Feature

Letter from the Editors

Ellen Birrell

Dear Reader,

The mission of X-TRA is to promote and provoke critical discourse about the visual arts. A Marxist friend of mine once pointed out that artists are a most self-handicapped group of workers, because by competing against one another for tiny shreds of success, they are alienated from those with whom they share the most collective conditions. X-TRA evolved from the dynamism that happens when practitioners engage in a meta-dialog about what they are excited by, or outraged by, or saddened by in their field. And the conversation is substantially better the more different kinds of practitio­ners are involved.

The unfettered conversation of professional peers is the essential editorial heart of X-TRA. Eight to ten editors with different practices and different territories of interest—artists, critics, curators, and historians—sit around a table and talk about what they feel is important in visual art and why. While each member of the editorial board has his or her own institutional and professional affiliations, X-TRA and its publisher, Project X, are independent entities. The editorial board is self-selecting and voluntary. It operates without hierarchy; those of the shortest tenure share editorial ownership equally with those of the longest. This produces a lively and often surprising reading space, as our different interests jostle and challenge each other. Some years ago, a friend said that he never knew what to expect when reading X-TRA. At the time I was not sure this was intended as a compliment; now I know it is our greatest strength.

X-TRA is currently the longest running art publication based in Los Angeles. We are distributed nationally. We have a cover price. We have subscribers. And finally we are no longer a newsprint publication. This is in large part due to the support of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. A rather outsize grant for us, it comes on the shoulders of visionary, early, and reliable support from the Norton Family Foundation, the Pasadena Art Alliance, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, California Community Foundation, the late, lamented California Arts Council and several other generous friends. On behalf of X-TRA and Project X, I thank all of you who have supported this project.

When X-TRA germinated in conversations with my then studio-mate and fellow founding editor Stephen Berens about the process and context of making art, the critical landscape for visual art, especially on the West Coast, was very different. Art Issues. was in its ascendancy, beautifully and passionately made by Gary Kornblau. If Art Issues. had a fault, it was that its powerful advocacy for a very particular point of view appeared in the authority of print without the leavening debate of other, similarly authorized voices, other than those out-of-towner publications that still considered LA art-doings as a small part of their vast and imperial mandates. That landscape is very different now. In addition to X-TRA, there are several fine publications based in LA, each with a different editorial voice. We welcome their company. As I said above, the conversation is substantially better when more voices are heard.

Volume 10, Number 1, marks our 10th anniversary year. At last, images reproduced in this journal are of a high quality, not merely placeholders for works of art better seen elsewhere, and the brilliant ideas of the many wonderful writers who contribute here are no longer gleaned at the expense of ink stains on your fingers. X-TRA has been designed over the years by many great artists, all in their own ways helping us to fulfill our mission. X-TRA’s latest incarnation finally (and finely) balances visual energy with a quality reading space expressive of our earnest pursuit of our mission, promoting and provoking critical discourse about the visual arts.

Keep hope alive,
Ellen Birrell

Further Reading