When asked how he started his career in art journalism, Judd Tully says that he just went out and looked at it. It was lucky for him that he was in the perfect city, at the perfect time to do it: New York City in the 1970s.
Tully said that back then, New York wasn’t this “hedge-fund driven, very, very expensive city…It was the atmosphere for somebody starting out was really quite exciting because it was doable.”
You could get a part-time job, rent was cheap and though he didn’t know it when he arrived in 1972, this was the city he’d make his home. This was the city he’d become completely immersed in the art world.
He didn’t have a formal art history degree, so he learned the art world through self-education. When he needed to write a piece about a specific artist, he’d investigate them as any journalist would. He’d spend hours at the library reading through books, interview a dealer or art historian familiar with the work, go to any exhibitions that displayed their work and create a profile off of all of that legwork.
When asked why he still enjoys it after all these decades, Tully states it’s become a habit at this point. He’s been able to slow down and do more creative projects, like his upcoming documentary on the relatively unknown American artist, David Hammons.
He adds that the art world has changed a lot in recent years. With the start of these non-refundable tokens, commonly referred to as NFTs, entering into the art world.
“It’s been embraced by I think,” Tully says, “Mostly younger people that are involved in whatever cryptocurrency sort of very tech-minded people relate more to pixel than to an actual work on canvas.”
If he reflects on his career as a whole, he’s most proud of his work with a federally funded government program where 300 different painters, sculptors, dancers, poets and writers were paid to create work for public buildings. For almost two years he was part of the documentation team, conducting oral history interviews of some of the participating artists.
He said that what made this so special is that he didn’t feel like he was a historian, but decades later, some of those artists have become important historical figures and thus, his work, has become even more important.
He happened to interview a poet named Norman Prichard. Though relatively unknown at the time, now he’s incredibly celebrated and when an academic found Tully’s records they were incredibly excited about these new records.
“I mean, you know, I’ve met a lot of really interesting people that later became much better known,” he says.
He adds that he also knew this photographer that would just walk around, do his thing, and no one thought much of him. Now, a book is being printed of his photographs.
But, for every artist like that photographer or Norman Prichard, there were some that were working for it, but would just never receive the notoriety they were searching for.
He adds, “It’s interesting how careers can change over time or, you know, not go anywhere.”
Tully also thinks of his own career in terms of luck.
When the famous Vincent Van Gogh painting, “The Portrait of Dr. Gachet” went up for sale in 1989, it was Tully that was given the front page of the Washington Post for its after the Post’s other writer was blacklisted from Sotheby’s after the writer’s publication of their book of Sotheby’s and was “persona non grata on the premises” according to Tully. It was total luck that the other writer was blacklisted, a complete chance that he moved to NYC when he did and just always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
The last thing we discussed was what, if any, advice he had to students.
“They probably hear it more from their parents,” Tully says, but goes on to say that the need to get away from screens and step out to look around is paramount. He encourages young people to travel and interact with the world around them.
“So if you wanted to, just for entertainment sake, go and take your friend, bring your boyfriend or girlfriend or whoever and go to the museum on a free night and walk around, get a coffee, or have a drink or something” and just immerse yourself in the world of art.
If you want to hear more about Tully and his career, he will be speaking at the Regina A. Quick Center on Thursday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for students are free but can be reserved at: https://quickcenter.fairfield.edu/spring-2022-season-calendar/lectures/ovfe-judd-tully.html
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