Magazine article Artforum International

Ten Years Ago. (10-20-30-40)

Magazine article Artforum International

Ten Years Ago. (10-20-30-40)

Article excerpt

September 1992

Ten years ago this month JACK BANKOWSKY became the seventh editor of Artforum. One hundred issues on, he revisits his introduction to an inexact science--how to choose a cover.

The final night of July 1992 found me in the old Artforum offices on Bleecker Street, fretting at the light table. The deadline for the September cover, my first as editor, was the following afternoon, and the options before me all felt wrong: predictable, indecisive--stale, I worried, before the reader had even opened the magazine.

Earlier today--and one hundred issues later--as the monthly cover conundrum resolved itself yet once more under my editorial watch (Documenta11 favorite Steve McQueen's helmeted gold miner emerged from the chaos of lackluster options to light September's logo), I glanced up at the decade's worth of framed covers on my office wall (ever so subtly pruned to "improve my track record," an astute visitor recently ventured) and recalled my first stab at a science that remains, like so much that is subject to the tyranny of the production cycle, inexact.

Delinquent writers, poor-quality photographs, great works that don't make great covers, not to mention the inevitable accidents of timing and context (i.e., everything that goes on outside and around the magazine from the time you have an idea until the moment it goes to press): How often, I mused, has my final cover call been the fruit of eleventh-hour inspiration or the product of simple serendipity? More often, certainly, than the calculated acts of anointment imagined by the conspiracy fantasists in the art world beyond our walls.

Like 2002, 1992 was a Documenta summer. And like the issue in front of you, my first would feature our commentary on the art world's "grandest" occasion. As it turned out, Jan Hoet's version of the once-every-five-years exposition proved a tepid affair (duly noted by our writers Dan Cameron, Lisa Liebmann, Jutta Koether, and Michael Corris). The single coverworthy symbol of that summer's deflated expectations, Jeff Koons's two-story topiary pooch, wasn't even in the show. Erected not far from Kassel in the courtyard of a Baroque schloss, Puppy trumped the main event. Inspired gate-crashing and, as such, a salutary victory of personal hubris over institutional inertia, it was a tempting way to send up the summer's proceedings.

Still, Koons's beflowered monstrosity felt more like the last gasp of the '80s than a new beginning. Rhonda Lieberman's "The Loser Thing" was the freshest piece of writing in the book. Anchored by a strong reading of Warhol, her piece took up the cause of an emerging generation of artists who, as she wrote of the master himself, "embrace affirmatively the wannabe moment as the generative power of the work." Unlike Koons, who "hysterically obeys this market command to perfect himself as 'product' of the consensus," the artists Lieberman championed mined their all-too-human failures, their inability to pull it off. Abjection equals "the plight of those who are insufficiently recognizable as commodities, for commodities, by commodities."

Lieberman was early with the loser thing, tracking the emergent zeitgeist in monthly reviews for the section that had previously been my editorial charge--but her big piece had to wait for a sympathetic editor, who came with my appointment. A perfect occasion for an inaugural cover; and yet no artist she lifted from the broader current felt strong enough to stand in for her overview. "Performed" as much as explicated, Lieberman's purchase on the newest wrinkle in the neo-Pop continuum would yield its greatest return in her regular column, Glamour Wounds. Running from 1993 to 1995, it consistently rated a ten--or a zero--on reader surveys. In layman's terms, that means required reading.

The summer of 1992 was also (if our Contents page is a reliable guide) the moment that national arts funding was preparing for a life-or-death congressional battle (Maurice Berger on the NEA); that gay-magazine publishing went mainstream (Lawrence Chua on the launching of Out); that a short-lived high-end restaurant showcasing the artistic efforts of the likes of Sally Struthers and Pierce Brosnan opened its gilded doors on Manhattan's Fifty-eighth Street (Andrew Solomon on Les Celebrites); that a long-painting abstractionist was buoyed to visibility by the harmonic convergence of a new generation's attention (Jessica Stockholder visits Mary Heilmann). …

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