By Kirsten Gill
Unlike Jacob Feige, who wrote last month of his experiences as a founding editor of Title Magazine, I was the latest editor to join the team, and likely had one of the briefest tenures. I started editing for Title last fall. In full disclosure, I had never read Title Magazine before this; as a scholar in a graduate art history program, it was not on my radar. I was new to the Philadelphia art community, having moved the previous year to study at UPenn, and, with much of my energy devoted to the demands of school, slow to discover certain of its institutions. Despite my ignorance, I thought editing for Title would be an interesting and informative way to engage with local art practices, as well as a welcome break from academic writing.
Jacob, Samantha Mitchell, and I were a dispersed group of editors, meeting deliberately only a couple of times and otherwise corresponding via email. I stuck with the aims of Title – to provide honest, unbiased, and critical reviews of shows in Philadelphia – and tried to expand the roster of writers with my own connections, working on some rewarding projects and reviews.
During my time editing, I often wished that Title was used more frequently for critical and experimental art writing, in addition to and not at the expense of reviews. This may just be a function of my academic background and not really about what artists in Philadelphia need. But the art community in the city delineates itself with a certain insularity. A broader, more open dialogue might confront this tendency. As Jacob mentioned, “art in Philadelphia remains mostly a regional scene;” there is, however, much going on in this region that remains uncovered by local arts writing and deserves more attention. For whatever reason, writers during my time editing Title tended to concentrate on the central staples of the Philadelphia art scene, to the neglect of outlying artists, practices, institutions, and issues.
Although Title has not been a true collective for much of its existence, struggling to hold onto enough editors and collaborators, its status as a publication by and for Philadelphia artists remains one of its great strengths. It is generally open to anyone who wishes to contribute, and to any Philadelphia art-related topic, if the writing is good enough and there is no conflict of interest. This is pretty unique. It is a structure that invites and even demands the investment of its community. With greater involvement, Title could easily become a uniquely crucial platform for discussion about art in the city and beyond. This does not mean, to clarify, that Title is or should be a simple, anything-goes conduit for community expression, but rather a platform where discourse is engaged, expansive, and dialogic, instead of isolated into cyclical, and discursively hermetic, reviews. Because of Title’s openness – you don’t need to know someone to get published, you don’t need to be a hot artist to have your show reviewed – the Philadelphia art community can essentially make of the publication what it will. I would urge the community to take advantage of this, and – through reviews, essays, and artist projects such as Title has been publishing for five years – create through and with Title a dynamic ecosystem for conversations about art in Philly.
Soon after I finished my program this past spring, I relocated to New Orleans. Feeling that it would be a disservice to continue editing writers’ work about and for a Philadelphia community of artists when I myself am no longer an immediate part of that community, I chose to give up my editorial responsibilities. Since Jacob had also decided to shift his focus away from the magazine, this left Title with only one editor – much too great a demand given that the work of Title has always been done in addition to the many other jobs and pursuits of its editors and has never been remunerated.
Samantha has offered to spearhead a sort of rebirth of Title following this hiatus, with input and hopefully substantial help from the community. With a new bookstore for art publications forthcoming – Ulises, which will open doors in November – and somewhat frequent coverage of Philadelphia shows in journals like Artforum, it may be that the scope of art writing is expanding in the city, and Title could be an important part of the dialogue.
If there is enough interest in Title for it to continue in the future, my hope is that its contributions push up against the boundaries defining this regional scene, at the same time that they persist in providing much-needed coverage of artists’ shows.
Kirsten Gill is an art historian and curator currently based in New Orleans. She recently graduated from the M.A. program in History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania.