PRINT September 1993

*ARTFORUM ’80 - ’93*

Word Up!

I’VE BEEN ASKED to comment on art magazines but my mind keeps wandering toward other things: like magazines in general, and how the commentary that fills them feeds both cultures and subcultures, how they jump-start ideas, how they drench us in taste, how they work an angle, how temporal they are, how soon their current divinities become yesterday’s papers. But I also start thinking about commentary in general, including this comment which you are now reading, or the other comments filling this magazine, or the commentary implicit or explicit in the art and ideas being commented on, and how all this becomes a collected visual and textual discourse that names and defines our cultures and can, in turn, become history. But commentary can also be structural or musical. It can be representational or abstract. It can both gloss and analyze, love and hate, mention and omit. And it tells not only of its object but of its subject. It speaks of itself. “This is exemplary,” it intones. “This is what I adore,” it infers. “But this, this is pathetic, a desperate failure, and a minor one at that,” it declares. Commentary should remind us that how we speak of our passions and disgust is an indicator of who and where we are in the world. It speaks of being “in” or “out,” “high” or “low.” It can insinuate its privilege or compulsively confess to its stunningly clever self-revulsion. It can be theory hungry or afraid of ideas or both. It can collapse complex thoughts, objects, and events into dumb but catchy buzzwords or reductivist indictments. It can wax florid or be lean and dry. It can operate as a run-of-the-mill opinion-machine or dress down in the sedate but jive costuming of “objective” journalism. Whichever, commentary is an ongoing constancy of thoughts rendered, actions accomplished, sounds articulated, and structures comprehended.

Of course, TV and computers have upped the ante, creating continuous and simultaneous comments without closure. But magazines are something else. In spite of being tied to the supposed archaisms of print technology, they remain resolutely pervasive: kind of like little soldiers in the armies of commentary that construct and comprise cultural life. They can tell us what’s hot and what’s not, and who’s doing who. They can open and close minds, kill time, sell both schlock and sublimity, dictate taste, create consensus, use and abuse power and change worlds.

Barbara Kruger