Legacy Russell talks art world, Artsy, and the future of Glitch Feminism
Born in the East Village in Manhattan, New York, Legacy Russell was exposed to art at an early age. Having worked everywhere from The Met to now Artsy, a company with a mission to make art accessible to everyone, it's safe to say she's continued her path in the art world.
Russell is currently the UK Gallery Relations Lead for Artsy, living in London. In addition to that, she's a contributing writer to BOMB Magazine, and has written for other publications including Rhizome, The Social Pages, Guernica, and more.
If that wasn't enough, Russell is also the founding theorist behind Glitch Feminism, a cultural movement that has a goal of using the internet "as a means of resisting the hegemony of the corporeal."
We had the chance to sit down and chat with Russell more about her beginnings in the art world, her inspiration, career path and more. Check out the full interview below!
Tell me how you fell in love with art and the art world?
I have always been invested in learning more about artists—and especially emerging artists—so, what brought me to the art world was having the opportunity to create programming and to curate projects where I'm working with different types of artists, art spaces, and cultural influencers. I began my work in the art world producing programs and projects within institutions. I therefore came from a more formal background, and progressed toward the experimental. Having started at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I then worked at a variety of other major institutions, then progressed into working with artists with my directing projects and production for The Bruce High Quality Foundation. I was then tapped by BOMB Magazine to join their editorial team, leading their digital content. After doing that for a while, I went to graduate school in London, where I attended Goldsmiths and got my MRes in Art History & Visual Culture. I was trained within a more traditional framework, which adhered to the canon and, though contemporary in focus, had a very strict understanding of art history; being now at Artsy in a space where innovation and democratizing access to art it means we constantly have to be flexible in terms of taking on digital as a larger frontier and being prepared to pivot and engage with the rapid advancement of technology as driven by the art market.
You've also dabbled in bunch of different facets of art in the industry -- can you talk a bit about that?
I absolutely have done the rounds in terms of working with artists, with curators, producing cultural programming. However working within a diverse range of places and with a really wide gamut of people has been a really essential part of my learning experience, and has given me some real professional strength, providing me in-depth, unique perspectives about the creative industries from the ground up.
How have you seen the US art world change in the past few years as you've been traveling back and forth?
When I first moved to the UK, I had been very set on coming back to New York. I have always been ride to die New York City girl, and it was really interesting to think about how leaving the city changed a lot of my perspectives and allowed me to view things through a different lens. When I left I spent a lot of time in London thinking I would be back in a few months or a year. Time moved on, and I would go back and forth. After I graduated, I was lucky to to be plucked up by Artsy and to begin working with them in the UK and building out their base there.
When you think where I left New York, which was 2012 -- around then it was really clear to me that New York was the centre of everything. It was impossible to envision that the art world would have any other permanent site beyond New York, because so much as happened here historically, and I'm from New York and still have roots there, so I'm biased. But since I began traveling back and forth between Europe and the U.S., it's been great to see that LA has become the new New York in terms of creating a space for artists to experiment more. Acknowledging that New York is incredibly expensive, there's so little space to innovate; that can be very difficult for young artists trying to make a name for themselves.
Being shaken out of my New York City hometown bias has been key. Like LA, London is such a powerful city in terms of being able to provide those opportunities for cross-collaboration between different institutions and artists and makers of different kinds. From 2012 to present it's been really incredible to see that different parts of the art world kind of broken off into different arenas. What New York offers is that it's an amazing site to show work, people in the city really appreciate and speak the language of contemporary art and aspire toward constant innovation, which can be exciting. However the idea of being truly avant-garde in a city like New York is really challenging and people often arrive in New York and operate within the art world kind of already packaged and ready to go, rather than in progress. I think that's not always the best trajectory for young artists who are still growing. It's important to encourage that growth and figure out how we as people in the art world be of support to artists as they build their careers.
How do you think technology has changed the way consumers take in artwork?
Technology has changed the game for how consumers view artwork. Artsy has expanded these horizons and has set an unprecedented standard for creating a user experience that is truly worthy of exploring and connecting with art. People are less afraid of the digital now within the art world than they have ever been. Gallerists used to say, "I don't want to replace the 'real experience' with the digital." Now gallerists are saying, "How can I use the digital to bolster the in-gallery experience, to build on it, to expand our market reach?" Artsy's recent leaps and bounds in auctions partnerships—introducing live bidding and collaborating with Phillips within this past year, for example, or our ability to now consign works via Artsy—means that we're bringing collectors access to not only the best auction houses in the world, but also the best institutions, the best galleries. Beyond this platforms like Instagram are being used to share artworks with a wider public and galleries are seeing successes in generating interest from new audiences via these channels. There is so much potential here, and it is dazzling to see it continue to expand, as this history is still unfolding.
You talked about how when you first got started in The Metropolitan Museum of Art it was very rigid. Do you think that technology is gonna kind of change the way museums operate or the way the institution of art itself operates?
I definitely think so. I think it's already happening right now. When I was first working at The Met a lot of conversations we were having there were about what to do with digital, and now The Met is one of the leading institutions in terms of putting forward digital content, and taking advantage of social media, and engaging with new audiences across many different platforms online—Artsy included!
It's in progress, it's happening right now, and I think a lot of institutions and galleries that were resistant to are running to catch up, because it's what the future is. It's a fact. Institutions and galleries that even a year, two years, ago were saying this isn't something they need have begun to think about the fact that they are excluding themselves from a very important conversation. It's similar to the idea that if a tree falls and no one's there to hear it, it doesn't make a sound? If an art show happens and no one's there to see, if it's not on the internet, did it even happen? I think the short answer is, "No." It's very rare in this day and age that something can be produced offline, and not have a digital footprint. The footprint matters.
What's the balance like between the creative process to create a new art with your day job?
There is this fantasy that kind if endures of the artist, or the curator, or the cultural producer that exists somehow exclusively within their creative domain and that nothing else that influences it. However work life and art life are intertwined and co-dependent on one another and have always been. It is a wonderful and romantic notion to think of an artist in their studio smoking a cigarette, and listening to some amazing music, and making some incredible works of art, but the fact of the matter is that artists had to work for a living and make work for a living for a very long time. It's not all about being in the studio, for many artists it's about finding a survival balance.
It's really important to talk about these things, because I remember being 18, 19, 20, and thinking like not understanding how it's possible that people within the art world were able to participate in this bubble seemingly without breaking a sweat. Many artists work AND make work until they are only able to only make work, or, if they don't have to do this, they often are people who are privileged enough to not have to work at all and so can focus exclusively on a studio practice. People don't talk about this side of things enough in the art world. That privilege is something that is really important for it to underscore, because it makes visible the fact that class is a really big part of the art world, and a big part of how it is possible that people are able to work long hours for little pay—or no pay at all—or have a studio practice but no job on the side. It's a hustle.
It can be really challenging, but I think in my case I've been very lucky because each part of my creative practice intersects in a way that influences, informs, and sustains the other. Right now I am curating an exhibition called Wandering / WILDING that opens 3 November at IMT Gallery in London, I am writing a book, and I am working at Artsy, continuing to expand our European reach. It is a complex and enriched career with depth that I have worked hard to attain, and is still transforming. But it's been hard work to get here, and it isn't over yet.
The people who do the art world best are able to strike a balance, and also to be realistic about the aspect of class and privilege (whether someone has worked for it, or it has been gifted to them) being such a big part of what allows people to have that freedom. With my younger self I wished I had known that then, but as you grow up and grow older it's good to have some perspective, and to share that with others.
Can you talk to me about how your work on Glitch Feminism began for you?
I was at Goldsmiths when I started theorizing on Glitch Feminism. This was something I started writing and lecturing on while I was writing my dissertation. Since then, it's become something that has expanded into an international conversation, one that engages with histories of cyberfeminism and explores the Internet as a political and performative material. Keep an eye out for my book, Glitch Feminism, which will be published by Verso in Fall/Winter 2017.
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