Stefano Tonchi on How W Mag is Connecting Art, Fashion & Pop Culture

To coincide with the launch of W Magazine’s annual Art Issue (and our associated sale of works by artists like Catherine Opie and Marilyn Minter), we were lucky enough to catch up with Stefano Tonchi in a brief moment of quiet before the storm that is Miami art week. In his brief tenure as Editor-in-Chief, Tonchi has steered the focus of W to include cutting-edge features on art, film, fashion, and pop culture, and thrilling combinations thereof (Barbara Kruger and Kim Kardashian, anyone?). He spoke to us about his vision for the publication, and the inspiration behind Art Issues past and present.

Artsy: When you started as W’s Editor-In-Chief in 2010, you announced that you’d like to shift the focus of the magazine away from a “fashion-obsessed publication”. In what ways have you fulfilled this hope? Can you talk about ways you’ve incorporated the visual arts within the magazine?

Stefano Tonchi: Fashion will always be the central focus of W, but in the context of contemporary culture. In the last few years I have particularly reinforced W's commitment to art and cinema. Not only in every issue do we have exclusive profiles and great features, but I also created special focus issues; every December we have the Art Issue at the time of Art Basel in Miami Beach, and every February a Movie Issue to coincide with the Golden Globes in Los Angeles.

I love contemporary pop culture and we try to cover every aspect of it and to be the first at it. This year we had an incredible story on Kanye West. We were the first to write seriously about Kim Kardashian. We were the first to introduce our audience to Jennifer Lawrence, Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain, and Lea Seydoux.

Artsy: W has a long history in supporting artists and photographers. Can you talk about some of the most important moments in the publication’s history? How is W’s partnership with Artsy for this year’s Art Issue in line with the magazine’s goals?

ST: I believe that in the pages of W, fashion photography is art. We work with the most important living photographers including Steven Klein, Steven Meisel, Tim Walker, Paolo Roversi…. They are artists in their own right, whose work is in galleries and in museums.

We also collaborate with many contemporary artists. We write about them and introduce them to our very special and educated audience. Before my time I can recall incredible art  collaborations like the Baldessari and the Cattelan portfolios. I am very proud of my cover project collaborations; the Barbara Kruger/Kim Kardashian, the Nicki Minaj/Francesco Vezzoli, the George Condo/Jessica Chastain, and the most recent Yayoi Kusama/George Clooney.

Artsy: Which spreads from past W Art Issues have been most memorable?

ST: I like to think that the next project will be more memorable than any in the past. I am still surprised at how we were able to convince the most famous American actor, George Clooney, to collaborate with five female artists for this December issue. Yayoi Kusama, Tracey Emin, Marilyn Minter, Catherine Opie, Karen Kilimnik—each one of them is a star on her own—re-imagined George and collaborated with him.

Most memorable in the past? I will never forget our Skype project and limited-edition cover with Ai Weiwei. We were working in the middle of the night in a prison facility in New York and he was directing long distance via Skype the re-enactment of his arrest and his torture from his studio in Beijing, where he was under house arrest.

Artsy: Why George Clooney for this year’s Art Issue? And how were the artists participating in this issue chosen?

ST: I am a big fan of George Clooney and my Editor-at-Large Lynn Hirschberg has direct access to him. That made it easier to convince him. Not that he had to be convinced… he is very smart and intellectually curious, you can see it in the films he is acting in and directing. This fall he is in Gravity, one of the Oscar contenders for movie of the year, and in January he is releasing The Monuments Men, a movie about the value of art to society. When we selected the artists we thought about female artists because he is the most loved male actor…. And we picked artists working in different media, but still able to deliver an image that could work in a large circulation publication.

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