What better owner for a dead magazine than a dead artist?
Interview magazine, a publishing lodestar of groundbreaking art direction, which has published thousands of celebrity-on-celebrity interviews, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection just shy of its 50th birthday, after a raft of former employees started suing it for unpaid wages. Its assets will be liquidated, with the proceeds to be distributed to creditors. If you’re a subscriber, good luck getting a refund on your nonexistent future issues.
Interview, which was founded by Andy Warhol in 1969, was in many ways a living Warhol artwork. Warhol was the greatest American portraitist of all time, and the Q&As in his magazine were just as much celebrity portraits as the famous silkscreens that now regularly sell for tens of millions of dollars apiece.
Peter Brant bought Interview after Warhold died for a reported $10 million. Brant was a friend of Warhol’s, a major collector of his works, and a publisher of Interview since its founding. In buying the magazine, Brant ensured continuity for a key part of Warhol’s estate: The magazine is at least as important, in Warhol’s oeuvre, as any of the 200-odd Warhols Brant currently owns.
Which is why Brant’s decision to starve Interview of funds, and ultimately to let it die, is a tragic one. Brant, a philanthropist whose net worth was reported at some $500 million in 2010 and which has probably gone up since then along with the general market in Warhol paintings, can easily afford to keep it going, at a cost that is surely less than the annual sum he pays to insure his collection. Brant has, over the decades, been a force for good in terms of preserving his old friend’s legacy. Clearly, those days are now over. But that doesn’t mean that Warhol’s magazine has lost the support of the only person who could keep it alive. The Andy Warhol Foundation should buy it.
When Brant bought Interview, he purchased it from the Warhol estate, which at the time was asset rich and cash poor. Today, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has given away hundreds of millions of dollars and is sitting on net assets of more than $300 million. As a general rule, the foundation does not buy Warhol artworks, but Interview is exceptional in many ways. Foremost among them: It’s a living thing, which needs nurturing. Warhol’s paintings are valuable enough that the foundation can reasonably assume that their owners will take good care of them. Without a publisher, however, there’s a very good chance that Interview will simply and ignobly be left for dead.
The one good thing about a bankruptcy filing is that it wipes the slate clean. Peter Brant loved to pay top dollar for boldface names like creative director Fabien Baron, who claims that he’s owed some $600,000 by the magazine; Brant was also happy to lose money on every subscription, by charging just $25 per year for 10 issues of a glossy book that surely cost more than that just to print and distribute. (The cover price was $10 per issue.)
Print-magazine economics are not what they used to be, and luxury advertisers are no longer a source of unlimited cash. But if the Warhol Foundation were to rescue Interview, that would bring in new advertisers from the art world while reifying its status as a unique art object in its own right. In today’s media landscape, nothing is certain. But the Interview franchise is a strong one, and there are many incredibly talented and inventive editors who would love to reimagine it for the social-media age—something Brant, stuck in an earlier era, never really attempted. It’s definitely worth a try.
We have seen a lot of magazines wither or disappear in recent years. Many deserve to be mourned, even if there’s no financially justifiable way of resuscitating them. But Interview is far too important, both as an artwork and as a magazine, for the foundation to simply let go. The Warhol Foundation is not a for-profit publisher. It exists to continue Warhol’s legacy. Allowing Interview’s visual inventiveness to continue into the future is the first best way for it to do that. They should buy it back, bring it back to life, and make it an integral part of Warhol’s bequest. Perhaps, with hindsight, it should have stayed there all along.