PRINT February 1980

Art Magazines and Magazine Art

IT IS EASY TO FIND FAULT with generalizations about magazines concerned with the visual arts, on account of the diverse nature of these publications. Problems of definition present themselves immediately. For example, important magazines which discuss the visual arts, or which have a significant role in a history of magazines concerned with the visual arts, may well be magazines of all the arts or even general magazines, in essence. Just as the various arts spill over and coalesce with each other, so too do magazines apparently devoted to specific arts or areas of art.

Even when, for convenience, one refers to art magazines as if they dealt with a neatly defined area of inquiry, it will be found that these art magazines themselves differ vastly in readership, function and production. One can, for example, distinguish among magazines intended for artists, both professional and amateur, for historians, collectors, dealers, museums’ staffs and so on; though it is frequently the case that a magazine caters to several of these groups at the same time—as well as to the general reader. One can also identify magazines which deal with the art market, art history, art criticism, art news and information, the practice of art, esthetics and art and politics, as well as those magazines which are in some way experimental. Yet, again, most art magazines rarely exist for these single purposes but possess an amalgam of functions. Furthermore, some magazines are produced for profit (or calculated loss), others are dependent upon grants, while others circulate for free.

Even when one focuses in upon one aspect of the history of art magazines, differences among the functions or the circumstances of publication of magazines make comparisons difficult and generalizations subject to innumerable exceptions. Nevertheless, it seems possible to suggest certain patterns, albeit not entirely free from distortion, that underlie the plethora of publications.

There is a growing tendency to identify a category of art magazines as “artists’ magazines,” a phenomenon closely associated with “artists’ books.” With regard to the latter, it is my contention that the concept of artists’ books, or more specifically book art, belongs to the 1960s and after, and that the attempt to string a history together which goes back to the 1920s and ’30s,to Lissitzky, Duchamp, et al., is a misunderstanding of the nature of the origins of artists’ books. The recent increase in awareness among contemporary artists and other artworkers of the way in which earlier artists were involved with printed matter has, however, caused these works to be considered afresh.

The same misconception regarding artists’ magazines and magazine art also seems to be abroad. While it is true that such artists as Lissitzky, Schwitters and Van Doesburg were also active as designers, typographers and writers, and treated their work in any of these areas as important in its own right, they simply used their skills to produce magazines, however handsome or unconventional they might be. Unlike artists in the ’60s they were not consciously using the production of a magazine to question the nature of artworks, nor were they making art specifically for dissemination through a mass-communications medium. In 1969, for example, the fact that the Art and Language group posed the question as to whether the editorial in the first number of Art-Language could “come up for the count as a work of art . . .” is indicative of a wholly different attitude of artists towards the magazine and towards the nature of what constituted art at that moment in time.

“Artists’ magazines” seems a useful umbrella term to describe magazines for which artists have been centrally responsible; just as the term “artists’ books” subsumes an area designated “book art,” so might “artists’ magazines” subsume “magazine art.” By magazine art I mean art conceived specifically for a magazine context and, therefore, art which is realized only when the magazine itself has been composed and printed.

In the ’60s Dan Graham and Joseph Kosuth used advertising space in nonart magazines and newspapers as contexts or agents for artworks, and Stephen Kaltenbach used an art magazine—Artforum—with similar intent. The relevance of Kosuth’s thesaurus pieces, in particular, must have been unfathomable to practically all those who actually stopped to read them in the newspapers when they first appeared. By contrast, the issue of Studio International for July/August 1970 was published specifically as an exhibition issue, so that its already art-oriented audience had to make only a slight adjustment to comprehend its intention. Beyond single pages of magazine art and special issues of magazines, in the ’70s magazines such as Schmuck and Extra appeared, with the prime intention of acting entirely as vehicles for magazine art, or literally as art.

Magazine art has parallels in the magazines of the ’20s and before, if not progenitors. There are some issues of Merz and 291, for example, which, although intended as designed works or secondary presentations of artworks, have recently almost acquired the status of artworks, now that their lack of uniqueness and lack of autographic qualities has ceased to be an obstacle—possibly as a result of the attitudes of artists towards replication in the ’60s and ’70s. Magazines of the period which have acquired this same status include Mécano, New York Dada, The Next Call, Le Coeur à Barbe and others.

Another class of artists’ magazines is those devoted to theory and or praxis, as well as history and criticism. These magazines have proliferated since the end of the ’60s, and represent another instance of artists replacing traditional intermediaries between themselves, their work and their public. Thus, not only have visual images in magazines now been disseminated in the form of primary artworks, thereby ousting reproductions, but texts by artists in art magazines have also subrogated the descriptive and interpretative roles of the critic.

Art-Language has already been mentioned as having appeared at a time when the definition of an artwork was an open question. It began by examining art theory and praxis, became a tool for mucking out the art stables and has recently developed into an instrument for demolishing the existing superstructure of art. The evolution of Art and Language has involved a changing membership, as well as mergers and splits, the results of common or differing points of view. Thus, Analytical Art ceased publication after two issues and The Fox effectively after three; both merged in succession with Art-Language on account of the compatability of attitudes between artists involved in the two former magazines, and between members of Art and Language. Similarly, Charles Harrison moved over to Art-Language as editor after working as assistant editor of Studio International for several years. Not all The Fox personnel merged with Art and Language, however; some of the editors went on to publish a new magazine, Red-Herring. Just prior to this, disagreements within the Artforum editorial group caused a split which led to the formation of another new magazine, October, which moved a few steps in the direction of such politically-oriented magazines as Left Curve, Artery and Praxis.

Artists’ magazines concerned with theory and politics also flourished between the wars. Many of the more overtly political such as Die Pleite and “Jedermann sein eigner Fussball” ran typically for only a few issues. However, once again, a major difference between the two periods must be acknowledged. In the case of the more general magazines such as De Stijl, L’Esprit Nouveau, i10, etc., artists such as Van Doesburg, Le Corbusier, Oud and Moholy-Nagy, who worked in an editorial capacity, and as contributors, did not give this activity an exclusive position; it was one activity among many of equal importance. This attitude contrasts with the almost exclusive preoccupation with verbalization and theory of many artists in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

As was suggested earlier, most generalizations about art magazines are likely to be oversimplifications. Thus there are a large number of artists’ magazines of the ’20s and earlier, and of the ’60s and later, which do not sit squarely in either the domain of magazine art or of magazines of theory. While many simply promote or discuss aspects of the art of the time, they may also be produced as the expression of particular groups or individuals, and therefore on a small scale; they may share some of the characteristics of magazine art or those of magazines of theory. In the ’70s such magazines as Art-Rite, File, Interfunktionen, Pages, and Avalanche have operated on the periphery of these areas, or in a middle ground between them. Earlier examples of artist-oriented magazines include Blast, Sic, G (Gestaltung), Veshch, and Ray.

It is in this area of activity, rather than in the two previously described, that it is reasonable to see some continuity, because in both periods these magazines have had similar functions: they are oriented towards the interests and preoccupations of artists, they are often edited by artists, and they rarely seek a wider audience. There is no clear divide between the earlier magazines and the later ones, except occasionally in so far as the later ones rub up against, or even partly assimilate, the roles which the other two categories of contemporary artists’ magazines have assumed.

The reasons for an increased interest in publications by artists in the ’60s are manifold, but two tendencies seem to be of particular significance: first, the evolution of art to the point at which concept was emphasized over object; second, the increased experience of art through magazines and books, due to the growth of art publishing.

The process of dematerialization in art generally came to a stop at the moment when concepts required documenting. Thus, various invisible artworks required texts to enable them to be perceived; some works in remote places could only be made accessible through photography; similarly, wall drawings required scores for their performance.

Thought processes and ideas generally need to be expressed or elaborated verbally and/or visually, and so notes, diagrams, sketches, or notations become significant. To this end, these processes are rarely dependent upon an involvement with specific media, thus an old envelope and a ball-point pen may well be more appropriate than charcoal on rag-paper, paint on canvas, welding-torch on steel. By the same token, the content of a text by a visual artist can remain the same regardless of the typeface in which it is set, the size of that type, the color of the ink, or the quality of the paper. Just as conventional poems can be written, typed, or printed in countless different ways and yet retain their wholeness, so too, can the expression of visual ideas in words. The wholeness of the work can only be interfered with when the visual structure, or emphasis, of the elements is significantly altered. (This is not to deny certain effects of manual or mechanical “handwriting,” of context, of the message of the medium—only to de-emphasize their relevance, which might be compared to the effect of mounting a single wall-piece, say, in one location rather than another.)

Similarly, diagrammatic works which illustrate a concept can adequately perform their function within reasonable limits of scale, quality of reproduction, etc. The “handwriting” of the artist, again, need not be essential to the communication of the idea. Photographs, too, when used for illustrative purposes—as happens in newspapers—can suffer through printing, cropping or reduction, without necessarily having their content affected.

Consequently, if an artist wishes to work with mass print media, and is more concerned with content than form—though form need not be compromised either—much can be accomplished. There are also those artists such as Buren and Kosuth whose work serves to illuminate the context in which it appears; therefore, adoption of the same means as are employed by other contributors to a newspaper or magazine is no barrier to their goals. Finally, many artists conceive works specifically in terms of the processes which are employed to multiply them, fully conscious of their advantages and limitations, and can thus achieve a consonance between content and form.

There is another dimension to using mass print media to make art: the potential audience for the work is multiplied immensely. By buying advertising space in magazines and newspapers Dan Graham and Joseph Kosuth exhibited their work before an enlarged audience. The Studio International exhibition issue of 1970, which included such artists as Baldessari, Pistoletto, Buren, Huebler, and Kaltenbach, reached an audience larger and geographically more diverse than an exhibition in a gallery. Similarly a bookwork by an artist may be printed, if resources permit, in an edition of several hundred; and with good distribution through the mails, through bookstores, galleries and libraries, it may be experienced by a great many more people, in many countries, than a unique work. Such rootless objects as books and magazines also find their way into unlikely places, places where art does not usually go. When art is available in editions of hundreds, or thousands, it is also demystified, the cult of the precious, unique object takes a knock. The system built up around unique or artificially limited edition objects, the art market, the art dealer, the art gallery, can in theory, and often in practice, be circumvented.

The statement that a reproduction of an artwork in a magazine is worth two one-person shows has been quoted many times. While this testifies to the existence of a variant of the “publish or perish” syndrome in the art world. as well as to the power of art magazines to bestow status on an artist, it is, if true, a dismal fact, since the very reproductions of paintings and graphic works, in particular, tend to become surrogates for the originals. Publishers and printers pride themselves on achieving color true to the originals, and on the resolution of detail, but it is disturbing to realize how many of the key works of art, of even this century, which one “knows,” are only known in reproduction; in the case of a painting, say, all sense of scale, of surface, of texture, of color, is surmise. Furthermore, at another extreme, when one considers the distance that separates an entire performance, for example, from one shot of the work, one is thinking in terms of light years. The “Museum without Walls” is a museum of ersatz objects.

Carl Andre expressed his attitude to photographs succinctly:

The photograph is a lie. I’m afraid we get a great deal of our exposure to art through magazines and through slides and I think this is dreadful, this is anti-art because art is a direct experience with something in the world and photography is just a rumour, a kind of pornography of art.1

The effect of reproductions can be perverse. Consider John Baldessari’s parable, “The Best Way to Do Art”: A young artist in art school used to worship the paintings of Cézanne. He looked at and studied all the books he could find on Cézanne and copied all of the reproductions of Cézanne’s work he found in the books.

He visited a museum and for the first time saw a real Cézanne painting. He hated it. It was nothing like the Cézanne he had studied in the books. From that time on, he made all of his paintings the sizes of paintings reproduced in books and he painted them in black and white. He also printed captions and explanations on the paintings as in books. Often he just used words.

And one day he realized that very few people went to art galleries and museums but many people looked at books and magazines as he did and they got them through the mail as he did.

Moral: It’s difficult to put a painting in a mailbox.2

A different attitude was expressed by Iain Baxter when he stated that: “Magazine reproductions are part of today’s landscape.”3 Artists with this approach, who use photography and the mass media, can in fact take over a denatured secondary source of their work and use it to promote primary works conceived in terms of the specifications of the originally secondary medium. (One should add that not only are reproductions of artworks part of today’s landscape, so too, are reproductions of remote landscapes, battlefields, politicians, starving people.)

Not all the associations of magazine reproductions are negative; it has been argued, for instance, that “it was largely as a result of his misreading of Synthetic Cubism that Malevich was to reach such revolutionary conclusions of his own.” Since it is also surmised that his acquaintance with Cubism was largely through photographs and “art journals which were eagerly perused,” one can conclude that magazine reproductions may well have contributed to this—creative—misunderstanding.4

The disquiet of some artists concerning the adequacy of reproductions, whether in books or magazines, of work which has been executed in a variety of materials, particularly in the ’70s, has led them to refuse to have illustrations of their work included in catalogs of exhibitions in which they have participated. In magazines, on the other hand, empty spaces representing absent reproductions tend to be so few, as to not exist.

One way of dealing with this problem, as stated above, has been to make work specifically for replication. For example, “The Magazine Show” was put in among the advertisements in the issue of Artforum for December 1976. The Institute for Art and Urban Resources bought seven pages of advertising space and presented the work of six artists who made works “to fit the size, format and lithographic process” of the magazine. As it happens, although the idea was interesting, the results, in black and white, were unremarkable, except perhaps for a diminutive, ironic piece by Robert Ryman.

Most book art and mail art is made with the multiplication process in mind. A pioneering bookwork: Carl Andre, Robert Barry, Douglas Heubler, Joseph Kosuth, Sol LeWitt, Robert Morris, Lawrence Weiner, (the Xeroxbook), was published by Seth Siegelaub and John Wendler in an edition of 1000 in 1968. This group of artists used the Xerox machine to produce largely sequential works which were not denatured by replication; in fact, they were conceived with the capacities of the machine in mind. This method of compiling a book: making 1000 photocopies of each image and then collating them into 1000 books, has been employed in making magazines too.

In the early ’70s the L.A. Artists’ Publication, Assembling, and the Ace Space Company’s Notebook 1 and Space Atlas exemplified an approach to magazine making whereby virtually anything was included, provided contributors submitted the 200, or 500, or whatever number of copies of their work that was required to make up the predetermined size of the edition. Among the offset, mimeoed, or Xeroxed contributions were many that were intended as multiple printed artworks. These magazines were open to almost anyone who felt like contributing, and their editors pared their role down to little more than coordinators. Schmuck magazine was not too dissimilar in intention to the former magazines, but in its first issue it was actually suggested that it could exist not only “as a vehicle for artists to present their ideas,” but also “their art.”

These open-house magazines might be assumed to be poles apart from the commercial magazines with substantial advertising and a clear editorial direction. However, they are often similarly dependent upon networks of personal relationships, which therefore tend to circumscribe their content, and consequently present certain demarcated territories to their respective readers.

Examples of commercial magazines which have attempted to present art in their pages are not numerous. Seth Siegelaub was instrumental in establishing the parameters of the special issue of Studio International of July/August 1970. The idea behind “the 48-page exhibition in this issue” was to give each of six critics the opportunity to edit an eight-page section of the magazine, and to put these pages at the disposal of artists. The results were various; Michel Claura gave his eight pages to Daniel Buren, who proceeded to insert yellow and white striped pages into the “exhibition.” Lucy Lippard requested each artist whom she had selected to set up a situation within which the next artist was to work; as a result, the work of these eight artists displayed an unusual sequentiality. Not all the artists used the occasion to present art, however, many simply used their spaces for the presentation of documentation of pre-existing works.

Another established magazine which took up the idea was the more literary TriQuarterly of Winter 1975; in his introduction John Perreault stated that the issue “is not ‘about’ art but is art. It is a portable exhibition. . . that takes place simultaneously in many places at once . . . . ” As with Studio International, the contents here ranged from art created for the situation to straightforward documentation. Once again Daniel Buren used his space for an artwork, as did Robert Barry, Lawrence Weiner, John Baldessari, and Les Levine. There were also more exclusively textual pieces situated somewhere between artwork and theory, such as that by Adrian Piper.

The magazine Schmuck, as well as later magazines related to mail art such as Cabaret Voltaire (1970s version), are closer to real anthologies of artworks than either of the preceding magazines, but they employ cheaper, less refined means than the two established magazines, which offered their contributing artists the opportunity to generate more sophisticated images.

The idea of visual artists employing the book or the magazine to produce multiple artworks or art statements, whether verbal, visual, or verbi-visual, may still seem novel. However, the fact that many artists have been making book art or magazine art for over a decade, a few for nearly two decades, testifies to the versatility and potential of these rediscovered media.

It can be a rewarding experience to examine the content of a clutch of book works or an anthology of magazine works, in view of the diversity of the ideas which are being promulgated, and because the allegiances of the artists—who frequently work in other media—are so various. That such wide-ranging nonconformity and heterogeneity can flourish in the face of mass media, which seem only to encourage conformity and homogeneity, causes one’s hopes for art, and for society, to fly high.

Clive Phillpot is librarian of The Museum of Modern Art and an art writer.


1. In Avalanche. Fall 1970, p.24.

2. In John Baldessari, Ingres, and other parables, London, 1972, p.11.

3. Conceptual art and conceptual aspects, New York, 1970, p. 31.

4. John Golding, “The Black Square”, Studio International, March/April 1975, pp. 97, 100.


Trevor Fawcett and Clive Phillpot, eds. The Art Press, two centuries of art magazines, London, 1976.

The Art Press, two centuries of the art periodical, an exhibition recorded on microfiche. London and New York, 1976.

Studio International, special issue on art magazines, September/October, 1976.

Howardena Pindell, “Alternative Space: artists’ periodicals”, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, September–October, 1977, pp. 96–109, 120–121

Some words/names not mentioned in this article: Pluralism, Benjamin, Topliffe, Post-Modernism, McLuhan.