White Cube’s PR guru: Now it’s Honey Luard’s turn (interview) - 2002 (2009)
She’s part of future art history, and public relations history too.
The following is an interview I published of Honey Luard of White Cube gallery with the support of then-Make editor Patricia Ellis in 2002. It remains among my favorite interviews.
Taking into account that the traditional role of media relations is to try to remain hidden "and focus on the clients" or in this case, the artists, I find the answers below to be quite generous. I hope you will to; no one has to agree to an interview, and I don’t see art PR people lining up to publicly say what they think.
In order for this interview to happen, it was agreed and supported by all concerned that Luard would have the opportunity to read and adjust, if necessary, her answers that I typed from an audio recording.
Now onto my interview of someone who is among the absolute best in the business when it comes to media/communications and fine art. If in history the two are integrated to understand the art and design of our time, I think Honey Luard must be in the book.
Behind the scenes: Now it’s Honey Luard’s turn
Anyone who has interviewed Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, or Marc Quinn knows her. In charge of press relations at London’s towering White Cube gallery, Honey Luard can grant you access inside the magic kingdom’s Young British Artists, or seal the door shut.
After receiving a BA from the University of Manchester and an MA from the Courtauld Institute, Honey was an archivist for artists and collectors such as Howard Hodgkin and Eduardo Paolozzi, and she was an assistant to curator, editor, and author Richard Shone. At White Cube, Honey moved up from archiving Damien Hirst’s work to being in charge of press relations and publications. Now in her tenth year at the renowned gallery, R.J. Preece interviewed Honey to find out what it’s like inside the tower of art and celebrity press.
R.J. Preece: White Cube is now a global contemporary art powerhouse. Looking back over ten years, was it known that this would be its outcome?
Honey Luard: It wasn’t known that this would be the outcome, but it was certainly recognised that the artists we were working with were doing very exciting things, and therefore what we were involved in was important and certainly going to change the landscape.
R.J. Preece: Do writers come to White Cube, or does White Cube go to them?
Honey Luard: Both. The more confident you get, the more you can approach the critics and writers whom you think may be interested in something that you are doing. So, you can call them and say "I think this may be of interest to you" and genuinely mean it.
Meanwhile, it also depends on the type of press that you are dealing with, because there are different kinds of media requests. A number of the artists we work with are in the public eye. Therefore, media interest can include anything from "what’s an artist wearing to an opening?" to "what is their favourite chocolate?" This is the ’celebrity’ element, and this type of press tends to find the artists.
On another level, because White Cube is so known, it sometimes feels like we are a type of Directory Enquiries. We get a lot of calls–like "do you know who represents so-and-so?"
R.J. Preece: In what way is the ’artist-as-celebrity’ useful? Does it bring in more sales?
Honey Luard: I can remember the first time that artist-as-celebrity became apparent to me. It was a few years ago when I was reading a short article about Damien Hirst, and it referred to the artist only as ’Damien’. I thought that if he can be referred to by only his first name, then he had moved onto another level.
Regarding sales, I would have thought that any press adds to the dialogue surrounding the work, and that’s important. I doubt that it brings in more sales – directly. The museums and important collectors are not going to consider work by how many column inches it has received, but it certainly adds to – and widens – the dialogue, and that’s very important.
What matters is for the artwork to be out there. You want to communicate with other people, whatever way you can do it. So, you’ll take the good with the bad.
R.J. Preece: Is art writing and art history actually art marketing?
Honey Luard: You would hope not. There are certain critics for which I have a huge amount of respect, and others I don’t. Therefore, the literature— like art—that will withstand the test of time, will be interesting, and won’t be to do with marketing in terms that I would understand it.
R.J. Preece: What terms are those?
Honey Luard: When you’re simply presenting and promoting a commodity that satisfies the needs of a given climate.
Everybody is carving out a niche for themselves, including the critics and writers. When an art critic has a reputation for being tough on artists, they make a name for themselves for being tough on artists. But you hope that, in all of this material, there’s some interesting criticism. Art historical writing has the benefit of hindsight, so with what is left behind, even if it’s one paragraph from an entire essay, there’s some interesting material that history can reclaim. You can’t really get something that isn’t tainted in any way. That happens across the board.
R.J. Preece: Has your position as a press officer impacted how you read art texts in newspapers and magazines?
Honey Luard: Yes it has, because I often carry a certain knowledge of how the article came into being. Sometimes it makes me long to have a distance from it all. I miss being able to sit and read Artforum the way I did when I came out of college.
R.J. Preece: But sometimes there’s a difference between the context that is presented, and our ability as writers and readers to know what that context really is. The artist who manufactures their autobiography, influences, motivations... Critically speaking, it can be like analyzing political news or Hollywood celebrity profiles...
Honey Luard: So you leave it up to history.
You hope that eventually all of that will fall away—all of the trimmings, the glossy surface—and you’ll be left with the solid bones of it.
It goes back to the question about too much hype. If a certain amount of hype means that it happens, means that all the resources available are marshalled together to make it happen, even if it goes out in a huge fanfare with lots of flashing lights—like some of the White Cube openings with the paparazzi waiting outside. People criticise it for all of the perceived hype, but all of that does fall away, and does so very quickly.
What you’re left with—you hope—is some very good art, and some decent writing.
This can then be built upon.
For more on the topic of Art in Mass Media, we highly recommend 800 TV broadcasts, over 5000 articles, in over 96 countries: Interview of arts media relations consultant Nina Berger (2014).