PRINT January 2004

Angela Westwater

I met John Coplans in 1970, some two years before I started working for him as managing editor of Artforum. My informal education about contemporary art and the current New York scene began then and accelerated with professional urgency during my three years at the magazine. This heady, highly productive time of artmaking was a formative period for me, and I could not have imagined a better mentor than John.

He was smart and incredibly well read, so he became a major resource for information, whether biographical, bibliographical, historical, or even culinary (John prided himself on his good cooking and hospitality). His intellectual commitment was fueled by his relationships with other artists, and this proved infectious (to me). He generously included me in his social circle, and in some cases his friends became mine—notably Bob Smithson, whose original, brilliant thinking contributed so much to Artforum’s pages. Both men were feisty, tenacious, and irreverent, so arguments and debates went late into the night either at Max’s Kansas City or at John’s Seventy-ninth Street apartment over dinner. In retrospect, I wonder how I ever got to my desk on time.

John’s passion and fast pace energized me; at the same time these attributes made for a highly charged atmosphere at the office—then a small, dingy suite of rooms on Madison Avenue occupied by a staff of five. He ran Artforum with an authority that occasionally resonated like the military. Given the other strong personalities on the editorial board (some with a doctrinaire stance), the rifts and denunciations that resulted may have been inevitable. Lynda Benglis’s provocative dildo ad in the November ’74 issue was the climax of the drama and led to the ultimate schism (the departure of several longtime editors), which signaled an end to the hermetic, purist position the magazine had occupied. In the process of opening up Artforum, John had encouraged writing about art outside the prevailing canon and always welcomed my suggestions. We were pleased to publish articles about artists hitherto neglected, such as Louise Bourgeois and the Bechers, and to devote greater attention to performance, dance, photography, and music. Those lessons I learned from John left me with valuable tools for the future—and any number of wonderful memories.

Managing editor of Artforum from 1972 to 1975, Angela Westwater is a partner in Sperone Westwater gallery in New York.