The New Art Examiner @ The Evanston Art Center by Derek Guthrie

The publishing of the best of the “New Art Examiner” is an extraordinary event and bears witness to an important truth, which is that the community has the ultimate power to decide and acknowledge its own reference points of merit and appreciation. In this case the community is led by Kathryn Born and Terri Griffith, who, on hearing stories of the New Art Examiner that still linger discovered with amazement that the copy published decades ago is still vital and has relevance. Their efforts persuaded Northern Illinois University Press to publish the Book “The Essential New Art Examiner” This means that the New Art Examiner will not be airbrushed out of cultural history, which would have its destiny if left to the not so tender mercies of the Art Institutions of Chicago.

I wrote these words many months ago to appear as an introduction to the Essential New Art Examiner. The publishing of the anthology caused two institutional responses: one a two hour seminar at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, “Chicago Art Criticism – Past, Present and Future” and also a one day symposium, “Re-Examining the New Art Examiner at Northern Illinois University.

The two events could not have more in contrast. SAIC response was meager, begrudging and sparse. It seemed that the seminar was a forced response by the publishing of the book It would have been difficult to ignore it as the head of Art Journalism and Art History Jim Yood served many years as Chicago editor of the New Art Examiner. However the pulse of the symposium seemed as an attempt to bury the contribution, a goodbye kiss suggesting the magazine was being put on the train into history. There are probably art politically based issues that explain the diffidence factor. For more insight read Diane Thodos’s essay “Art Criticism in Chicago – Dazed and Confused” right here on Neoteric Art.

Not so at the Northern Illinois University – De Kalb event with Barbra Jaffee, the resident art historian. Barbara researched and produced a memorable catalogue and also exhibition of the New Art Examiner. This event demonstrated the New Art Examiners’ history and evolution through its 30 years run which was evaluated and the conclusion reached that the New Art Examiner had made an important contribution to American art criticism, more than Chicago’s requirements. The excellent scholarship was a triumphant of recognition considering the outsider status imposed on the New Art Examiner. As criticism was the focus at De Kalb the issue of cultural power politics was not probed though vaguely acknowledged. However the fact that the New Art Examiner professionalism is now authenticized may provide a solid stepping stone in a possible future.

To a point the community in Chicago is reawakened to the dynamic of yesterday. This has prompted Norah Dieterich the director of the Evanston Art Center to offer free office space to relaunch the New Art Examiner. This generous offer can be taken as indication of how the community or even the city misses the New Art Examiner.

Easier said than done. The blood, sweat and tears that were mobilized in 1974 may not be available in 2012. On the other hand the achievement of the New Art Examiner is now without question and that might shake support loose that was not available before.

I quote from Nelson Algren, Chicago’s greatest poet:

“Make the tribune best seller list and the friends of American writers and the friends of literature,the friends of Shakspeare and the friends of Frank Harris, will be tugging at your elbow, twittering down your collar, coyly sneaking an extra olive into your martini, or drolling flatly into your beer with the drooliest sort of flattery and the cheapest grade of praise;the grade strickly preserved for winners. But God help you if you are a looser and unproven to boot. The bushytails will stone your name.”


“Chicago has progressed, culturally, from being ‘The Second City’ to being ‘The Second-Hand City.’ The vital cog in our culture now is not the artist, but the middle-man whose commercial status lends Art the aura of status when he acquires a collection of originals. The word ‘culture” now means “approved”. It isn’t what is exhibited so much that matters as where; that being where one meets the people that matter.”

I go to Evanston to share experience and I hope a revival will be possible. We all know criticism has died and the New Art Examiner proved otherwise. I simply go to see if such a possibility is possible.

Derek Guthrie lived and worked in St Ives as a successful painter in the 60s before moving to Chicago and co-founding, in 1973, the New Art Examiner, an influential American art magazine which continued production until 2002. He moved back to Cornwall in 1996.


On Chicago Art Criticism: A Panel Discussion
Date: Sun, 04/15/2012 – 1:00pm – 5:00pm

New Art Examiner co-founder Derek Guthrie and an intergenerational panel of local art writers discuss the historical significance and future of art criticism in Chicago. The dialogue will touch upon the current discourses of modern and postmodern approaches to art criticism, art writing, new arts journalism, institutional authority and influence (art schools, art museums, etc.) as well as contemporary art strategies that are shaping culture now. The perceived goal of this event is to establish certain histories and commonalities that can move our city forward.

Panelists currently include: Kathryn Born, W. Keith Brown, William Conger, Andrew Falkowski, Derek Guthrie, Annie Markovich, Bert Stabler, Diane Thodos, and Lauren Weinberg

We hope you will join us for this important discussion, which will be held at the Evanston Art Center, 2603 Sheridan Road in Evanston. This event is free and open to the public. Donations are always welcome.

Evanston Art Center