PRINT March 1988


HAVING TAKEN ON the position of editor, I imagine this magazine as a house, a house large enough to accommodate the ideas and images of all those who participate in the making of contemporary art. Like a house, Artforum has its foundation—the awareness of the past; its frame and walls—the intersections of the present; its doors and windows (even a skylight or two)—the view toward the future. And like a house, Artforum has been built—and continues to stand—through a collaboration among many different kinds of people, with each individual playing an indispensable role. Still, with all this work and all this commitment, Artforum would be an empty house if it weren’t for the contribution of artists, whose hands set in motion the cycle of creation, contemplation, criticism.

Every art historian knows that the consultation of books, texts, and documents “of the era” is fundamental to understanding any work of art. At the same time, students of art history are often warned about their readings of the writings and statements of artists. The creators of art, students are often told, make the worst critics—the least responsible judges of their contemporaries, the most subjective interpreters of their time. Yet I have always been convinced that the reflections of artists on art, their own or that of others, not only enhance our understanding but are crucial to it. From Pontormo’s Il libro mio (My book, 1554–56), an idiosyncratic diary as unnerving in its scatological detail as it is precious for its information about a now-lost Florentine masterpiece by the artist; to Kandinsky’s theoretical texts on abstraction, those perhaps unsurpassed models of both analytic precision and emotional intensity; to the conceptualists‘ innovative language-based art, artists’ work with words has given us new tools for knowing, looking, imagining.

For many years, artists’ visual projects for Artforum have done far more than decorate the walls of this house. Together with the texts of critics and writers, these projects have been telling us about our present: where we are and who we are. I intend to publish many more of them. And I also want to offer artists another role in the magazine: our doors and windows to the future are open; through them, I want to let artists’ words flow in and out.

This special issue of Artforum, then, is the work, both visual and written, of thirteen artists. I left each one free to choose his or her own topic, and to use his or her preferred approach: sociological, philosophical, poetic, political, historical, personal. Each artist was treated exactly like the writers who contribute to the magazine, working with our editors and receiving payment as an author.

I have always detested the jockeying for position that pits artist against artist; any “star” system that reduces honest struggle and achievement to a question of who’s “in” and who’s “out”; the pigeonholing that is a useless substitute for intellectual rigor. If you try to stick an easy label on these invited artists, it will simply peel off. But nevertheless it is possible to define some qualities they share: a spirit of experimentation that values questions more than answers; a willingness to risk a radical, subversive, nonformulaic language; the courage to convey urgent, even disturbing messages, and to stand for unorthodox values. In the world of images to which these artists give life, many languages are spoken, and those languages speak with one another. And in Claes Oldenburg’s drawing for the cover of this issue, a bottle of words washes up on our shores, as a marvelous metaphor for language itself.

A thriving art criticism is not guaranteed by subverting orders, ignoring hierarchies, or negating rules. But we cannot, at the very moment when both the concepts of form and of the history of form are on the verge of collapse, risk accepting, even for the sake of our own comfort, the reconstitution of style. (Do we really need another ism?) Instead, we must listen to the proliferation of exciting, even contradictory signals all around us. This will keep us moving, changing, growing.

Imagination and reality can meet as we break through boundaries to enter foreign territories. It is at these crossroads, these checkpoints, that the ultimate allegory is still conceivable: we are simultaneously acting and acted upon, defined and dissolved, ourselves and the other; we become the transitive subject. So I must go back to my original image of the house, and transform even that image. At the same time that it is the large house we live in, it must also be a house we can carry on our backs. And as we travel, let’s be grateful for the ever-changing landscape, the who-knows-what that waits just beyond every corner. Let’s shed every desire for conformity, every pattern of acquiescence, and generate audacity.

Ida Panicelli

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.