be souless is to not exist at all.

art collegia delenda est

I read a recent issue of the LA Weekly while trapped on a 7-hour plane ride the other day. It was painful to slog through. The writing was dull, uninspired, and not particularly well informed. And this was the "holiday movie guide" issue. You'd think of all things, something that calls itself the "LA Weekly" would be able to provide decent coverage of the cinematic arts. Oh well.

I'm afraid that "listings and pictures," as demanded by sophisticated consumer CapedCrusader below, is the only thing the Weekly is good at now. Since this is the case, may I suggest that the publication save itself a ton of money by immediately laying off all remaining staff and employing nothing but a Google search engine to produce future issues.

Good. Maybe these guys can be picked up by a better venue. I personally only use the LA Weekly to line my bird's cage.

Jerry Saltz aside, art criticism does not resonate, like much of contemporary art, with the general public. The college academics (and some critics) ARE obtuse and, frankly, useful tools to the financial arts ecology of museums and galleries. I've heard many an artist say "I don't know where they (critics) got that idea - but if it helps me sell work - great." That's not a bad thing - but it's a narrow market at best. I think food and movie critics have more relevancy to the public's everyday life.

When Heikes says "academic", the word he is looking for is "intellectual."

I do not expect the Times to try and connect the dots--Harvey's firing and the rationalization by C. Knight of MOCA's censorship. Or art reviewer's in the Times who omit their social and financial connections with works reviewed. This is the age of cynicism, delivered to all of us via the Schools. To borrow from Kant: the interests of institutions are not the interests of ordinary people. One phrase for the new mixture of institutions, schools, academics, reviewers, threaded together by weak discourse and ceaseless promotion is "authoritarian capitalism," in which the power of reaction and consumption is turned into something falsely active.

Can I make a couple of changes? Instead of "brain dump" can I say "brain drain", and in the last line when I say what this town needs, can I say "journalism-wise". What this town needs journalism-wise...

OMG..When I heard about Tom.C. it just felt wrong...now Doug ?
so wrong. But life goes on and stuff happens however, it is always not necessarily what happens...BUT HOW IT HAPPENS, HOW YOU DO IT.
so L.A. Weekly.....have some class, have some respect and honor for those who carried this energy for you for so long ....because we the viewer, their fans etc...have and do !

isis aquarian
source family

"We want critics who are accessible, not academic at all."

Fabulous sentence explaining arts coverage jumping the shark.

Of course Shakespear's, "What fresh new hell is this?", is the academic version of jumping the shark.

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

I remember waaaay back when the Weekly was useful and fun to read. Those days are long gone. Now I pick up "The Hooker Pages" for the sole intention of shredding it to add to my worm compost bin. I'm sorry Harvey was let go so summarily, but I also trust he'll find a better home for his considerable talent.

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