Magazine article Artforum International

Age of Incidents

Magazine article Artforum International

Age of Incidents

Article excerpt

BOB NICKAS ON THE SEPTEMBER 1969 ISSUE OF ARTFORUM

MY LUNCH PERIODS IN JUNIOR HIGH were rarely spent in the cafeteria or out on the playground. The quiet library was the preferred destination (along with the reedy woods behind the football field, where I discovered other loners, stoners, and perverts.) Just shy of thirteen in September I 969, I came across a magazine I had never seen before, Artforum, and was struck dumb by the cover: mirrors wedged into piles of rocks, sand, and dirt on a scrubby ground. It didn't look anything like the other art magazines in the library, such as Artnews (not very exciting, but it was there), Popular Photography (ditto), a crafts magazine (I wasn't yet ready for adventures in basketry), and Studio International (English, its large format declaring its importance). I distinctly recall a 1970 issue of Studio with a double-page spread by Gilbert & George--photo portraits of the artists captioned "Gilbert the Shit" and "George the Cunt"--censored, though just barely. I was immediately hooked on G & G, seemingly prim and proper but with mischief lurking below that beaming, tweedy surface. Even so, Artforum provided the bigger hit, and I eagerly awaited each new issue.

Looking back, I appreciate how the cover image must have registered at the time, connecting me to the sorts of things that I and my teen partners in crime would do as we tripped around those woods--turning over rocks and watching what would crawl out from under, holding shards of glass up to the sun, flashing glints of light at one another. An unconscious recognition of the format is also clear now. Held squarely in both hands, the magazine reminded me of an album (I bought records almost every week). That image might have been an album cover for Rare Earth, Mountain, or Captain Beefheart--who gave us "Son of Mirror Man--Mere Man." Once inside, I discovered that the photo was by Robert Smithson, and accompanied an article that he himself had written, "Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan." I didn't know who Smithson was, or that artists contributed essays to magazines. The writing seemed vaguely scientific, measured but stoned. I thought he had probably been high when he sat down to write:

  A horizon is something else other than a horizon;
  it is closedness in openness, it is an enchanted
  region where down is up. Space can be approached,
  but time is far away. Time is devoid of objects
  when one displaces all destinations.

Smithson had an influence, although I can't imagine what teachers made of the papers and book reports I turned in that fall. I felt freed up, and my grades, which had begun to slip in the previous term, soon rebounded. The other piece in that issue that I read, or tried to get through, was Jack Burnham's "Real Time Systems." Just as I hadn't previously encountered the concept of "mirror-travel," "real time" was equally new. The accompanying pictures had me baffled: a chicken hatching from an egg (Hans Haacke in his ecological period), an anonymous stretch of park lawn (one of Robert Barry's radiation pieces), a nondescript coffee table and black sofa in an otherwise empty room (Seth Siegelaub's "exhibition" of conceptual works by Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, and Lawrence Weiner). I couldn't help but wonder: Where is the art? Even if One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969, didn't resemble anything I had ever seen before, it still looked like sculpture. This was reproduced in Robert Pincus-Witten's essay "Richard Serra: Slow Information," which I don't recall reading back then. Same with Theodore Reff's "Mallet's Sources: A Critical Evaluation." Along with a double-page ad for a Parke-Bernet auction of "Seven

Highly Important Impressionist & Post-Impressionist Paintings," Manet and Serra provided a when-worlds-collide moments to be sure. I understood how someone would buy a painting by van Gogh. How mirrors and rocks were to be sold was another matter. …

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