Steven Zevitas remembers his first day on the job as editor of New American Paintings magazine. It was 1993, and he was two years out of Boston University. Herbert Gliick of Offshore Publications, which published a boating magazine, had hired Zevitas to launch a periodical showcasing artists.
“He walked me into my office. There were no computers. A desk, some pens, a phone, a file cabinet, and a reference book,” Zevitas recounts, during an interview at the publishing company The Open Studios Press, which adjoins the art gallery that bears his name.
Gliick reached into his pocket and handed the young editor a crumpled piece of yellow paper on which he’d scribbled, “How do we find artists? How do we find subscribers? How do we produce this thing?”
Zevitas winces. “I had no idea what publishing was. My knowledge of art history probably went up to Andy Warhol.” He knew nothing of contemporary art.
That first issue, in 1994, was “embarrassing at every level,” Zevitas says. “It was a Sunday painter Provincetown book.”
This month, New American Paintings published its 100th issue. More than 3,000 artists have been spotlighted in its pages, and it has an international list of subscribers numbering more than 10,000. The magazine runs between 180 and 192 pages and comes out six times a year — five focused on geographic regions of the United States, and one spotlighting artists in MFA programs. Zevitas took over as publisher when Gliick retired in 1999.
By then, Zevitas was an expert on contemporary art. He opened OSP Gallery in Boston in 2001, and five years later it became Steven Zevitas Gallery, one of the edgier local commercial spaces. The gallery has an increasing presence on the art fair circuit. Every month, Zevitas chooses 10 must-see painting shows to write up for the Huffington Post. He travels extensively, and says he probably sees 2,000 to 3,000 exhibitions each year.
He has his fingers in other pies, as well: The Open Studios Press oversees the design and printing of catalogs for museum exhibitions, and New American Paintings has a growing Web presence. Zevitas and his small staff are pushing to significantly expand their digital platform in the next few months.
Competition to get into the magazine, which describes its contents as “juried exhibitions-in-print,” is heated. Zevitas says upward of 6,000 artists apply every year. Each issue is juried by a museum curator, and selected artists get four pages — three for their art, and one for a bio. Unlike the publications Art in America, Art News, and Art Forum, New American Paintings isn’t brimming with criticism and profiles. It is, first and foremost, a place for artists to get their paintings seen.
“This is not about your resume,” Zevitas says. “It’s about your work.”
Collectors Don and Jeanne Stanton have been getting the magazine since its early days. In their Boston home, “we’ve got 40 of them stacked right underneath a Michael Mazur painting,” says Don Stanton. “They’re a great way to look at somewhat vetted work from different parts of the country.”
Laurel Sparks, a New York painter who for years lived in Boston, has been featured twice, including in the magazine's most recent Northeast edition, juried by Dina Deitsch, curator of contemporary art at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. Sparks says the exposure is terrific.
“I’ve been contacted by a lot of galleries to show with them,” after appearing in the magazine, Sparks says. “I’ve sold works to collectors. . . . [New American Paintings] is an asset to them, especially if they don't have access to cities that have galleries.”
A long list of artists got coverage in New American Paintings early in their careers, including Laylah Ali, James Siena, and Matthew Day Jackson, who appeared in one of the magazine's MFA-focused annual editions.
Stanton, who is on the collections committee of the deCordova, where he is a trustee, asked Zevitas to provide the committee with recent issues. “You really should be looking at this,” he says he wants to convey to the group. “Steven has a very good eye.”
Although Zevitas works closely with his jurors and leaves space in the back of each magazine for his own editorial picks, his personal aesthetic is more evident in his gallery than it is in the pages of New American Paintings.
“When I get off on an artist's work, it's an artist who has taken a subject, a formal means at their disposal, and their skill, and combined them in such a way that the content is inevitable,” he says.
Recent shows by Jered Sprecher, David X. Levine, and Andrew Masullo (whose paintings were included in this year's Whitney Biennial) convey something of Zevitas’s taste. Largely abstract, there’s something deliberate, dissonant, and naked about these artists’ works. Other artists in the gallery’s stable — Ann Toebbe, Julie Miller, Jacob el Hanani — make mind-bendingly obsessive drawings and paintings.
“I love working with artists. I love making business decisions with them,” Zevitas says. “Having a stable of artists is like being a therapist sometimes.”
Boston is a relatively small stage for a gallerist on the rise, and Zevitas pictures himself moving to Los Angeles. “Eventually I’d like to think I’d have a larger space out there,” he says.
Everything he’s done so far ascribes to what he sees as the mission of The Open Studios Press: Finding creative ways to bring creators and consumers of fine art together. It’s his passion, and he says it’s more important than making money.
“Any serious business person would say, ‘really?’ ” Zevitas reflects. “No one is going to retire to Bali Hai. But I love it.”