Founded by artists and collectors in San Francisco in 1994, Juxtapoz is an American magazine that celebrates alternative contemporary art. Recently dubbed the “Bible of Underground Art,” the publication was founded on a bedrock belief in the open-minded, democratic pop culture of Southern California—the founders sought to oppose what they saw as the stodgy elitism of the old art world.
Over two decades, Juxtapoz has grown into one of the country’s most significant arts publications, serving as an invaluable platform to promote the artists, venues and movements that might otherwise go unnoticed or overlooked by the world at large. Central to the magazine’s vision is the idea that art is equally inspiring in all of its innumerable forms.
Below, we speak with Evan Pricco, who has been at the magazine’s editorial helm for a decade and is currently on the jury for the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2016. We ask him about his views on contemporary photography and the medium’s increasingly central role in the world of contemporary art.
LC: Tell us a bit more about your role as Editor-in-Chief. What have been some of the most personally rewarding aspects of this position?
EP: First of all, I “curate” what goes into the pages of the print magazine, as well as what happens on our website and social media. In more recent years, I have been working on more off-site projects for the magazine: installations, ongoing curatorial projects, brand projects, etc. Between the two, I’m kept quite busy about 364 days a year! But it’s an exciting time in art, and since we are a magazine that has been around for 22 years, we get to serve as an authority. At the same time, I hope we will continue to evolve and challenge ourselves to cover new things and be open to something different.
There are a lot of rewarding parts of my job, but to name just a few: A ”Newsstand Installation” project in Times Square; being the only American journalist to interview Banksy for Dismaland; curating an art show with Takashi Murakami—and that’s only within the past year!
Fundamentally, I like the idea of blending and mixing high and low cultures so that it all becomes one culture that everyone can be a part of.
LC: Juxtapoz was “created as the antithesis of the stuffy, old-fashioned scene [in an] attempt to make art accessible for everybody.” You still cultivate an outsider ethos for the magazine. Isn’t it a bit hard to be an outsider for 22 years straight? When people call you the “Bible of Underground Art,” how do you maintain your edge?
EP: Great question! Most art magazines—especially the stuffy, old-fashioned scene and infrastructure of art—just aren’t set-up or nurtured in a way that allows for a mainstream audience to appreciate what’s happening. The idea of humanizing art—of using accessible language and approachable themes and platforms—is what we are about.
We maintain our edge by making any art feel approachable. That ethos is true whether we are covering the most blue-chip of shows or the most underground, zine-culture artists making work in a basement in Budapest. We are always putting this range of work right next to each other in the magazine and acting like both are the most important things happening in art at the moment.
(The Times Square Newsstand was held October 9 through 18, 2015)LC: Juxtapoz has long had a soft spot for photography but has also featured design, street art, murals, graffiti etc. Is there an important distinction to make between photography and art? Some photographers are very territorial, while others work to absorb wider and wider methods into their practice without getting caught up in labels. How do you feel about these questions?
EP: Photography has become a huge emphasis for us over the past decade. It started when we wanted to have world-class photographers shoot artist portraits for the magazine, but quickly we began to turn the cameras on the photographers: we wanted to learn more about their stories. Today, we have a full department of our website dedicated to photography, and a full feature every month on a photographer.
Not surprisingly, we don’t find distinctions to be helpful at all; in fact, we want those boundaries to be washed away. We consider photography to be an extremely important part of the art world, and as such we treat it as equal to everything else we cover.
LC: A few years ago, you said, “Obviously, the internet changed everything we do, everything the art world is about, everything in general.” You went on to talk about the importance of the internet for street art and graffiti. But perhaps it has been most important for photography—the key medium of the internet in many ways (Facebook, Instagram, memes etc.) From your perspective at Juxtapoz, any thoughts on the changes undergone by photography in the past ~10 years?
EP: One of the key changes to photography brought about by the internet—and though I hate to be too blunt—is this: it has separated the good photographers from the bad photographers.
Really, the internet has put an ever greater emphasis on the artists who are coming up with fantastic ideas and pushing the medium forward. I’m thinking of Jim Mangan, Ryan McGinley, Stacy Kranitz, Olivia Bee, Michael Marcelle…Now, even if the internet didn’t exist, they still would be making some of the most exciting work—but it’s the speed and connectivity of the internet that has helped bring their work to the fore. It has allowed a global audience to appreciate the height of their talent more readily.
More generally, I think the internet has made people feel more connected with photography—it has made billions of people feel like photography is the most important thing in their lives.
This question of connection and accessibility is true across all art forms, but especially within photography, street art, graffiti and public art. All of this work has been made so accessible that people feel like they are part of the movement. For example, the countless documentations we see of street art being made by consumers—and the popularity of those videos on social media—has helped make street art that much more popular and inclusive. People see those videos and feel like they can do it themselves. This connectivity is teaching them to recognize when they see something they like.
LC: Besides editing the magazine, you also frequently curate shows for gallery spaces. Is there any difference in your thought process when “curating” vs. “editing?” How about when thinking about the pages of a magazine vs. the walls of a gallery? All intuition? Or are there distinct principles at work?
EP: For me, if I really think about how I operate, I approach them the same way. But still, there are differences. For example, it’s a little easier to push together disparate styles and genres and eras in the pages of a print magazine because if someone doesn’t like something, they can flip the page. Meanwhile, in curating for a gallery or museum, I feel the need to narrow my focus a little. For example, with this Murakami show, it’s all over the place—but we still spent a lot of time thinking about how to give the show the right range and overall focus.
Juxtapoz x Superflat @ Pivot Art, Seattle
That’s not to say that magazine editing requires less careful consideration. For the pages of each issue, I really, really think hard about how one feature will flow into the next, how a photography feature responds to the design feature and then how that moves into a profile about a musician’s life and art. I hope that even when a reader goes reads through 4-5 completely different genres and styles, they will get why they all exist together in one, creative world.
Finally: intuition really helps. It helps that I’ve been doing this for 10 years and over 120 issues. I’ve come to understand balance and flow and taking risks and also making sure I “keep” my audience but also push them to new places. I think the Juxtapoz audience has grown because we have grown the range of our coverage. As I said, photography is one of the places where our readers have responded strongly to our work. This diversity lets us cover the entire art world now.
It’s pretty special that we can write about sculpture, graphic design, photography, and place those media next to paintings, comics, and graffiti—and it all makes sense.
LC: You’re nearing issue #200 of Juxtapoz. After 22 years, how are you feeling about the question of print vs. web? Still holding out on the printed page?
EP: I love the web. Love it. Love that we have access, at our fingerprints, at all times. I love that the Juxtapoz staff can get an idea or come across something they want to share on Juxtapoz.com and it can take about 15 minutes to share it with the world.
But I also grew up loving Grand Royal and Sports Illustrated, then Swindle and the early years of Juxtapoz. So I think print is essential to what we are and what we do. I think we need both: print offers a more archival, intimate experience, one that always helped me learn and cherish things. And the web is an amazing way to get lost for inspiration. We need both.
LC: You’ve worked with a wide array of artists over the years, including some who became global superstars. Having had the opportunity to work with some of these “greats,” what are some common traits that you see in them and their work that you think younger photographers would do well to note/emulate?
EP: Whether it’s a photographer or a painter or any other creative person, all the great ones just have a relentless pursuit of craft—these artists work at it. Ideas, style, staying out and doing the work is what it’s all about. It’s probably the same as in, say, basketball: Michael Jordan worked really fucking hard when the cameras were off in order to be the best. Art is no different. You have to do it 364 days a year. And take one day off. You need one day off a year.
—Evan Pricco, interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Editors’ Note: Evan Pricco will be judging entries to the LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2016—enter now for your chance to get your work in front of Pricco and the rest of the world-class jury. There are also a host of other great awards. You can find out more about the competition on our dedicated page.