Magazine article Artforum International

Endless Summer: Thomas Crow on Philip Leider's "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" 1970

Magazine article Artforum International

Endless Summer: Thomas Crow on Philip Leider's "How I Spent My Summer Vacation" 1970

Article excerpt

A SNAPSHOT taken of Art forum in 1965 would have yielded a split and contradictory image. In the recollection of New Yorker Mel Bochner, the upstart Los Angeles publication had undergone a palpable shift in tone over its short period of existence: "They were no longer, by that point, about younger California artists," he recalls thinking. "it was more about the 'scene.' I remember one feature, Dennis Hopper photographs, of jasper Johns, Henry Geldzahler and Andy Warhol. They were almost like fashion magazine photos." (1) While the style of the piece and the identity of the photographer may have said Los Angeles, the portrait subjects recalled by Bochner say New York. Indeed, in the mind of Artforum's editor at the time, Philip Leider, the magazine's attention was no longer on the West Coast at all: As he told Amy Newman for her oral history of the publication, Challenging Art: Artforum 1962-1974 (2000), "Around '65 I shifted the emphasis to New York very consciously, very deliberately." (2) But his intention was in no way to scatter Hollywood stardust over the Manhattan art world; he had in view an East Coast cohort of bookish young writers, whose fragile coalition he imagined as remaking Artforum into a byword for ambitious critical thought, the first American art periodical one could expectantly buy, as Chuck Close put it, "for the whole magazine." (3)

Given the variety of temperaments involved in the project--which included Barbara Rose, Michael Fried, Rosalind E. Krauss, and Max Kozloff--Leider expected the move to be a short-lived experiment. As he wrote to Fried early in 1966: "From the moment I decided to shift ARTFQRUM away from the hopeless task of making a West Coast art magazine toward becoming a vehicle for the group of younger people like you, Barbara, Max, la Krauss etc., I knew that the days of such a venture were limited by the volatile nature of the personalities involved, and that I could expect a year, perhaps two, during which I could hold the mixture in some kind of suspension, after which it would explode into its incompatible, irrevocably hostile elements." One of those years, he reflected, had already expired, "and all the signs are that I will be lucky to manage the second." (4)

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The prediction of volatility and interpersonal drama came to be amply borne out, as Newman's candid informants confirm, but it was in the end their solidarity in the face of Leider's own need for change that propelled him away from the magazine he had done more than anyone else to define. By 1969, he felt that he had discovered on his own a compelling new body of art, one that demanded recognition in Artforum's pages but in distinctly different terms and with a different vocabulary than the cohort of '66 would or could deliver: "There was a scene happening, unexpected, unpredictable and unpredicted, but there and real," he would later recollect. "The scene was the emergence of a coherent group of very, very good artists at the core of which were [Robert] Smithson, [Richard] Serra, [Michael] Heizer, [Alan] Saret, [Keith] Sonnier. They were connected with something new in film--Michael Snow--and something new in music--Philip Glass. It was very exciting, and I couldn't get any of the writers I cared about to get interested in it." (5)

Not only was there fresh territory to be explored, the geographic boundaries of which were expanding across the hinterlands of the continent, but there had also emerged a new model of cultural journalism exemplified by Jann Wenner's Rolling Stone. In that magazine's late-1960s, San Francisco heyday, its stable of writers condensed the transformational social ethos of the West Coast counterculture and the rock world into long-form personalized narratives, heavy on vivid reportage, light on intellectual decorum. Leider singled out for praise Michael Lydon, a Yalie mainstream journalist turned hippie convert whose main beat at Rolling Stone was immersive road dispatches from the carnivalesque tours of the newly anointed rock aristocracy. …

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