TATE etc. occupies an unusual position in terms of art magazines. Published three times a year, it is sent out to all Tate members, a figure that now reaches over 85,000, and in addition to this is sold on newsstands. Due to its huge core readership of members, it is not reliant on shop sales, which frees it from the usual restraints of a commercial magazine publication, allowing a more liberated approach to both its editorial content as well as the magazine’s design.
TATE etc. is the third incarnation of the magazine. Initially a fairly standard in-house museum mag, it went through a brief glossy stage when commissioned out of Condé Nast, before morphing into its current form under the stewardship of Will Gompertz when the magazine was brought back in-house in 2004.
The look and the content of TATE etc. have in fact been intertwined from the beginning with its art director, Cornel Windlin, and editorial director, Bice Curiger, devising an initial proposal for it together. “The Tate invited a number of people to come up with a concept,” explains Windlin. “I knew Bice Curiger and had worked with her on a number of projects before. We did it as a joint proposal that was content-based but also gave a clear idea of what it could look like. We wanted something that had a longer life, that could be kept.”
This inclination towards a more serious and thoughtful publication than had previously been seen from Tate chimed with Gompertz’s own ambitions for the magazine, and he cited Domus and Granta to Windlin as potential inspirations for its design. Another innovation by Gompertz, of creating a bi-monthly exhibition guide to events at the various Tate galleries, also freed up the magazine from being simply a listings guide and allowed it to embrace broader coverage. It now takes an eclectic approach to the Tate itself, covering both the current shows as well as less obvious aspects of the institution, such as its archive, while also including essays on wider cultural issues. “It’s less an ambassador of what’s going on at Tate,” continues Windlin. “Rather than reproducing what’s going on there, we try to do it in a different way. We find interesting writers, and we are trying to find an imaginative way to put the work across, to set it apart.”
Despite the freedom granted to the editorial team, however, the magazine is of course indisputably tied to Tate, a situation not without its dilemmas. “The main problem for me is that it is a hybrid publication,” says Windlin, “part in-house mag, part independent art mag. This has advantages and disadvantages. We had to be mindful, as things could seem as if they are a statement by the Tate. Which they’re not, we are pretty independent. We don’t have to account to anybody about how we reflect any kind of content, and I think the magazine benefits greatly from that. In terms of design, they wanted to reflect Tate in some way, but I was very concerned that it should not be conceived as an in-house magazine. It was clear early on that it should reflect something else – it should reflect Tate but not use its identity.”
Windlin’s design solution was to create a simple look using one typeface and one size for the body copy throughout the magazine, while creating diversity through the headlines. “We use the text quite seriously, take care of the typography so it looks cared for and easy to read. I then introduced a system of using headlines that is variable. A little system of things that can or cannot be done that I’m changing slightly from issue to issue.”
“The design process was guided by the many limitations that a publication like that has,” he continues. “It’s basically shipped out by post so has to have a certain format. It has a high circulation, so the paper stock and weight are very limited. Usually this is something that in my other work is very important, but here it is very limited.”
When it comes to the images chosen to illustrate the articles, however, Windlin is keen to avoid the predictable. “We want to use images in a respectful way, without trying to look too academic or serious,” he says. “One thing that is very important is that we’re trying to find images that are new for each subject, or which haven’t been seen in this context. We want to present them in a new and fresh way, it’s quite playful. We spend a lot of time sourcing the images, both ourselves and the assistants at Tate.”
On the cover, Windlin emphasises the scholarly tone of the magazine, and, unusually for a visual arts magazine, gives text equal status to imagery. “Magazine covers are usually one big image with text all over them,” he says. “Because TATE etc. doesn’t have to sell on newsstands so much, we could be more free with that. We don’t have the question of impact or having to have a key image.”
As a client, the Tate is largely hands-off, giving Curiger, Windlin and editor Simon Grant a free rein and allowing TATE etc. to tread the fine line of operating both as an extension of the institution, while also reaching out beyond its immediate remit. Yet in spite of its unique position, there are some restrictions of traditional publishing that cannot be avoided, most notably the question of budget. “I’d like it to be double the volume, have more in it,” comments Windlin on his ambitions for the publication. “But with the current set-up it wouldn’t be feasible. We’re doing the best we can in the set-up. I think it’s a great service to their members. It’s not trying to be a popular art magazine, it’s bridging the gap between the totally-in-the-know art magazine and others which are really only focusing on the big names.”