PRINT September 1993

*ARTFORUM ’80 - ’93*

Bobbies and Buddhists and Boone, Oh My!

MADE BY ARTISTS for other artists as a creative act, classic art magazines like the Blaue Reiter Almanac and Documents offered rich verbal and visual resources and satisfied a perennial need. Today, with large-scale marketing as the aim, even the smallest of art magazines demands quite a different structure. Names suggest an ideal viewing space: Parkett, Frieze, the defunct Spanish Arena (with its overtones of bullfighting), the equally extinct Wolkenkratzer (Skyscraper). Others denote meetings, like Artforum itself, or the Belgian Forum. Combined, they offer a scenario of vision and judgment. Yet for years on end, the publication of one panegyric of blue-chip art after another in national and international art magazines has supported the image of a closed shop, not an open market. Little wonder that new magazines flaunt their decentralized, mongrel aspect—two in Britain, Variant and Hybrid, simply with their titles.

Broadening the concept of criticism was one task undertaken by Ingrid Sischy during her editorship of Artforum, in both the body of the magazine and the review section. The debate between Thomas McEvilley and the curators of the Museum of Modern Art’s “‘Primitivism’” exhibition, the imaginative use of Donald Kuspit in the review section, the effort to find words and, by extension, ways of making judgments on anything from a Jules Olitski to subway graffiti, even the inclusion of (for example) Rene Ricard, who made his role abundantly clear—all these broadened and deepened both the meaning and the significance of criticism in the world, “criticism” in this case meaning interpretation in its widest sense. Things had changed since the essentially academic approach of the preceding regime. Yet this may have been the last great change in Artforum’s history. After this, the pressure was on, and the combination of vision and judgment battled greater opposition, within a straitened art world.

When he planned the ill-fated Contemporanea, McEvilley spoke of an ideal magazine in which an interview with a Buddhist monk might appear alongside an interview with Mary Boone, and readers would be left to make up their own minds. In the view from England, Artforum is not following his lead. Perhaps the only art that matters is the art that travels, but when art does travel there is surely a danger of advertising it as local or quaint. Yet after more than a decade of reviews from London in Artforum, an ecstatic feature about young artists in Britain was prefaced by a picture of two of them dressed as London bobbies.

If nothing else, this shows that problems of contextualization never disappear. It may also show that “local,” “small,” and “alternative” are not dirty words, and that small is beautiful, or at least appropriate. Perhaps it is better to serve a local community well than to pretend to embrace the world.

Stuart Morgan is a writer who lives in London.