This interview with Anastasia Karpova Tinari, Director of Rhona Hoffman Gallery, is part of “Intimacy, Distance, and Disavowal in Art Publishing: Conversation with Dushko Petrovich,” a series of conversations led by Dushko Petrovich about the tensions and processes of art publication, speaking to the parties involved with, and implicated by, Steven Nelson’s two-part Hyperallergic essay of June 2018.
Dushko Petrovich: Steven Nelson’s piece about Deana Lawson was pulled from Aperture because, and I quote your gallery statement here, “This was because Mr. Nelson interpreted Deana’s work through the lens of her piece for Time Magazine, and Dina’s editorial/commercial work is separate from her fine art practice.” Could you elaborate on that? Why do you feel it is important to separate these two aspects of Lawson’s work?
Anastasia Karpova Tinari: Let me just preface this by saying that it wasn’t pulled from frieze for that reason. Deana Lawson and the people working on her monograph with Aperture chose not to publish Steven Nelson’s essay in the book. We weren’t involved in that conversation because Deana was working with Aperture directly. There were lots of different things at play with the book, and I’m not exactly sure what the reasons are that they decided not to move forward with his essay. We got involved because frieze magazine came to us and requested images for Steven Nelson’s essay for them. Our role as the gallery is to represent Deana, stand by Deana’s wishes, and work in her best interest. So before sending images, we spoke with Deana, and that’s when I learned that the essay was originally commissioned for the monograph. When we told frieze magazine that, they weren’t aware, and they decided not to publish the essay at that point.
Petrovich: I see. So you didn’t have any involvement with pulling the piece from the Aperture monograph. When it got to frieze, were you withholding images or were you just informing frieze?
Tinari: No, we always provide images for publication, but before doing so, I like to check with the artist and make sure, because the artist holds the copyrights to her images. So, as her agent, I always like to make sure that we are acting in her best interests.
Petrovich: Sure, of course. So you’re saying that Deana asked you to withhold the images at that point?
Tinari: I don’t want to misspeak. I do remember that we told frieze that this essay was originally commissioned for another monograph and then it was not selected for the monograph. So I’m not really sure what the back end was—if it was because it was commissioned for another publication or what—but they decided not to publish it. It wasn’t because we were withholding images that they decided not to publish it. It was more because they learned the back story.
Petrovich: Rhona Hoffman Gallery put out a statement giving a rationale, saying, “this was because Mr. Nelson interpreted Deana’s work through the lens of her piece for Time.” Was that something that came straight from Deana or something that came from part of a conversation that she had with the gallery?
Tinari: I wrote to frieze and told them Deana’s rationale.
Petrovich: I thought that that quote about the rationale of why the piece was pulled relates to the piece being pulled from Aperture, right?
Tinari: I wasn’t in on the conversation at all with Aperture. That statement was emailed to frieze editors.
Petrovich: Oh, that statement comes from your email?
Tinari: Yes; I think it’s maybe misquoted. It was saying something that I wrote. We wanted to clarify what the essay was that Steven Nelson was writing.
Petrovich: Let me just pull up the quote so you can tell me if it was in fact misquoted.
Tinari: No, I’m not saying it was misquoted. Maybe it was used out of context; I’ll have to look back at that.
Petrovich: Here, it says, “Lawson, through her gallery, balked at providing images for the essay. The gallery commented, ‘Steven Nelson was commissioned to write an essay for Deana’s upcoming Aperture monograph, and after the essay was written it was decided not to publish Steven Nelson’s writing. This was because Mr. Nelson interpreted Deana’s work through the lens of her piece for Time Magazine and Deana’s editorial/commercial work is separate from her fine art practice.’” It seems to be directly related to the Aperture decision.
Tinari: Oh, I see. I wrote to the frieze editors asking them to clarify what Steven Nelson’s essay was about. Maybe that’s where they got that quote, but the gallery wasn’t in on the conversations with Aperture and Steven Nelson. We are in no position to say why the essay was pulled from the monograph. We were not involved in the monograph conversation.
Petrovich: Right, but this is a statement from your gallery saying this was because Mr. Nelson interpreted Deana’s work through the lens of her piece in Time magazine. I mean, you provide a rationale in this email.
Tinari: I’m not sure exactly where that came from, or what the decision was for pulling it from the book. We were only talking to frieze magazine, and I was trying to get clarification on what Steven Nelson’s piece was; if it was a different essay, or if it was something that was originally going to be included in the monograph. Does that make sense?
Petrovich: Yeah, it just doesn’t make sense in terms of this quote, which you were saying is from your emails, which seems to say he was commissioned and it was decided not to be published.
Tinari: That would be hearsay. I’m not sure what the decisions were, so we are really not the best source.
Petrovich: Right, so when you said that this was because Mr. Nelson interpreted her work through the lens of her piece in Time, you were guessing?
Tinari: Yeah. I was writing to frieze magazine. I was just trying to clarify if it was something for the book or what.
Petrovich: Okay, I see. And so you don’t want to comment on the difference between the gallery work and the commercial work, and why you guys thought that was an important distinction to make? From a cultural point of view, that’s interesting to me.
Tinari: Sure, I can comment and say that Deana, like Gordon Parks and many other photographers who have a fine art practice and also do commercial work, sees it as two different aspects of her practice. Deana works really carefully and really slowly in her fine art practice. For example, she recently went to Ghana and spent over a week there, and sure, she was shooting and was out there working and doing research, but there were no fine art photographs that came out of that trip. So, I think that she is very deliberate about the photographic images that she makes as her fine art practice. For the commercial shoot for Charleston, she was specifically commissioned by Time magazine to go out there and do that shoot. That’s just the gallery’s standpoint. That’s separate from Steven Nelson, and I think as an art historian he is able to say whatever he wants, and that’s his perspective. But from the gallery’s standpoint, for example, we only sell photographs that are Deana Lawson’s fine art photographs, that are editioned photographs, which are separate from the commercial shoots that she does on commission. That’s the gallery’s perspective.
Petrovich: You’re saying that Deana sees her own work in this way, and from your experience she makes an effort to distinguish those two things, and the gallery distinguishes those two things in terms of what they are willing to sell. Those are just things that dovetail, it wasn’t something that you discussed with her directly?
Tinari: Certainly. We only sell and represent works that Deana deems part of her editioned photographs. We are Deana’s agents and our goal is to represent her interests and to work on her behalf. We can only provide images to frieze magazine if she supports those images, and she holds the copyright to any of her images. And for us, the only part of her process that we deal with is her fine art photography.
We were not involved in the Aperture monograph, so they would probably be the best source for that. And honestly, we were only involved with frieze magazine in a very limited way because we just asked for clarification on whether the essay was the same essay that was originally commissioned for the book. I don’t know what their conversations were before they decided to pull the article altogether. So it wasn’t that we withheld images and then they were not able to publish the article.
Petrovich: I understand that line between those different kinds of practices, in terms of which are commercial objects and which ones are happening in journalism. I guess the interesting part, or maybe the tense part, is that, of course, people know that Deana Lawson took those photographs, she’s not hiding from those photographs, and, as you were saying, Steven Nelson can write about any aspect of her work. So in that context, it all gets mixed back together. And he was presenting it in terms of the conflict that happens when galleries are giving or not giving or withholding images rights—obviously on behalf of the artist, but that’s a kind of exertion of power that an artist has, and a gallery enforces or fulfills. So that was what I wanted to talk about in terms of the gallery: how do you see the work? What you’re saying is that you just draw a line and don’t consider any work that she does for publications as part of your purview, or something that you’re interested in.
Tinari: Yeah that’s something the artist has control over. Of course we support anything that Deana does, but the only part that we deal with is the fine art photographs.
I never said we were not going to provide images; I just asked for clarification about where Steven Nelson’s essay was coming from, and later frieze contacted me to say that it wasn’t relevant anymore because they weren’t publishing the essay. And we were never contacted—I’m not sure if Deana’s studio was—but we were never contacted to provide images for Hyperallergic. I think all valid points, but this wasn’t sort of a malicious kind of putting a stop on his ability to speak, at least from our side at least.
Petrovich: Right, I understand. It’s good to have it all on record, and you know, in terms of a case study, I think it brings up some really interesting issues. Did you want to say anything about the gallery point of view in terms of how you felt about Steven Nelson going public and talking about the whole context surrounding the piece?
Tinari: I think I would say that the art world has many different facets. There’s the artist who has her interests, and there’s the gallery—we are here to sell the artist’s work that she releases to us and also to act as her agent and protect her interest as best we can. There are also academics such as yourself, and it’s all part of a healthy kind of ecosystem. There are different people at play who have different interests. I can only speak to what we do as Deana’s gallery, but I think it’s all part of a healthy ecosystem, so I encourage discussions like the one that you are trying to elaborate and to have.
For Dushko Petrovich’s interview with Seph Rodney, editor of Steven Nelson’s two-part essay for Hyperallergic, click here; to return to the main page of “Intimacy, Distance, and Disavowal in Art Publishing: Conversations with Dushko Petrovich,” click here.
Anastasia Karpova Tinari is Director of Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
A founding editor of Paper Monument, Dushko Petrovich is Chair of the New Arts Journalism Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.