November 22nd, 2005

operesque

Adieu Index

Ella Christopherson, the editor of Index, tells me the December issue of the magazine (which contains a feature I wrote about my visit to Little Sparta this August, illustrated with my photographs of Ian Hamilton Finlay's garden) will be the last.

Index was started in 1995 by painter Peter Halley, who shot to fame in the mid-80s as a member of the Neo-Geo school (a movement so trendy that Ryuichi Sakamoto named one of his solo albums after it). The magazine was run out of Halley's studio on West 26th Street in New York, an elegant space up on the 9th floor with views out over the Chelsea art district. The first part of the open-plan studio contained the tables and computers on which Index was made, with the magazine's covers hanging on the wall. (When I took Mai Ueda to meet Ella there this July, I pointed proudly to the 1998 cover in which you can just see my blurry outline emerging behind Kahimi Karie!) The second part of the space was where Peter made his big, bright, attractive and colourful paintings. It's those paintings he's now devoting his time to: "The time has come for me to refocus my energies on my work as an artist and my duties as director of the painting program at the Yale School of Art," Halley said in a statement.

I was drawn into the Index family by my friend Steve Lafreniere, the magazine's "Editor at Large". In 2000 Steve interviewed me in New York, then the magazine flew young Ryan McGinley out to Berlin to shoot the photos at the Hotel Intercontinental. It was his first international magazine assignment, but not his last. McGinley photographed me "peeing" in the bathroom of his hotel room, squeezing water-filled bulbs hidden between my legs. He's now perhaps the most famous photographer of his New York generation, photo editor at Vice (a destination for many ex-Index people; Vice editor Jesse Pearson also started at Index). My interview is online, like all Index's interviews, here. Another interviewee who stuck around, like me, to become an interviewer at Index was Ian Svenonius.

I suspect Index was somewhat modelled on Andy Warhol's Interview, although it never got as big or as glitzy (perhaps because Peter isn't gay). But the magazine-as-painter's-pet-project theme, as well as the similar-sounding names, will forever link them in my mind. If you wrote for Index you'd be paid with checks drawn on Peter's personal account. I remember worrying that Peter was over-producing his paintings, flooding the market in order to raise the money to pay for the magazine. My concerns were groundless; Halley's reputation seems to be on the rise — his graph on Artfacts lists him currently as the 425th most important contemporary artist.

I sometimes found Halley a daunting figure, I must admit. He always seemed busy, or totally engrossed in conversation with Helmut Newton or someone. The only time I felt I got close to him was when Shizu and I showed him and his young son around Tokyo in 2001. My main memory of our Nakameguro conversation is discovering how little he cared for Jeff Koons (I quickly gave up trying to defend the great Pretender)!



But I have to say thanks to Peter now for ten years of Index—the most European of American style magazines—and, for me personally, a series of adventures in journalism (not to mention some excellent New York parties in places like Indochine and Park) which saw me writing not just about Ian Hamilton Finlay, but also DAT Politics, the Shobo Shobo team, and, together with Shizu Yuasa, Japanese figures like Dai Fujiwara and Toshio Iwai. There were other pieces too, a thing about style scouts and monoculture last year, an article about Japan in 2002, and a very nice little follow-up interview Index ran when I was in Hokkaido last winter. And I'll never forget how Peter wanted to publish my digital photos on a CD-ROM... a glimpse of what an enthusiast and an enabler he could be. Thanks also to Ella and Steve, who felt much more like friends and mentors than editors.

I'll forever associate Index with my happy first year in New York, the year they put an unknown performance art group called Fischerspooner on the cover. For me, it's the magazine of thirtysomething creatives, people like Susan Ciancolo or Mark Borthwick, the people who make America hum. And yet it's also, in my mind, a magazine of very specific places and people; Passerby, the tiny bar at Gavin Brown's Enterprise in the Meatpacking District, for instance. Index always gave free adspace to boutiquey little stores on the Lower East Side, so I associate it with that area's more idealistic days, and the people I used to see on the old Lower East Side. People trying to be artists, working with sewing machines, starting bands, people who wanted to read interviews with others like themselves, interviews not necessarily tied into product cycles, promo loops or PR spend. Index was a magazine by the creative, about the creative and for the creative, and it's entirely appropriate that creativity (in the form of Peter's painting) is also the reason it's ending.