Contemporary Art Review: Analysis of The Brooklyn Rail

Contemporary Art Review: Analysis of The Brooklyn Rail

The Brooklyn Rail is a public platform for the arts. The publication is based in Brooklyn, New York City and features content regarding culture, humanities and politics. It contains a number of different kinds of writing, including in depth and critical essays, fiction pieces, interviews (with artists, curtators, and critics) as well as art reviews (of all different media such as music, dance, film, books and even pieces for theatre). While the publication has a free online website (which can be found at it is also published and printed ten times a year, where it is then distributed to universities, galleries, museums, bookstores, and other organizations for free, as it is a nonprofit organization. 

This review will focus on the website only, as I do not have access to a physical copy of the review. Additionally, the website is free and probably accessed most (as compared to the accessibility of the paper copy). The first thing I notice when clicking on the Brooklyn Rail website is how crowded the homepage is. While it has a simple layout, a white background with black text and red for the navigational tabs as well as the title, it is messy and there are blocks of text and images everywhere. It is hard to navigate through the website or focus on what aspect when the homepage is so crowded. I think when it comes to this kind of thing, the more simplicity the better. There is a link to what I am assuming is another magazine called in translation. While the setup of this site is very word heavy, it is much easier to follow and even navigate with a homepage that features categories in the top and clear black lines to designate different areas. It also has an archive of past posts and a list of peers. 

Aside from the aesthetic choices, the magazine itself serves as an amazing network for artists and creative professionals. It even functions as a work of art in and of itself, with all the different artists it has and continues to display. Despite the fact that it was founded by very few people with one man in his basement apartment, Phong Bui, and only employs a few staff members who rotate for position as editor, the magazine manages to reach an astonishing number of readers – almost 20,000 a month and another 20,000 online. One of the reasons that this magazine is so important and culturally relevant is because it features artists and their work, written about by other artists. While this may not seem important it has become all the more necessary with the decline of journalism and the difficulty of navigating the contemporary art world, especially in large densely packed cities such as New York. It allows for all kinds of work to be seen, regardless of medium or size. It also allows for greater accessibility as these artists and their works can be viewed from all over the world. It can even help them grow their followings through new social media followers and maybe even through the sale of work. 

The magazine focuses on reaching a wide variety of audiences, ranging from artists and critics to those who love art and want to support artists.It acts as a voice for those who may not be able to speak and even as a voice for the city itself. As Alex Katz, a notable contemporary artist puts it, “The Brooklyn Rail has the young energy that goes with the young people who come to New York to grow in the arts. It would be a bad city without it. If it wasn’t for the Brooklyn Rail, the city would be a desert.” It is entirely focused around artists and creating an environment in which they can thrive. It is a community and provides an intellectual discourse. As explained on their website, “The Brooklyn Rail is committed to supporting artists in their journey and elevating the important role that the arts and humanities play in shaping our society.” Because of this mission and its status as a nonprofit, the magazine has the freedom to publish anything it wants. Instead of hiding from this power so as not to lose followers or donations, the magazine staff fully embraces it, publishing things that may be considered controversial, which in today’s world of media (and artistic) censorship is extremely valuable. The magazine takes a very interesting editorial approach as it does not filter the content. Of course writing is checked for grammar, punctuation, and spelling but overall it is relatively free flowing. Bui has even told the New York Times that “We respect individual voices, ee only edit grammar and occasionally fact-check, not the words. With every single piece, you can kind of figure out what age this person is.”

I know that this is about artists, galleries and professionals but the magazine might benefit from another section dedicated to museums – not just museum events but the museums themselves and the different things the surround the world of arts administration and museology. For example, I think of the controversies that  surround the erection and destruction of memorials, such as the Roosevelt monument outside of the American Museum of Natural History. I, myself, (and I believe others would as well) would love to hear an artist’s opinion on such matters – not just the voices of protestors and politicians. The magazine seems to feature the unexpected. It is a shining beacon for artists, as it is a place for experimentation and open mindedness. One contemporary review of the magazine even states that “…readers will be rewarded if they are willing to immerse themselves in the strange.” 

Knowing this about the journal and understanding its intended audience, I thought it would be interesting to read an actual post from the magazine. The one I chose was an analysis of Alison Elizabeth Taylor’s gallery show entitled Future Promise, which was just taken down from the James Cohan gallery, yesterday (Oct. 23rd). I chose to read this article because I absolutely loved seeing Taylor’s work. It has dynamism and movement with its layering that resembles the grain of wood, as well as texture and fantastic coloring though the use of bright blues, oranges and purples. The review was written by another artist and curator, Sarah Harris. In this review she discusses Taylor’s technique of cutting and layering would with veneer as well as exploring the meaning of the show, which in her own words “has taken a turn toward the personal in paintings that reflect the impact of quarantine on her as an artist, mother, and person.” She analyzes each painting and explains what it means to her and why it is relevant. Ultimately she concludes that “Building on her painting repertoire and the relationship between the content of her paintings and their realization, Taylor’s Future Promise rewards visually as it delves more deeply into questions of perception and meaning in painting and our world.” The review does not take a stance, it forms no opinions – it is not positive nor is it negative. It stands to inform people about what a contemporary artist sees in the work of another. 

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