Stoop and Cover
Treasure hunting with Pitchfork head of video Arjun Ram Srivatsa and Artnews senior writer Karen K. Ho
When winter finally turns cold, thoughts turn to how you’d like to stock your hibernation nest. This week we followed two collectors in the media community as they filled their homes with the most essential things: chairs and magazines.
As the final days of January ticked away, Arjun Ram Srivatsa, Pitchfork’s head of video, became fully aware that he’d spent $500 on magazines over the course of the month. “I became sort of addicted to buying magazines. I’ve always bought magazines; I’m in love with magazines. But I just had never thought about looking it up on eBay, and now I’m going into debt,” he told The Fine Print. “If it wasn’t for this, I would have been buying a bunch of vintage designer clothes, or, I don’t know, drinks at a bar. Maybe because it was dry January, I wasn’t going out, I wasn’t drinking, so I had to figure out a new way to blow that cash.”
This round of acquisitions started with a tranche of 20 issues of The Face from the ’90s Srivatsa found on Craigslist. “You’ve got Kurt Cobain on the cover, Björk on the cover, and people like Tricky. It’s really, really good,” he said. “This woman was trying to get rid of her stuff. She’s a British woman in the Lower East Side, and I biked over and picked it up. I think that’s what set it off.” His spree continued online, where he found ’90s issues of DJ Magazine, copies of the Detroit club cult zine The Orbit, and ancient issues of the advertising magazine Lürzer’s Archive. However, not all of his efforts were successful. “There was this magazine in the ’70s, it was called New York Rocker. I was about to buy it, I was about to go and pick it up from the guy’s apartment, but I got outbid,” he said. “The problem is the cover had Tom Verlaine on it, who had just died the day before — he died last week — and I was like, ‘Fuck, that would have been nice. I love Television.’ But that’s the game, man. You’ve got to be on top of buying magazines.”
By the end of the month, Srivatsa had accumulated around 70 issues, most of them from the ’90s. “Speaking as someone who works at a magazine company, nothing beats the ’90s when it comes to magazines. They were blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on shoots and the advertising was insane and creative and adventurous,” he said. “If you buy Lürzer’s Archive from ’96, it’ll show the best advertisements, and people were doing really fucked up shit. There was a really good one: It was four dentures in glass cups with water in it. Three of the dentures, the teeth were completely fucked up and gnarled, and the fourth one was perfect. And it said, ‘Mitsubishi for a smoother ride.’ Like, what the fuck?”
The advertisements aren’t just beautiful in themselves. Considered as a whole, his collection tells a story. “You notice this a lot when you’re addicted to buying magazines: Absolut Vodka was a large patron of the magazine arts,” he said. “Even The Orbit, this Detroit techno club magazine, had Absolut ads in it. In our generation, I would say that Red Bull was really carrying the avant-garde of media arts, with their Red Bull Music Academy and the Red Bull Studios and everything. When it comes down to it, vodka Red Bull is the thing that completely carried our culture. People have to bring back vodka Red Bull.”
Srivatsa’s hunt for old magazines is, of course, not just fun and games. “I’m trying to get inspired, because you go online and you just see the same things over and over and over again. Even whatever seems to be innovating online, it doesn’t feel the same as the permanence of an advertisement in a magazine from 40 years ago,” he said. “Everything is so ephemeral online. It doesn’t really hit as hard.” He’s hoping to start his own magazine one day, though a salon seems closer at hand. “Ultimately, I want to build an archive of magazines and throw parties,” he said. “Picture this: You’re in a living room and there’s just stacks of magazines, of anything you can imagine, and then bottles of wine everywhere, and everyone’s just sitting down, listening to jazz, listening to Wayne Shorter, reading magazines, drinking wine. That sounds like what everyone wants to do.”
Blowing $500 on magazines was the furthest thing from Artnews senior writer Karen K. Ho’s mind when she stopped at a Brooklyn Heights grocery store for a Gatorade on Wednesday. “I walked outside, passed by the flower section of the grocery store, and then saw these chairs tucked in a corner with a mediocre office chair, and a really old 1980s microwave, and I was like that can’t be,” she told The Fine Print. Though it took her a moment to believe it, what she was looking at were three Herman Miller Eames chairs left on the street and up for grabs. “I saw half of the word Herman on one of the ripped labels, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’” she said. “I have seen multiple listings online where seams have split or whatever other kinds of damage, and people are still asking for more than $1,200 for them — for one chair and I have three.” She bundled the chairs into a $30 Lyft XL and took them home to her Flatbush apartment. “I have spent more on lunch and snacks at the Sunrise Mart next door to where I work than on the Lyft XL home with these chairs,” she said. “I don’t think $30 can even buy you a wood chair at Ikea now.”
Ho moved into her apartment three months ago and has been furnishing it with cheap finds as an anxiety-reducing measure. “I picked an apartment that was significantly below my budget and then I have been actively Buy Nothing group or Facebook Marketplace or stooping most of the stuff in my apartment because all I do is keep seeing discussions of recession and layoffs and inflation,” she said. “Eggs are $7 a dozen right now and so this is only additional encouragement for me almost never buy anything retail, but it does take a lot of work.” Rather than accepting the limits of a journalist’s salary and filling the place with Ikea standards, scavenging for furniture has let her get a little closer to the subjects of her beat. “When you work in media, especially for certain beats like business or art, you’re constantly talking to rich people or you’re going to events like Davos or art fairs. It is really weird because you develop fluency in these signifiers of extreme wealth, while your salary basically stays the same,” she said. “So it’s weird when something like this happens, and you’re like, ‘Oh, wait, that’s a real thing I could own totally serendipitously.’”
When Ho got home, she realized that the chairs outshone everything else in her apartment. “Have you ever bought something nice, and then you put it next to your other possessions, and you’re like, everything looks sad next to this?” she said. “I have two dining tables that I’m trying to figure out which one to keep and I have a bunch of mediocre Ikea or stooped dining chairs in my apartment right now, and they all look sad as hell next to these armchairs.” She’s not sure just how she’ll use them. “I’m thinking about folding up my dog’s crate because he never uses it and using one of the chairs as the chair for the clothes that you don’t want to put yet in the laundry bin,” she said. “That’s absurd to use a $1,200 vintage chair to put on a pair of jeans that I’m not ready to throw in the wash.”
But it might be a minute before they’re ready for that purpose because it’s rarely so simple with street furniture. “I was like, ‘What’s with this horrible black duck tape all over the chairs? Is it so that if you backed into a wall, you wouldn’t scratch them?’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, okay. It’s just because they’re literally 50 years old that they’re starting to split,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Okay, do I teach myself how to fix them?’ And friends were like, ‘No, you should try to find someone.’ Then I found out today that professionals don’t want to fix them because they’re so annoying to re-upholster.” So she’s taking on the project herself. “This is the strangest way for me to take up furniture repair as a hobby,” she said.
➾ 7 p.m. The New York Review of Architecture will host a launch party for its 33rd issue at DSK Brooklyn in Fort Greene.
➾ 8 p.m. Beckett Rosset will host a pre-launch fundraiser for Tense Magazine at his cavernous space at 432 Hudson Street in the West Village.
➾ 9 p.m. Insider correspondent Julia Black will celebrate her birthday with a party in Prospect Lefferts Gardens.
➾ 7 p.m. Penta magazine senior editor Mitch Moxley and Bloomberg Businessweek contributor David Gauvey Herbert will host the fifth edition of The Night Editor, a series of storytelling, readings, and interviews at Down & Out Bar in the East Village. Presenters for this issue will include The Atlantic and Believer contributor Mallika Rao and documentary director Alex Pritz.
➾ 7 p.m. New Yorker editor David Remnick will moderate a discussion about Janet Malcolm’s posthumous memoir Still Pictures with New Yorker contributor Zoë Heller, Harper’s contributor Katie Roiphe, and painter David Salle at The Drawing Center in SoHo.
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