Arriving like Wile E Coyote’s 1000 lb. anvil (always dropping at the right time if you’re the Roadrunner), September’s Artforum 50th Anniversary issue is massive. It is even more ad laden than usual. At 550 pages, this issue actually weighs in at 400 pounds (I haven’t verified that, it might be hyperbole).
Once you get past the part about it being so heavy it might cause permanent shoulder damage, you settle into the content (if you can find it between the ads). I should be more clear, to find the text is not an easy feat, but worth it. It seems odd to promote or review Artforum, certainly it should be able to manage that task for itself. But I feel in a way that if I don’t beg of you to grab this door stop and go back to school for a bit, you will miss the opportunity. Contemporary authors recap the formative art criticism of their lives into snapshots of circumspection. Individual articles that were turning points in criticism for some of us (in some cases, just the critics remembering them) are revisited. Editors from the bad old days recount their mistakes and triumphs. Artists on artists. Critics on critics (sometimes critics on critics on critics). It is not all as narcolepsy inducing as it sounds.
Let’s take Rhonda Lieberman on Barbara Kruger’s “Remote Control” articles from the 80’s: “In her study of Saturday-morning kids’ shows, she watches a McDonald’s commercial where a child’s idyll morphs into a branded hell. Her sentence beautifully conveys nasty reality as she marvels that the tot would ‘trade this woozily gorgeous locale for a seat in some orange plastic meat-palace’. Right on, Barbara Kruger.” 1. Can you beat writing like this? 2. When can I use the term meat-palace and 3. Isn’t that the best use of a hyphen EVER? And speaking of hyphens, lets try Robert Pincus-Witten’s comma-heavy reminiscences about his tenure. “Those of us who quarreled and eventually broke with that original milieu still think of Artforum as basic to the understanding of contemporary art, though perhaps with less conviction than before, granting the diminishment of criticism, caused, no doubt, by the rise of postmodern relativism and, moreover, of an omnipervasive digital media culture – in short [HA!], the whole decremental slide into a mediocre culture…” Slandering oneself never sounded so awesome.
The sacred cows that were slaughtered in the 60’s and 70’s are trotted out, bones scrubbed clean like Marina’s classic performance, and laid out in vitrines for us to gawk at. For me, this issue reads like a gathering on an imaginary sunswept porch at the Home for the Aged (and curmudgeonly) Art Critic. “When I was your age Sonny, investigations into the systemic modes of artistic process and production buttered my bread!” The ghost of Clement Greenberg hovers somewhere nearby making lists of all the people he is going to tell off the second they kick the bucket.
All joking aside, it is a useful and occasionally wonderful reminder of what came before. Artforum Vol. 51 Issue 1, shines a light on some of the forgotten parts of art criticism. Thomas Crow provides context to the birth and reincarnation of Artforum by way of Philip Leider’s 1970 article “How I Spent my Summer Vacation”. Jeffrey Weiss describes the material and the theory in Dan Flavin’s 1965 piece “…in daylight or cool white”, reproduced in the pages of Artforum at a time where Ed Ruscha was cutting and pasting the layout together with rubber cement. I would say I have read about 80% of the issue at this point, but I keep finding wonderful bits. Ed Ruscha and Robert Pincus-Witten praise (Ruscha) and bemoan (Pincus-Wittman) the ubiquity of digital photography. Kara Walker makes insightful and personal statements. Richard Serra and Robert Irwin make concise statements about materials and process.
If you can manage it, grab the issue (with both hands) and keep it around for personal adult art education class from time to time.