By John Held, Jr.
It’s really difficult to successfully show printed works as opposed to strictly visual works of art in a gallery setting. You either have a choice of showing the cover or opening up to an inviting interior page, leaving the rest unseen. It’s the same whether you’re showing artists’ books, periodicals, exhibition catalogs, correspondence or other published ephemera. They are best perused in a comfortable position, at ones leisure, thumb to page. That said, printed matter is an integral part of a comprehensive artistic experience and a highly interesting aspect to boot. So despite the drawbacks of display, the attempt to highlight these materials goes on, and from my viewpoint, it is most welcome.
871 Fine Arts, located in the basement of the Crown Point Press Building, is one of The City’s finest bookstores, and their exhibition program is one of the more adventuresome as well. They are especially notable for their exhibitions of a historic nature, usually related to the Beat era. The current exhibition also harks back to the past in dredging up some of the more notable artist published magazines of the previous decades, the earliest being, “The Tiger’s Eye,” published from 1947 through 1949, giving voice to the climate surrounding the flourishing of Abstract Expressionism
Other items in the exhibition express and expose the philosophy behind various art movements, such as, “V Tre Extra,” “Fluxus Newspaper,” and Ben Vautier’s, “Lettre,” which helped spread the Fluxus viewpoint. Mail Art is a particularly well-represented field with such titles as, “Smile,” “Bile” and “Vile” (all takeoffs on “LIFE”), “Omnibus News,” (from 1969), Italian Vittore Baroni’s “ArtePostale,” and two works from Belgium, Guy Schraenen’s “Libellus,” and “Aerosol,” edited by Roger Avau.
Magazines, like Tom Marioni’s, “Vision,” “The Fox,” and Willoughby Sharp and Liza Bear’s “Avalanche,” advanced no particular movement, but rather marked a course towards a conceptual shift and the expansion of the creative process in the 1970s.
Some magazines in the exhibition are notable for re-thinking the notion of the periodical as a static format guided by a central editor. Magazines such as, “SMS: A Collection of Original Multiples,” and “Aspen,” played with the idea of a magazine as dispenser of artists multiples, going beyond the printed page to incorporate objects. Richard Kostelanetz’s, “Assembling,” provided an open forum for artists’ writings, free from editorial constraint.
Perhaps most conceptual of all are the “magazines” published by San Francisco alternative art space, La Mamelle, which issued four rubber stamps in a series they titled, “Imagezine.” In this work, combining both artwork and magazine, the “reader” became the publisher by purchasing the rubber stamp and impressing the “issue” where he or she do desired.
San Francisco art magazines, beside those previously mentioned by Marioni and La Mamelle, include V. Vale’s punk-orientated, “Search and Destroy,” hippy-influenced “The Oracle,” Johnny Brewton’s, “X-Ray,” and, “The New York Weekly Breeder,” edited and published by Tim Mancusi of The Bay Area Dadaists in the early 1970s.
San Francisco State University faculty member Gwen Allen published the reference work, “Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art,” in 2011, and it’s nice to see a local venue expose many of the periodicals she cites. The exhibition includes both individual issues and complete runs of magazines. All in all, a well intentioned representative sampling of artist periodicals, that should give rise not only to a better understanding of the field, but to a desire to create your own. For that’s what this exhibition is all about, the display of a disparate group of artists who took the initiative to do-it-themselves.
“Artists’ Magazines” runs June 22-August 31, 2013 at 871 Fine Arts at 20 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA.
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