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NarcissusPhotography Poppy Marriott

Tabloid Art History’s zine faces off with stiff, stale art world hierarchy

Reality stars and realist painters: the second edition of the zine continues to challenge how we view art history and pop culture

Tabloid Art History has been wildly successful at stencilling cultural criticism across art history and contemporary pop culture – Beyoncé to Botticelli, fashion mag shoots to Franz Von Stuck, Renaissance sculpture and Real Housewives. On the Twitter account, podcasts, writing, talks, and zine, TAH’s founders respond creatively to the TV, music, and celebrities we consume with classic and modern art parallels, opening up art history to a whole new world of viewers.

“We’ve often felt bored, unbothered, or in stark disagreement with the art historical narrative and cultural criticism available to us as undergraduates and students of art history,” says Mayanne Soret, the zine’s co-editor who works with co-founders Elise Bell and Chloe Esslemont. “We felt neither represented by the writing available, nor truly challenged or engaged by it.”

The second issue of the Tabloid Art History zine is just about to land, an expansive musing on the relationship between art and all things pop with a fresh, curious perspective. The last issue delved into selfies and 17th century Italian socialites, and the Kardashians’ link to the neoclassical self-portrait artist Vigée Le Brun. This second zine goes further, as a rich mix of poetry, illustration, critical writing, and photography, with a focus on digital technology and how that’s shaped art and pop culture, as well as those represented by it: one piece compares the storytelling of The Hills’ Spencer Pratt’s Instagram story and Edward Hopper. Other works explore the art world’s internal structure – using TV shows like Scandal and the musical Hamilton – with an overarching theme of how politics permeates high and low culture, from  poetry exploring gender identity in modelling to the need for more inclusive art theory.

“Art production, writing, viewing is always political,” explains Soret, “yet there is a pervasive belief in the arts and in art history that art somehow exists outside society, that politics is an ‘add-on’, that we chose to see such and such work as political… and that’s simply impossible, nothing is apolitical, and now is as important a time as ever to remember that.”

The TAH volume two zine will be available for free online, with paper copies available to buy. A major point to note about the zine is that all its contributors are paid – an ashamedly rare thing especially in small creative press. “It’s important to us to use the privilege of our voice and platform to bring new works to the light, and to bring work that we don’t usually see anywhere else.”

While the mission is to change how we examine art and pop culture, the editors of TAH have seen their own perspectives grow and evolve. Soret continues: “Pop culture is TV, digital culture and social media. Art is theatre, performance, modelling, poetry. A lot of what is discussed exists in ambiguous ways in between these categories.” An example she gives is the piece “Nail Art As An Act Of Defiance”, which looks at Argentinian artist Emilio Bianchic’s performance work, done on and for Youtube. Another is Aron Canter and Holden Taylor’s poem “I Will Be The First Person To Have Sex In Manhattan”, written simultaneously by both of the authors on the same Word Doc, which pushes the sense of performance in its structure.

“What motivates us is the possibility to bring together thoughts and voices who will impact the art discourse for future generations” – Mayanne Soret

Another main component of the zine is a back page featuring a curated list of art spaces, sites, events and people to support, in an industry that’s competitive, oppressive, and lacking money. “The arts are so crucially underfunded and undervalued today,” affirms Soret. “This only reinforces gatekeeping, and it means that the arts risk losing its political mission.”

It’s also an opportunity to create community. “Contemporary culture praises exceptionalism and individuality, and thus fosters competition, when collaboration could often be so much more fruitful. Since I’ve started working in the arts, I’ve seen so many institutions and organisations producing mediocre work across the board, and often, this is because they believe in meritocracy, and see the arts as hierarchy more than a community.”

The art world, as it stands, has a long way to go in terms of diversity, representation, and fairness. A recent study found that 85 per cent of artists in US-based museum collections are white, and 87 per cent are men, numbers completely disproportionate to the population. Institutions like the MoMA are actively trying to diversify the pieces in their galleries, to show a more inclusive art canon. Much of the direct action though, is happening at the grassroots – whether that’s Nan Goldin’s PAIN group and anti-opioid activism, the White Pube’s commentary, activists pushing back against stolen artefacts and oil money, or Tabloid Art History.

“What motivates us is the possibility to bring together thoughts and voices who will impact the art discourse for future generations,” says Soret. “In a few years, a young art historian or artist will find (our work) and find community and connection in the words we have curated.”

You can preorder the zine here, and learn more about Tabloid Art History on the website