The Rite Stuff. (on Art-Rite)

By Frankel, David | Artforum International, January 2003 | Go to article overview

The Rite Stuff. (on Art-Rite)


Frankel, David, Artforum International


We were riding on the absurdity of the situation--that we were three nobodies, had no money, had no fame, and didn't know anybody in the art world. But it was perfect--we were totally free.

Edit deAk, 1974

EDIT DEAK AND WALTER ROBINSON may shudder to hear it, but talking to them recently about Art-Rite I accidentally thought of that old movie in which Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, teenaged and rural, stage a Broadway-type musical in a barn: "Hey kids, let's put on a show!" But since the magazine deAk and Robinson published and edited, and wrote and designed and typeset and distributed, out of their downtown-Manhattan lofts between 1973 and 1978 was so open, democratic, and fresh-faced, they may think the parallel fine, or at least poetic justice: They and a third editor, Joshua Cohn, staged an exhilarating deconstruction (if an exhilarating deconstruction isn't a contradiction in terms) not only of art but of art writing, so they must take what they get. In any case: Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney could really dance.

"An important aspect of Art-Rite," says deAk today, "was a whole new tone and attitude. It was unheard of to have a sense of humor at the time, or not to be talking about 'the problem' of art--the problem of this, the problem of that. A few years later the punk magazines came along, and I realized that's what I'd wanted--I loved those fanzines. That's not what we were, we were much more formalist, but we were a very different sound than what was around us."

The fanzine image carries, since Art-Rite had a loving relationship with the art world and particularly with its own generation. Distributed free, it was "given away," according to an undated grant application, "in recognition of the community which nurtures it." The application goes on to describe the magazine's "close relationship with the art community" and its reflection of "the younger generation's view.... For its collective audience, Art-Rite represents a restless but friendly, constantly evolving entity." In a statement deAk and Robinson wrote for Studio International in 1976, the editors admitted to "some nasty comments about a few 'major' artists," but those artists "were famous and successful and because they were safe we couldn't hurt them and since we spent the rest of our life defending babies we had to attack someplace." Even when the magazine went negative it did it amicably.

DEAK, ROBINSON, AND COHN MET in 1972, when they were all in their early twenties and the three of them took an art-criticism class taught by Brian O'Doherty at Barnard College in New York. Under another hat O'Doherty was the editor of Art in America, which he wanted to make new, and he liked to ask his strongest students to write for it. He extended this invitation to Cohn, Robinson, and finally deAk, whom, however, it puzzled: "I thought, Aestheticism must be in trouble if they want baby blood--I mean, what do we know? We were in the last year of undergraduate work. I had come from Budapest, didn't even speak English when I started school. We started giggling; there must be some weird void-- what's wrong with the system that they want us?" She and the pair she still calls "the boys" did write for O'Doherty, but they also began to fantasize about producing a magazine of their own, perhaps as a newsprint insert in Art in America--"piggybacking on the establishment, having the establishment distribute the enemy , our voice. This was the period when people talked about things like that." The insert idea died but the larger idea stuck, and to make it happen they enrolled in the Whitney Museum's Independent Study Program, for which they proposed to publish a magazine as their class project. Robinson meanwhile had gotten a job as a typesetter and designer for a Jewish weekly newspaper, and, he says, "We stole all the type from there until they caught me and I got fired." And that's how Art-Rite began.

O'Doherty is distinguished and worldly; but he gets a little mushy about the Art-Rite editors: "They were three extraordinarily gifted people. …

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