Trib Lays off Alan Artner

April 24, 2009 · Print This Article

Can we talk about this?

I just read (via Meg’s Twitter– I’ve been away from my computer for almost a full day, so this is fresh news to me) that the Chicago Tribune laid off its sole art critic, Alan Artner (sources: Time Out Chicago; Chicago Reader blog). Wow. I don’t know Mr. Artner personally but I am really sorry to hear about this. He seems to have been widely respected — a few detractors, of course, but my sense is that he did his job very well and has made a major contribution to art coverage in this city during his decades at the Tribune.

When I moved to Chicago last year I was really surprised at the lack of, let’s call it “mainstream press” art criticism in Chicago, including at the Tribune. I don’t think a major city daily should have only one art critic on staff like the Trib did (look at the L.A.Times–at least for now, they have chief art critic Christopher Knight plus David Pagel and several other longstanding freelance art critics who’ve made names for themselves over the years), but at least they had someone.  I was shocked that the Chicago Reader, this supposedly nationally recognized alternative weekly, doesn’t do regular art reviews and only occasionally covers the business end of what’s happening in art here. And relieved to discover New City‘s extensive coverage of Chicago art – that thin little weekly entertainment rag does a hell of a lot for the art scene in this city, no? But I’m blown away to learn that the city’s most prominent newspaper critic has been cut. We all know the Trib is bankrupt (and whither the Trib goes, so too the LA Times?). But this decision has symbolic ramifications too.

Since I’m new to Chicago, with not a lot of personal history with the art scene behind me to fully contextualize this news (or to allow me to feel cynical about it, frankly), I’d like to hear your thoughts and comments on this development.  How will the absence of regular, critical art coverage in the city’s major daily paper impact Chicago’s visual arts community (if at all)? Are there outlets in this city big enough to absorb someone with Artner’s experience and talents, or will he be forced to go elsewhere?

This is indeed sad news for the visual arts in Chicago; especially as we are gearing up for the Version and Art Chicago/Artropolis events taking place here over the next few weeks, when more eyes than usual will be upon us. Just not any from the Tribune.