Mini-Museums, Little Magazines

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Mini-museums, little magazines Artists' Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art By Gwen Allen MIT Press, £25.95

Reviewed by Steven Heller

There has been considerable recent interest in 'little magazines' from the 1960s to the 80s. Clip/Stamp/Fold (see p.108) looks at 70 that focus on architecture; Little Magazines & Modernism (forum.davidson.edu/ littlemagazines) is a website developed by Davidson College in North Carolina; Pankaj Mishra wrote a brief history and confession of his 'addiction' to them in The Guardian (27 March 2010; guardian.co. uk/books/2010/mar/27/pankaj-mishra-american-magazines); and Teal Triggs chronicles fanzines in her book Fanzines (see p.109). These are but a few of the scholarly attempts to organise, categorise, anthologise and otherwise rationalise the vast number of independent niche, cult and art magazines.

Gwen Allen's Artists' Magazines is among the most thorough discursions into the influence of little magazines upon late-twentieth-century visual culture. Regrettably, this book is not as visually rich as one might like, but Allen's narrative is nonetheless an essential new contribution to the study of magazines such as Art Forum, Aspen, Avalanche, Art Right. Real Life, Interfunktionen and -my personal favourite - File, |which, in its early incarnation (before Time Life cracked down on its parody LIFE magazine logo), was a true bridge between conceptual art and conceptual design.

Allen subtitles her book 'An Alternative Space for Arf , writing: 'This term neatly captures how the two-dimensional printed page functioned as a substitute exhibition space for conceptual art - a corollary to the architectural interior of the gallery or museum.' I have long called magazines 'museums of the street/ but Allen goes further -when she notes: 'It also expresses the ways in which magazines paralleled and furthered the ideological and practical objectives of alternative spaces.'

With increased accessibility of cheap printing, the early twentieth century offered many artists, designers, theorists and subcultural denizens the opportunity to create considerable amounts of printed matter. Starting in the late nineteenth century, little (proto-DIY) magazines emerged from rebellious groups. Most lasted a short time, yet some prospered. Some artists used the magazine as an expedient means to thwart academic strictures. Others used it as a new art form, testing the limits and rigours of graphic design and printing.

Allen's study addresses the Dada, Surrealist and Expressionist periodicals of the 1920s and 30s, and the art-driven variations of the 1960s through to the 80s. …

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