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Interview: Art Matters go belly up, Burt Wasserman survives


Post by Jennifer Zarro

Burton Wasserman, Construction, 1950
Burton Wasserman, Construction, 1950

You may already know that Art Matters, the free monthly art newspaper of the Delaware Valley, has folded. The parent company decided shut it down, even though it consistently turned a profit. It was fun writing for Art Matters because I got to call up any artist I loved and ask them if I could come over and talk to them. After hearing the news about Art Matters, I called up Burt Wasserman, who has been writing for AM since it’s inception in 1981. Burt is an artist and art historian who taught at Rowan University for years and years. He’s part of the old-guard, and has great stories about the Philly art world going back to the 1960s.

I also spoke with Anne Fabbri, who has been writing the Contrarian column for Art Matters. Fabbri is super smart, a Radcliffe and Bryn Mawr educated art historian, and former director of the Design Center at Philadelphia University. You can still find her reviews in Art in America and on-line at The Broad Street Review. Anne had this to say: “The sudden demise of Art Matters creates a void in the art world of the Philadelphia area. This was our center of communication: our source for information about current and future exhibitions, our telephone book and social register. It sometimes stumbled but never fell. Now we are mute, waiting for the alternative course. Art won’t die but the path feels lonely.”

In the fashion of my now defunct AM column, I thought I’d interview Burt Wasserman about the demise of Art Matters.

JZ: How are you feeling about the end of Art Matters?
BW: It was startling to get the word, but life goes on. It really is a terrible sense of loss I feel. Art Matters became, over the years as it developed its reputation for observing the local art scenes, the publication of record for the Delaware Valley. It gave notice to many important exhibitions. It was a publication of record, and it’s very, very important that we have that in a civilized society. To lose that continuity is a very grave loss for the art community in particular and the society in large in general.

JZ: Tell me how Art Matters started.
BW: It was a one or two page publication that Doris Brandes edited out of her attic in Jenkintown. Doris invented the idea of Art Matters. She was a very gifted artist but she never developed her career as an artist, and she was also a writer. She was an extraordinary woman who gave birth to Art Matters and then eventually sold it to Montgomery Papers. If there is anything that I can say that’s good about the folding of Art Matters is that she didn’t live to see it.

Burton Wasserman
Burton Wasserman, Square/Cross, 1964, pen and ink

JZ: Are there any print venues that you will write for now that AM is not around?
BW: I write for Icon; it’s not solely an art publication, but they publish exhibition reviews. Goodness knows the local papers don’t really seem to cover much art; none of them write on a regular basis. It’s a failure. It’s a grave cultural loss for the area, and the TV and radio stations do a poor job of covering the visual arts. I’ve also written for The Courier Post, American Artist, Leonardo and other places.

JZ: So you are still dedicated to seeing and reviewing shows?
I think that contact with art is too important to let it fall by the wayside in one’s life. It’s such a source of being alive. One might as well stop breathing if they stop going to art exhibitions. There are wonderful things coming down the pike.

JZ: I recently tried to buy some of your paintings at auction and was outbid by several hundred dollars. Are you still making art?
I have stopped painting because I have had a number of serious medical disasters in the last 10 years, but at one time I used to make relief constructions and also I made screen prints. But now I have turned to, in my need to put something together in the language of vision, digital art and I am deep in the land of computer graphics.

–Jennifer Zarro, an art historian who had been writing for Art Matters this year, most recently wrote for artblog in May about the Alex da Corte and Jack Sloss show Love Explosion, at Fleisher Ollman.