PRINT September 1993

*ARTFORUM ’80 - ’93*

Hip to be Square

ALTHOUGH ARTFORUM AFFORDED itself the luxury of a 10th birthday in print, it was too hip to bother with a sweet 16th. But in 1984, actually two years late, the magazine’s third set of owners, including the Englishman Anthony Korner, who remains its principal guardian, celebrated the legal majority of their headstrong ward with the publication, by UMI Research Press, of an anthology titled Looking Critically: 21 Years of Artforum.

The early ’80s had made for an unforgettable adolescence. A new generation of artists had just declared itself, most aggressively, and downtown Manhattan, from the East Village to western TriBeCa, had developed an international reputation for high styles acute new states of mind. Clubs, most famously the Mudd, whose landlord was the painter Ross Bleckner, had become a midnight bazaar for the improper exchange of ideas, energy particles, and other eroticized forms of information. Work and play were fused. One went to bed at dawn four or five times a week, and marathons of all sorts were a way of life.

Carving her initials on this juicy bit of bark was Artforum’s young editor, Ingrid Sischy, from South Africa out of Scotland via Rochester and Sarah Lawrence College. Artforum hadn’t been making waves for a while, and Ingrid’s very first issue, in February of 1980, sparked significant new editorial trend, the revival of artist-project pages in all sorts of magazines. This however, was just a start. It soon looked as if Ingrid were performing the Heimlich maneuver in print. She emphasized the visual, which meant among other things that standard typography became a sometimes thing. My own crowning achievement from this topsy-turvy period in the magazine’s history as a typographical ellipse—on unparaphrasable themes to do with D. H. Lawrence, Marcel Proust, computers and the sun—that was referred to informally as “the space bubble.” It occupies a place of honor in the 1984 anthology.

During the very early ’80s my role at Artforum was actually somewhat ambiguous, complicated by the fact that I had been involved with this new editor, whose employment policies were rigorous in the extreme—to be a F.O.I. could be a mixed blessing. Indeed, until sometime in 1982, I wrote articles and reviews only for Art in America. My earlier efforts on Artforum's behalf had been sort of covert, consisting of emergency editorial backup work, and, more ineffably, the service of prospecting for idées en l'air—ones emanating from theater, say, or fashion, which had been getting interesting. As psychic handmaiden, my influence, I like to think, was important if subliminal.

Ingrid left no flowerpot unturned. Holy fools and poets lying dormant everywhere were summoned to produce their crazy writing. But Edit deAk and Rene Ricard were without doubt the gonzo literary forces behind the adolescent Artforum. Bitchy and metaphysical, simultaneously comic, impassioned, and critical—they were right in there kicking for all the signal movements of the day. Between them, Edit and Rene practically invented the first half of the decade and for all practical purposes put Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring on the official map. If either of them were on deadline, the editorial task force was on 24-hour call and there was plenty of work for one and all.

Neither a bore nor quite a whorehouse, Artforum during this debutante phase was the Hippest Little Square Magazine around, and Ingrid, far from being the mere agitatrix of some dusty rag, seemed at all times to be busy preparing everyone around her for emergency takeoff. Or was it a landing? Guerrilla combat? It was hard to be sure. Her nicknames at the time included “Lou Grant,” “The Boss,” and “Fonzie” or “The Fonz.” A little later she was the subject of a New Yorker profile, titled “A Girl of the Zeitgeist,” written by Janet Malcolm, in which she was quite literally compared to the river Nile. By attracting this kind of attention, attention you couldn’t possibly buy, Ingrid probably helped spark the current phenomenon of star magazine-editors. Her editing techniques were quixotic. They depended on the promiscuous use of scissors, tape, and Xerox machine, a miasmic quantity of little yellow stick-on papers, and the arduous and frequently painful process of “pulling sentences” out of the writer-patients. Ingrid conducted these word searches and miscellaneous extractions with the sense of mystery and portent associated with Ouija boards and alchemic experiments. Brainstorming sessions could run round the clock, with food continuously being delivered. Dead-of-night dinner breaks outside the office—usually consisting of something greasy, something spicy, and too much to drink for the amount of work to be done before dawn—were symbols of writerly status. At three A.M. inspiration might strike, followed perhaps by a fallow period during which a sudden despair of epic dimensions and unbearable pressure could lay claim to the editorial process. However things got done, it seemed that the universe depended on the outcome.

This chivalric fervor, this belief in a sort of higher editorial god, is what I remember above all, what was valuable. It was an experience defined in part by the urgencies of youth, in part by what was exploding around just then, but mostly by Ingrid’s relentless drive to make whatever she does matter, whatever it may take. It is not an editorial climate that I have come across since, nor is it one that I exactly miss. Too much adrenaline too long sustained leads to chronic anxiety—not necessarily something you want to revel in as you approach middle age. It is also not advisable to run around like a maniac on a crazed schedule full of unpredictable graveyard shifts, if, say, you want to start a family. Writing, finally, is a solipsistic business. Eventually it tends to upstage any situation that entails following a vision other than one’s own. But, perhaps once or twice in a writer’s life, I can recommend the experience of an editor with an all-consuming and ego-eclipsing sense of mission.

Lisa Liebmann is writer living in New York.