PRINT January 2004

Mel Bochner

By the time John Coplans took over Artforum magazine in 1971, I had stopped writing, but he wheedled, cajoled, and finally lured me back with the offer to review Lucy Lippard’s Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object. Coplans was a demanding editor, going over the review word by word. We argued every point from both sides, searching for flaws in the logic, relentlessly forcing every issue to its inevitable conclusion. The editing session was contentious and abrasive but in the end helped to expand the piece from a book review into a critique of the politics of dematerialization.

My second article for Coplans began with a telephone call protesting the magazine’s dismissive coverage of the great 1973 Malevich retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum. Coplans’s response, typically, was to turn the tables. He offered me a chance to “speak my mind” on the subject through an interview with him. I should have anticipated, after my previous experience, that being interviewed by Coplans would be like being cross-examined by a prosecuting attorney. As the interview progressed, it became clear that what we were really debating was whether, after Conceptualism, anything new could be recuperated from the modernist tradition. Thirty years later, that question is still being debated.

As an editor, Coplans has been underestimated, both because of the long shadow of his predecessor, Philip Leider, and because of his special talent for making enemies. But, in fact, he was the one who ended the reign of formalism at Artforum and opened the pages for the first time to photography, film, and politics. Coplans was critical, provocative, and not tied to any ideology. More important, he liked art. When you think about it, those are exactly the qualities you want from an art magazine.

Mel Bochner is a New York–based artist.