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Artists’ Periodicals: An Event for 1984 or Page 2001

“It was not until the advent of the telegraph that messages could travel faster than the messenger,” states Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media. The artists’ periodical in the twentieth century has become a form of telegraph, producing direct communication between artists. It is dissociated from art world trade periodicals, which are primarily aimed at promoting “art as bullion.”

In the early 1970s I became interested in the artist’s use of the periodical as an extension of the alternative space, a place where he/she could create a work to be shared with other artists. In the last decade, as artists around the globe have created and exchanged periodicals, the simultaneity of events in a cross-cultural context has been more fully realized. For example, an artist in Bogota, Tokyo, or New York can more readily and clearly communicate ideas to artists within his/her own country or abroad through the artists’ periodical than through the glossy trade periodical. An artists’ periodical is nothing more or less than what it is. It may utilize offset or Xerox, collage or rubber stamps; its format may change without notice. It is not a wish-you-were-here snapshot of an event (unless the artist so intends it), but it is the event. For the non-artists, the artists’ periodical is a kind of time capsule containing signals and codes transmitted between artists, projecting the subtle, unconscious qualities present in the oral transmission of data and myths.

Eight years ago I proposed an exhibition of periodicals that was too mammoth to come to fruition. In 1977, the Print Collector’s Newsletter generously permitted me to crowd into its modest format a ponderously voluminous chronology documenting artists’ periodicals from 1900 to 1977 (“Alternate Space: Artists’ Periodicals,” Print Collector’s Newsletter, VIII, 1977, 96-109, 120-21).

Now I propose the exhibition Artists’ Periodicals: An Event for 1984 or Page 2001. An outrageous approach to the inconceivable appears to be the only solution. Perhaps the exhibition could be housed in a twenty-lane linear accelerator structure spiraling the glob from pole to pole, each lane representing a continent with subdivisions by country, state, and city. Activities would be arranged by decade beginning in 1900. Within each decade and geographic subdivision would rest the “-isms.” A synopsis of the historical, political, and scientific events for each decade would be printed on a simple handout. Full runs of each periodical would be available on microfilm for scholars too tired or impatient to wait in line; rapid slide presentations of the most visually significant material would be prepared for those too overwhelmed to peruse the originals. Periodicals in the form of a box or packet that contains objects, such as SMS and Fluxus works, would be placed on view and could be handled. Audio and video cassette periodicals would also require specialized areas. Fainting rooms could be installed adjacent to areas displaying more recent issues of File, Bile, or Vile, and perhaps Teutonic Schmuck or Just Another Asshole—the lurid style of the National Enquirer of the fifties having fleur-de-mal-ed under the guise of retro chic. Since the benefit of radical developments in cryogenics would be needed in order to see the entire exhibition, the “bile” of retro chic may by then smell more like a radiated rose. A mail-in section would be provided for emerging periodicals, thus permitting the exhibition in their own homes by subscribing to current efforts. The catalog would contain the names and addresses of ongoing periodicals, as well as a chronology, bibliography, and a section of artists’ pages collated alphabetically, as in Assembling. It would require a truck to move the catalog and a rock to launch it, because the exhibition would outgrow earth and move to the moon (if the curator could be thawed out in time.)

Excerpted from Art Journal 39, no. 4 (1980): 282–83.