New book chronicles a tactile approach to magazines

Glitter, reel-to-reel tapes and a piece of stale bread were some of the things that Assistant Professor of Art History Gwen Allen came across while researching her new book. “Artists' Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art" chronicles a unique art movement from the 1960s through 1980s, when the concept of “magazine" included multi-dimensional, tactile versions, usually contained in boxes or envelopes. (The MIT Press, 2011).

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The cover of this artists’ magazine, Aspen, was burned paper and matchsticks.

“Once the mimeograph and copy machine introduced affordable self-publishing, artists outside of established art circles embraced magazines as a way to circumvent the mainstream art press and the commercial gallery system of exhibiting art," Allen said.

In 1966, Andy Warhol was guest editor for an artists' magazine called Aspen. Subscribers to the magazine received a flip book, a Flexi-disc recording by John Cale, the bassist for the Velvet Underground, and copies of Timothy Leary's academic papers on LSD all bound in a reproduction Fab laundry detergent box.

Allen spent several years in the archives of distinguished modern art museums and libraries examining all of the magazines she covers in the book. The experience was anything but predictable.

"I was working in very quiet, orderly places where other researchers were examining manuscripts, rare books and journals," said Allen. “But I was opening Solander boxes overflowing with hand-done elements such as glitter, pine cones and, in one case, a piece of bread in a plastic bag -- things you just don't expect to find in an archive."

Though the artists' magazines eventually morphed into other forms of conceptual and mixed-media art, there has been a resurgence of the concept of artists' magazines over the past few years. Allen points to “THE THING Quarterly," started by Bay Area artists Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan in 2007. Actor James Franco guest edited a recent issue featuring personal objects -- a lipstick-covered mirror, a switchblade carving -- that paid homage to a deceased friend. Allen said that she expects that newer versions of artists' magazines will continue to evolve.

-- Denize Springer