Founded in November 2008 by Forrest Nash, a Chicago-based artist and critic, Contemporary Art Daily is a website that features daily selections of exhibitions from around the world. CAD’s emphasis is on the visual, with abundant installation views and images of individual works, accompanied by show dates and-usually-a press release but no critical commentary. With millions of hits since its launch, the site has become a prime resource for the busy art world, and Nash plans to expand it. Rob Pruitt, a regular visitor to the site, recently caught up with Nash by phone.
ROB PRUITT Were you the sole creator of Contemporary Art Daily, or did you have cohorts?
FORREST NASH I pretty much founded it on my own, though I had help along the way.
PRUITT Great. Awesome. I say that not because of your response, but because I’m not used to interviewing people and I’ve gotten off one question. I was congratulating myself.
NASH Excellent, you’re doing a really good job so far.
PRUITT Thank you, Forrest. So—have the past five years been arduous and grueling, or does it seem like you began only yesterday?
NASH It doesn’t feel like too much of a grind. It was kind of exhausting at first because I was solely responsible for it every day. In these five years, the site has never missed a day of publishing exhibitions. Now I have people helping me.
PRUITT So it’s a more manageable taxing of your schedule?
NASH When I started, I was still a full-time BFA student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Contemporary Art Daily was a very demanding part-time project. But I was also a lot less rigorous then. I would just use images that were available on someone’s website, as long as the resolution was high enough. Later we began to work with galleries and museums to get tons of documentation for every single show. In the beginning, I did only one show a day, whereas now we do, like, 11 per week. So even though the basic structure is the same, the process is more elaborate and labor-intensive. We do a lot more research and look at many, many, many more exhibitions.
PRUITT How do you make your selections? Do you do a lot of editorializing and curating?
NASH There’s a balance. On the one hand we have a journalistic motive, in that we want to represent an approximation of all the shows we’re considering. Let’s say there are 2,000 shows a month. I try to build a model in my head of what’s happening and distill it to the 40 or 50 shows that we actually publish. Obviously that’s an imperfect process, but we do want to make it so that, if you only have time to look at the site for 10 or 20 minutes, you can at least know enough to keep up with the scene and not feel lost when you walk into a contemporary art gallery or museum. On the other hand, we also have a curatorial motive. That comes out when we publish artists more frequently than, say, once every 18 months. There are also certain artists that we follow quite closely, and sometimes we’ll publish multiple exhibitions by an artist.
PRUITT Do you feel comfortable about naming some of those names, or would you rather the readers of Art in America just check out the site and figure it out?
NASH Sure! One time we published four Heimo Zobernig exhibitions in one day, from around the world. I remember getting a lot of feedback about that gesture.
PRUITT When you say “feedback,” what do you mean? There are no message boards on your site. Are these just e-mails to you—gripes or congrats that the rest of us never get to see?
NASH Yes. But people can also leave comments on the site; they just very rarely do, for whatever reason. There’s something about the culture of the site. When people do leave comments, they are not particularly useful, and there is really only a trickle. We mostly get e-mails, where people just tell me things they feel like telling me.
PRUITT Were you going to name a couple of other names?
NASH Two years ago we became a not-for-profit, and since then we have been working on a new website called Contemporary Art Quarterly. Each quarter, we will choose four artists and make an archive and history of their practice, from the beginning of their CVs to the present, with as much primary source material as we can find. The reason I bring that up is because Contemporary Art Quarterly will be a way to see our curatorial side more clearly. We will choose artists we think are really important and valuable, rather than people who we just think are visible or that you need to know about. Still, at Contemporary Art Daily we publish some people frequently. On the younger side, for example, several months ago we published three shows by Zak Kitnick all on the same day. There are also certain galleries and museums that come up often. So I think you can definitely find . . .
PRUITT A voice.
NASH A voice, but it’s balanced. We quite regularly publish things that I’m not personally invested in and don’t necessarily relate to in a curatorial sense, but that provide an important part of the overall context.
PRUITT I’m so excited to hear that there’s going to be a quarterly sister site. If I had been asked to guess what you were going to do next, I would’ve thought that you would be speeding time up and Tweeting rather than slowing time down.
NASH We do have social media accounts. You can “like” Contemporary Art Daily exhibitions on Facebook. And if you follow us on Twitter, you can get a link to the exhibitions that way. We also have a Tumblr. I haven’t looked in quite a long time, but I think we have fewer than 4,000 followers on Twitter, probably because it’s a medium that’s not particularly visual. But on Tumblr, which is inherently an image-driven medium, we have something like 1.75 million followers.
PRUITT How much traffic do you get?
NASH In the past year we’ve gotten about 15 million page views by around 860,000 “absolute unique visitors,” as they’re called-I believe that means individual computers. Obviously, a lot of those people come every day, so it’s not that people come to the site 860,000 times, but millions of times. So according to the analytics, our audience is around 800,000.
PRUITT Who are these 800,000 people? Who is your audience? I’m about to turn 50, and, for all the years I’ve been an artist, it’s a question I have never been able to answer. Exactly who is the art world?
NASH For us, I think the answer is that there are many different constituencies, ranging from someone who’s Googled the name of an artist and found our site, and who may visit just once, to people who have a professional reason to know a lot about who’s exhibiting what and where. As our audience was growing, a lot of interest came from either gallery owners or their staff members looking at the website and telling other people about it. These days, we often hear from art history or art students.
PRUITT What about the marketplace-dealers, collectors and auction houses?
NASH I haven’t heard from auction houses, but, as I just said, we have a lot of dealers, especially younger dealers. And I know that many collectors use the site, because they tell us they use it as a resource to discover artists. Of course, we don’t have statistics on this, since we’ve never done a survey of our audience. We base [our idea of audience] just on who we’ve talked to and who’s gotten in touch with us. But regardless, whether it’s a dealer or a young artist in school, the thing I hear is that visiting the site becomes habitual. People look at it at the same time every day, and it’s a way for them to feel they are doing at least a little bit of work to keep up with what’s going on.
PRUITT That’s how the Internet entered my life, and it’s a pattern that I continue with. I wake up every morning andthere are five sites I have to look at before I take a shower.
PRUITT Do you actually go out in the field and look at shows, or just review press releases and look at materials sent by the galleries?
NASH Our purview is international, so it would be physically impossible to go out in the field. I grew up in Richmond, Va., where there’s very little contemporary art. I originally fell in love with art from books. So this feels to me like actually seeing exhibitions. Even if they’re mediated through documentation, it doesn’t feel like an inherently different thing than seeing the exhibition in person.
PRUITT How do you think the Internet is changing the public’s relationship to art and how we consume it?
NASH I guess I would start with the caveat that I don’t have any particular information that would give me extra insight. I’m just speculating. For one thing, though, people seem to be generally much better informed. There’s much less of a sense that people on the inside have a lot of information and people on the outside are clueless. Because of projects like ours, people who don’t have entrée into the professional art world can still keep track. And I get the sense now that people are pretty comfortable looking at things and understanding them that way, of getting an idea in their heads about an exhibition through installation views and shots of individual works. When I first started Contemporary Art Daily, a lot of the conversation was about how collectors were beginning to buy things from JPEGs, about how radical it was that people would purchase a painting without ever seeing it in person.
PRUITT That definitely seems like old news now. What do you think the future of art magazines is? I’ve been hearing for several years that all magazines are heading toward extinction, but since you run this site, I’d like to know your view. Do you think they’ll reinvent themselves and be around a while longer?
NASH I don’t pretend to know what they’ll have to do to be viable as businesses. I guess, for me, the most exciting possibility is for magazines to act as think tanks, as groups of public intellectuals who are allowed to ponder the things they’re interested in and translate those things into whatever format allows others to engage with their thinking. I admire certain magazines because of their stable of writers. Regardless of the format, I think there will always be a place for . . .
NASH Yeah, exactly.
PRUITT Do you ever get cornered by collectors who pressure you to tell them what the trends are, who they should invest in?
NASH I do. I always tell them that I’m not necessarily too in touch with the market or with how much things cost. I can’t predict what someone’s prices will do in the future.
PRUITT Along those lines, do artists and galleries lobby you to post work?
NASH Yes, definitely. We get hundreds of submissions each week, ranging from very carefully written letters to what seem like blasts. In some cases, we’ve had some very hard lobbying.
PRUITT By whom, Forrest?
NASH By galleries.
PRUITT Yeah, I have to get you to name a name. I have to have something juicy to print here.
NASH I don’t think I can muster the name of a particular gallery.
PRUITT That’s okay. You don’t know me, but that was really kind of a joke.
NASH Mostly it’s galleries that feel extremely motivated to push in every way that they can think of. But, I think that at this point . . .
PRUITT Let’s just say Gagosian and leave it at that.
NASH No, actually, I don’t think we’ve ever published, that I can remember, a show at Gagosian. Or maybe one. And I don’t think we’ve ever heard from them.
PRUITT That’s funny.
NASH Yeah, it’s more often the commercially minded upstart galleries that want to work every lever they can find, rather than the bigger, highly corporate galleries.
PRUITT So I might be reading into what you’re saying, but are there selection criteria involved then? Is it basically just your taste, which is probably at the younger end of the spectrum?
NASH I would say no. As I said, you can judge our taste by the galleries and artists that we publish frequently, the people we return to a lot. But we often publish things that are not my personal taste. There are three other people on the staff now. We have meetings, and if there’s not a consensus, we vote. If I feel really strongly about something, I might override the group, but that has happened maybe once or twice in the last six months.
PRUITT What show was that?
NASH That’s a good question. Maybe I’ll have to think about that and e-mail you.
PRUITT Forrest, I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but since I’m new at my job as a journalist, are there any questions that you wish I had asked you? I want to look good at this.
NASH Let’s see . . .
PRUITT Does the site make money?
NASH That’s been the biggest learning curve for me. We have a very tiny budget, because I’ve been able to raise only a tiny amount of money. I take a very paltry salary myself and put most of the money into paying my staff and growing the site. I’m hoping to get a lot better at it, so we can evolve into a position where we have more resources to do more traveling, to have more help. I’ve got projects in mind, but they all take manpower.
PRUITT Well, I’m very excited to see the Contemporary Art Quarterly project.
NASH We’re working very hard on it, and I am excited too—and nervous—to see what the reception will be. It’s always complicated to create another project, let alone one that you hope will rival the better-known project you already have. It’s very possible that we’ll put in a tremendous amount of effort and then Contemporary Art Quarterly will get only a tiny fraction of the visibility of Contemporary Art Daily. But you know, that’ll be fine.
PRUITT Are there any potential sponsors? Or would that be a conflict?
NASH At Contemporary Art Daily, we have what we call venue sponsors—galleries or museums that pay a small flat rate every year. Rotating through that list, we represent them [on our home page] with an image of an artwork, their name and where they’re located. We also have a directory of art spaces called Contemporary Art Venues, and we try to keep up with all their exhibitions. In order to be a venue sponsor you must [already] be in the directory, which comes through an application. A lot of venues don’t get approved for the directory, and thus can’t be venue sponsors. We also have broader site sponsorship, which is more for art fairs, say, or MFA programs. These get a traditional-looking banner ad. And we have limits. If Gagosian, to use your example, wanted to spend a huge amount of money to buy all the banner ads on the site, we wouldn’t accept that. The maximum amount a gallery can pay us through sponsorship is the annual rate that everyone pays, if that makes sense.
PRUITT I guess I have a final thought—easy, peasy. I know that a lot of artists love the site. This is such a Barbara Walters type question—but do you think you’re possibly having an effect on the type of art that is being made? Could you be steering the ship of the art world on a slightly different course?
NASH There’s a very smart man named Michael Sanchez who wrote about our project in this summer’s Artforum and elsewhere. He says that we exemplify a broader phenomenon related to the Internet and screen technology that’s pushing people to make either more saturated artworks or a kind of gray, muted-toned artwork. I’m suspicious of anything that specific and especially anything that formal. I do like to think that the one thing we can do is make something highly visible, so that if we publish a show, chances are that people who make decisions of whatever kind in the art world will see it—maybe someone who might not have otherwise seen it. That opens up possibilities and connections for the artists. But it’s very hard, at least from my vantage, to see any kind of specific direction that we’re pushing things in. You sort of hope that you’re having an impact, but if that’s the case, I’m probably the person who is least able to see it clearly.
PRUITT Well, Forrest, I have a show opening in London on the 14th of October.
PRUITT That’s just off the record.
ROB PRUITT is a New York artist.