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May 24, 2011

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Artists’ magazines, those ephemeral containers for fleeting impressions and experimental thought, now have their own scholarly study. Art history professor Gwen Allen, who teaches at San Francisco State University, has published Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art (MIT Press, $34.95), an impressive 300-page survey of artist-run art magazinesin their heyday, which, according to the flap copy, has already passed: the 1960s through the 1980s.

Among her subjects are Aspen (1965-71), which consisted of an assortment of printed ephemera and multiples in a box, edited at one point by Brian O’Doherty; 0 to 9 (1967-69), Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer’s art and poetry mag named after a Jasper Johns stencil painting; Avalanche (1970-76), Liza Bear and Willoughby Sharp’s mag that focused on interviews with an international roster of hip artists like Joseph Beuys; and Art-Rite, the newsprint magazine co-founded in SoHo in 1973 by Artnet Magazine editor Walter Robinson.

Other mags covered in the book are Real Life (1979-94), the "Pictures Generation" magazine put out by Thomas Lawson and Susan Morgan, and Interfunktionen (1968-75), the German-based magazine helmed by founded by Friedrich Heubach and later taken over by Benjamin Buchloh.

Framing her guidebook around the notion that artist-run magazines contain within them the germ of planned obsolescence, Allen asserts that artists’ magazines “live at the margins” and “court failure,” and proposes that their failure should be understood as an expression of their vanguard nature, an anticipated consequence of their rejection of the capitalist system.

She posits that the prominent role of the magazine in the history of art has been nearly as vital as the role of the artworks themselves. The book also includes a chapter on Artforum, which, thoughnot founded by artists, has certainly been the focus of a lot of their works, notably Lee Lozano’s Throwing Up Piece (1969), which commands the user to throw the last 12 issues of the magazine up in the air.

Another highlight is a massive appendix containing the histories of other international art magazines, from Berkeley, CA’s Praxis to Holland’s Integration to Cologne’s De-Coll/Age.

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