PRINT May/June 2020



Detail of a work in progress by Jasper Johns, April 13, 2020, approx. 50 × 66".

THIS ISSUE came together very fast, organized in apartments scattered across the pandemic’s epicenter. There’s a vertigo to it all—of starting work just as the merry-go-round stops. This magazine, built piece by piece in our kitchens and makeshift offices, destined for other homes. Our nerves are on the surface, but they’re alloyed with hope.

ON THE COVER is a bouquet of tulips. The artist Tosh Basco bought the flowers at the beginning of quarantine with their partner, Wu Tsang. They documented the flowers as they decayed. The picture is primed for metaphor, and part of its appeal is that it’s not hard to understand: It radiates the early boom-bust parable of tulipomania. The fable of the modern artist, extracting beauty from the transient, the fleeting, the contingent. All that phony separation of nature and culture that got us into this mess.

The artist sees decomposition as the prelude to composition. They see hope. Shot with an iPhone 8, it is an elegant, magic image, surprising in its novel familiarity. The background flickers with clinquant batches of “degradation,” the lambent grays spooked by slippery crystals of reds and blues and greens. The imperfect JPEG decays too, lending the descended tulips a crisp luster. I think the friction is poignant in print. It is a perfect picture of an artist at home.

FAMILY SHOWED UP from all over. Paul B. Preciado was in Paris, sick with the virus. When he came to, he sent his ambitious dispatch convoking a “new understanding of community with all living creatures.” Our publisher Tony Korner put us in touch with old friends of the magazine, the art dealer Paul Stolper and “non-musician” Brian Eno, which led to a kismet collaboration with Peter Saville. Editors Elizabeth Schambelan and Lloyd Wise secured transmissions from John Kelsey, Eileen Myles, Andrea Zittel, and many others. Alexandro Segade made a new pandemic apologue, conscripting characters from The Context, his stellar debut graphic novel. We wrote the artist Anicka Yi, who opened the door to her ongoing conversation with Tobias Rees, director of Transformations of the Human at the Berggruen Institute. They enlisted art historian Caroline A. Jones, whose brilliant essay on symbiontics appears in this issue, a teaser for a larger package Yi and Rees are drafting for summer. “What will we trade for fear, postpandemic?” Jones asks. With customary dedication and good humor, managing editor Jeff Gibson sewed it all up, even as Covid-19 hit his own home.

Part of the vertigo is not understanding whether things are moving very slow or very fast. Responding quickly to the virus meant pushing forward the magazine’s traditional schedule. This is our May/June edition, with the next issue to arrive in July. It was only a few months back that I wrote a piece about friendship. It ended with a thesis, which feels even truer in this world: Being together is the only reality. I did not mean this as a metaphor, though I should add that togetherness doesn’t have to mean other people and that aloneness can be its own kind of commune. Another question might be about what we mean by alone—about how we can be together, or make a reality, in the face of new tactics of separating. (You can always learn something from lesbians: “Separatism is more than a mere 6',” advises Ridykeulous in their project.)

JASPER JOHNS sent a fragment. A work in progress. If I let my mind wander, it resembles the maps on the screens I track with erratic zeal—aggregations of election results and contagion, indexes of inequality, pollution, crime. A bunch of the red and blue and green dots cluster ominously around one of the radial axes.

Don’t overread the map thing. Resemblances are misleading. Once you’re back on the streets it’ll resemble a manhole cover. It’s been a long time since Leo Steinberg admitted to overcoming his “initial dismay” at Johns’s paintings, won over by “something that impressed me as the intensity of their solitude.” Johns protested at the time; he didn’t like any evidence that he had “been there” at all.

But he’s there, working now. Johns remains one of our great artists of de-alienation, and of “two flinty things together.” This glimpse from the studio is a different kind of flinty thing; it discloses a horizon beyond the picture plane: This fragment carries a seed. Something is being made. That is the promise. The fact of this fracture coming together is something to which we can look forward.