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