In 2014, I met David Rimanelli – in person – at Saint Ambroeus in Soho. My hands were shaking from nerves. I was a young writer who’d been granted an audience with one of the art world’s most elusive, most respected figures. Now, an ocean apart, I got the chance to chatter and contemplate with him, once more.
Rimanelli was an editor and writer for The New Yorker from 1993 to 1999 and has been a contributing editor to Artforum since 1997. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, Bookforum, Vogue (Paris), Interview, frieze, Parkett, FlashArt International and The New York Times. He has taught at New York University and Yale. Rimanelli wrote some of the first observational articles on artists such as Cindy Sherman, Mike Kelley, Nate Lowman and Dash Snow. He was the 2012 recipient of the Arts Writers Grant (Short-Form Writing) from Creative Capital/The Andy Warhol Foundation.
From our Inaugural Fall 2019 Issue, now online for the first time, FRONTRUNNER is pleased to present a Q&A with David Rimanelli.
I think the first salvo in meeting you was a message on Facebook, under the photograph of me taken by Oliver Wasow –
Oh, yes! That’s a great picture.
I said, “Now will you meet me?” And you said, “Yes.” That’s how it started!
I don’t remember that, but sure! I don’t mean to be difficult but I am sometimes, not to be a pill but…I don’t know.
It was worth it. They kicked us out at Saint Ambroeus (Soho) after about two or three hours. But what I’m excited about now is talking about you being an educator and lecturer in terms of artistic and creative output. Would you please introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m a writer, I write about art, mostly. I used to teach a lot, but I don’t anymore. I used to teach at NYU, before that I taught in Los Angeles, I taught at Yale as an adjunct – so I could feel classy, briefly (laughs). I started writing for Artforum in my twenties, I think? A couple of years after I moved to New York. They liked me, and I wrote a lot. I organized some shows – I never call myself a curator because for someone who just does a couple of gallery shows here and there, that’s putting on airs a bit!
You’re neither John Elderfield nor Hans Ulrich Obrist, so – why not be a bit more humble?
You’ve also written for The New Yorker and for Vogue (Paris), as well.
I used to be with The New Yorker in the 90s – it’s sort of weird, I never had my byline in The New Yorker, so I always feel a little bit cagey about that, too! I wrote almost all of the art listings, when they were quite capacious and lengthy, sort of like reviews in the goings-on about town section. Whereas now, it’s very, very, very pared-down. But [back then] you had a lot of leeway. When I started doing it, I had a lot of enthusiasm. It was when you could still really cover New York, in a way. Whereas now, that’s completely impossible unless you’re extremely masochistic, I would say.
But is it just because of the sheer volume of things around?
Yes, it’s so utterly different. The volume, the number of galleries, also the dispersion of galleries – it’s not just SoHo succeeded by Chelsea and then Uptown and a few museums. It’s everywhere. I was just in some gallery in Long Island City, which was supposed to be very good, there was some show by Richard Prince, but it’s like, “God, I have to go all the way over there?” Frankly, I kind of wonder if you’re even supposed to “attend” the gallery, you know? This kind of hypertrophian dispersion of spaces does, perhaps coincidentally, go along with the hypertrophian dispersion of the Internet. “I did see the show, but I just looked it up online.” Anyone who’s running a gallery, there must be at least one person who can photograph attractively and relay through a square.
You have thousands of followers on your Instagram account: a melee of challenging and evocative imagery. Is Instagram an educational platform for visual art? Will it never be? Could you quantify it?
I’d have to give a kind of namby-pamby, nebulous sort of press-releasy kind of answer. I started doing it, and I didn’t even know what it was, actually. These cool, young friends of mine – early on in Instagram, eight or nine years ago – suddenly I started seeing this on Facebook (which seems so elderly). “Posted on Instagram.” I was like, “What is that? What is she doing?” But I was like, “why not?” It was something to distract me, and all of those posts are still there. If I was in the mood, I would take a picture in the dark and caption it, or take a picture of some junk on the street, or art and no caption as to what it was. It was very different from its quasi-professionalized appearance that it has now. I still don’t think it really does, because it really is very much about me, in a way. The kind of personal elements that would have suffused my “early Instagrams” (it sounds so ridiculous and pretentious). It’s still a hobby in the best sense of the word. I enjoy it, and it allows me to think about things that I’m doing.
It’s sort of a way of picking the threads of yourself and unravelling them.
Exactly. Very, very seldom there’s a picture of me with a friend, or something. Almost never. I still feel that it’s very, very personal and it’s about me even if it doesn’t talk about me. It’s a curated, online persona through other people’s work. There are certain things I look at on Instagram that educate me in things I’m interested in. Or, if I think they have good content. In the sense of an educational platform – in a sense of a university [laughs]…but sure. Why not? One of the reasons I was attracted to it was because I got tired of talking to people. [Laughs] When Instagram instituted this thing of “liking” and “comments”, it really irritated me. I have to be polite and “like” someone’s emoji? It’s annoying! I do it, though.
Talking about this “past art world”, one of my biggest role models has been Betty Tompkins. She talks about the art world like it feels as if it can never be reclaimed. Do you know what I mean when I say that?
Yes, of course. But for me, that experience – that was my parents’ era of culture and “newness.” How does one establish a clique or a subculture that is for yourself and your friends to nourish and develop? And then become a product for a larger world, a larger community of people who are interested either as writers, artists, collectors. Now we live in the era of social media: you don’t actually have to attend the show, you can see it virtually. Instagram, and all that, has made it kind of an effect, almost. Almost like a period style. I feel very detached from it. I just don’t have the kind of energy at this point in my life to do those sorts of things. I think the last place I used to go to that I really liked was Reena Spaulings. A gallery that you didn’t know when it was open, it was very hard to find. Now, we know exactly where it is and exactly what the hours are. It used to be frustrating, but it also had a kind of cachet.
I was never very good at the gallery circuit. I never felt that I accomplished much in terms of what I wanted to do in terms of being a journalist or a writer. I always felt better going in the dead of the day, when no one was there.
I share that feeling. I agree with you for actually seeing things and getting your thoughts together. But again, the culture has changed so much. It used to be very important to go to openings. Which now, they just have openings because, “something opened.” (Laughs) That was the 80s, that was the 90s. I feel like I’m pricing myself or un-pricing myself out of the market, making myself seem so old.