New York

“The Page as Alternative Space, 1909–1929"

Franklin Furnace

“The Page as Alternative Space, 1909–1929” organized by Clive Phillpot, is an informative survey of magazines associated with several major 20th-century art movements. The show examines the modernist sensibility from a perspective which too often has been overshadowed by the dominance of painting and sculpture. Among the magazines on view are Italian Futurism’s Lacerba, Swiss/French Dada’s Dada, Hungarian Futurism’s Ma and Russian Constructivism’s Vesch. There are examples of covers and inside pages from 18 different magazines in all. Curiously, Les Soirées de Paris and L’Esprit Nouveau, two Paris-based magazines associated with French Cubism and its post-World War I offshoot Purism, are omitted. But Cubism’s absence from this exhibition is hardly the tragedy that it would be in a painting exhibition of work from this period.

The show begins with Lacerba, the graphically innovative mouthpiece of the first generation of the Italian Futurist movement. Published between 1913 and 1915, Lacerba had an enormous influence on the magazines produced by all the international manifestations of Futurism, Dadaism and Constructivism, that sprang up both during and after its run. Lacerba is the source not only of formal elements common to these magazines, such as mathematical notations—bars, plus and minus signs—and the bold mix of typefaces and typesizes which appear on the same page, but of the aggressive treatment of the page as a visual plane. Lacerba in fact, taught others how to activate the space of the page by organizing words and images dynamically.

Another issue raised by this show, but often neglected in art historical surveys, is the strong need of the early modernists to communicate their ideas to the public in print. It is important to remember that this was the period which also witnessed the rise of the mass media magazines. And, as we’re beginning to know, modernism and the mass media are hardly unrelated.

Ronny H. Cohen