Since the 1960s more than a dozen contemporary art magazines have circulated in the San Francisco Bay Area. A few have left but continued printing, but at present no printed periodical addressing contemporary art remains.1 There have been some gaps in coverage over the years, but looking back over the timeline, from the Sixties up to the present there’s always been at least one critical journal. This doesn’t, of course, mean they’ve been wildly successful or even widely distributed. This turn-over and transience is typical of the Bay Area, a place where new ideas are tolerated if not encouraged, and the persistent appearance of yet another new initiative means there’s always been an active scene here, if only just in the process of becoming.
Last January, I began the work of locating origin stories of Bay Area periodicals.2 I knew of artist initiated publications like Wallace Berman’s Semina and the mail-art magazine VILE, both produced at least in part in the SF Bay Area, but I wanted to find critical and editorial perspectives. It’s common knowledge that ARTFORUM was founded here in 1962, so I’ve used their first issue as my point of departure moving forward in time.
For this DISPATCH, I’ll think through these historical magazines as a way to address the present—starting in 1962 up to the most recent instances. During the course of research I became particularly interested in the opening statements of these magazines, as presented in their first issues. I’ll excerpt a selection of them here. Then, borrowing their perspectives and purview, I’ll consider events in the current moment.
Considering the goliath that it has become, the opening statement of ARTFORUM in 1962 is a bit anticlimactic. It seems that even in its inception, the publication had some anxiety about locating itself outside of the art and publishing centers.
ARTFORUM is an art magazine published in the west—but not only a magazine of western art. We are concerned first with western activity but claim the world of art as our domain.
ARTFORUM presents a medium for free exchange of critical opinion. That center section, (starting on page 15 of this issue), will contain a lot of divergent and contradictory opinion. We will search for the enlightening statement on art itself but much will fall short of this; criticism rarely offers the insight to art that it does to the critic himself.
Setting aside the developments in the years that followed, having read through the profiles of the buttoned-up and very-white group of contributors listed in the back of the first issue of Artforum, one starts to imagine how differently ‘free exchange’ might have been interpreted had the magazine stayed in the SF Bay Area going forward (think San Francisco 1969). And the final sentence here, a meta-critical aphorism about critics, appears to be their very first “enlightened” offering. It’s also a bit surprising looking back to those early issues, to see how little the design/format has changed; still the blocky masthead and square format.
Fast-forwarding to the present, Harrell Fletcher, who was studied and made his way as an artist in San Francisco, published ‘500 words’ in a recent issue of ARTFORUM about his show at the Wattis ICA at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco. I thought it was a strong show, and important in relation to Fletcher’s practice when he lived in San Francisco. I’m thinking of his projects with artists at Creativity Explored like Michael Bernard Loggins, whose book “Fears of Your Life,” (a kind of underground classic here) grew out of Fletcher’s zine with Elizabeth Meyer called Whipper Snapper Nerd. While Fletcher’s unpretentious approach to socially-engaged art still has some echoes in the Bay Area, since the printing of What We Want Is Free (edited by Ted Purves) in 2005, Social Practice, as it’s become known here, projects along these lines have become much more contested and complicated.
Artweek first appeared in 1970, with Cecile McCann as editor, and was published in Castro Valley (a nearby suburb). ArtWeek was, as the name suggests, a weekly broadsheet covering “activity on the West Coast.”
We commit ourselves to fulfilling your need for communication and information. We share with you the conviction that there is a great deal of interesting activity in the art community today. We assure you of our continuing efforts to stress both quality and timeliness in everything that is printed in ARTWEEK.
Because our lines of communication are newly established we may sometimes [sic], without meaning or wanting to, fail to mention events that should be reported. We hope that you, our readers, will share with us your own special sources of information.
In the mid-nineties ArtWeek was sold and the offices moved to San José, eventually migrating farther south to Los Angeles where it was published until folding last year. Very little was said about its end, but the publisher announced that it was no longer financially viable. In other words, it had succumbed to the economic pressures of the recent crash.
While it included the writing of many curators and writers from the Bay Area until its final days, Artweek might have ‘failed to mention’ the abrupt departure of Jack Hanley gallery this past April. Jack Hanley had been a pivotal character in the Bay Area scene in the last decade, bringing some of the Bay Area’s strongest young artists to international visibility. Many San Francisco artists continue working with him in his New York gallery. In the last few months, as if to foreshadow the loss, two of Jack’s artists have been traded over to one of the three new and notable galleries. Will Rogan and Chris Johanson are now represented by Claudia Altman Seigel. The other two young galleries to watch are Silverman and Baer Ridgway.
Vision & La Mamelle
In 1975 four magazines, comprising almost a third of all the magazines I found in my research, printed their premiere issue. These magazines include Visual Dialog, la mamelle, Vision, and Currânt. In San Francisco, the founding of these periodicals coincides with the inception of several alternative spaces in the Bay Area, and the proliferation of the artists involvement in the determination of art discourse and institutions. Unlike these magazines many of these spaces are still operating. Operating in a very similar way to these spaces, two of the four magazines, Vision and la mamelle were founded as platforms for the distribution of artists’ work. While my initial research was into “critical and editorial perspectives” I found these two impossible to ignore. This from la mamelle editor C.E. Loeffler:
la mamelle is a space for ART. And is ART, but not as object. ...I offer its unsolicited use to West Coast artists and those in support of. No reviews or critical interpretation. It is an artists’ medium. A space for ART: ART.
I further offer la mamelle as a support network. An open channel for the conduction of ART energy and project manifestation; the support of projects introduced and those previously manifest: ART.
la mamelle, which called itself an “alternative anthology of contemporary west coast art,” subsequently became a brick-and-mortar alternative space, and the magazine changed its name to Art Com. This introduction established the magazine as a medium for artists, rather than a representational platform for images of their work—still a radical proposition in 1975. It also offers itself up as a “support network” and thereby a kind of community bulletin board. Following the logic of the magazine, and before the days of the world-wide-web, Art Com had a presence on the now mythologized Well BBS network.3
If la mamelle/Art Com was still running, it would have been embroiled in the recent community discussion about the closing of New Langton Arts last year. It was a conversation that took place primarily on Open Space, SFMOMA’s blog. In the 41 comments attached to a post by art historian Julian Myers, many key Bay Area figures including members of the New Langton board responded. New Langton Arts (formerly 80 Langton) was a seminal non-profit art center in San Francisco that exhibited too many now-seminal artists to name. A few months after the end of NLA, another non-profit called Southern Exposure re-opened in an ambitious new space in the mission district.
Vision Number One (the California issue) was edited and designed by the Bay Area artist Tom Marioni. Marioni’s work also happens to be included in the premiere issue of la mamelle, and the two magazines share a spirit if not compete for a territory. Vision was published as an international platform for artists by Crown Point Press during the period Marioni was running the Museum of Conceptual Art.
It is the purpose of Vision to make available information about idea-oriented art. It is an artist-oriented publication, presenting works and material only from artists, each issue devoted to a particular region of the world. In this first issue we have included California artists who have had an influence on the region or the world, and have created work that has the character of the region as well as an individual style. This section of the publication functions like an exhibition space where the artists were invited to show whatever they wanted to represent themselves.
Looking back at this first isse, it has an undeniably impressive list of artists, including work by Michael Asher, Bruce Conner, TerryFox, Bruce Nauman, Eleanor Antin, Robert Irwin, Ed Ruscha, Chris Burden, Paul Kos, Bonnie Sherk, and Allen Ruppersberg.
If Vision were to print another California issue, some of the Bay Area artists they would likely include: Trevor Paglen, Stephen Kaltenbach, Sergio De La Torre, Michael Arcega, Renée Green, Packard Jennings, Amy Balkin, Josh Greene, Ben Kinmont, Anthony Discenza, Stephanie Syjuco, and Chris Kubick & Anne Walsh.
Following a few years after the printing of Vision, Crown Point Press began View, their own small interview magazine. Each issue featured an interview with a different artist, the first with John Cage. Artists interviewed in the years following included: Robert Barry, John Baldessari, Robert Bechtle, Daniel Buren, Terry Fox, Howard Fried, Jannis Kounellis, and Tim Rollins + KOS.
Institutional Magazines (of the 80s and 90s)
During the Eighties and Nineties, a range of institutions in the Bay Area founded new magazines. These included Video 80, produced in conjunction with the San Francisco International Video Festival in 1980; Shift, founded in 1987 by Anne Walker director of the alternative venue ArtSpace; Vox, produced by Hatley Martin Gallery and founded in 1989; West founded in 1993 by the San Francisco Art institute; See, founded in 1995 by the Friends of Photography; and Open by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (for their members) in 2000. These periodicals doubled as promotional vehicles for the institutions that funded and produced them. While each of them had compelling content beyond the program of the institution, the conflict-of-interest inherent in producing a forum for critical discourse (implying a degree of disinterestedness) may have prevented these periodicals from gaining wide-spread distribution, and even a local following. On a side note, Bay Area graphic design history was registered in two of these magazines: Shift which was designed by 90’s typography wizards Emigre, and Open which was designed by Martin Venezsky’s Appetite Engineers.
If I were to combine all of the periodicals above into a sort of trans-institutional coalition magazine, it might write about Allison Smith’s recent projects that have appeared in several venues in the SF Bay Area, starting with her Matrix exhibition at the Berkeley Art Museum. Since then Smith has realized an ongoing series of events with SFMOMA considering the popular and material production around the US war in Iraq and Afganistan. More specifically she is re-staging a “World War II-era collaboration between the American Red Cross and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.” Her most recent event Arts & Skills Service involved a collection of artists and crafts people offering “hands-on workshops to military service members and veterans.” Following the example from the 50s, It’s a gesture of rehabilitation and convalescence for returning GIs. Smith has also opened her own storefront event space in downtown Oakland, modeled after a general store.
The Last Decade
In 2000, the website Stretcher made the first foray into producing a web-journal surveying contemporary art in the SF Bay Area. Five years later in 2005, I founded The Shotgun Review with artist Scott Oliver (to avoid a conflict of interest I’ll leave it at that). About a year ago we passed the project on to Patricia Maloney, who grew it into Art Practical. Art Practical has partnered with Happenstand, the best source for event and exhibition listings, and the new printed journal Talking Cure to produce bi-weekly content in an issue-by-issue format, rather than the rolling blog format of Shotgun Review. They’ve also partnered with the Chicago-based podcast Bad At Sports. I asked Art Practical founder and editor-in-Chief Patricia Maloney to introduce the website and talk about the Bay Area.
1. To be thorough, I should mention Juxtapoz, a populist magazine founded in San Francisco in 1994 by a group of artists including Robert Williams, who was also associated with the underground publication Zap comics. Zap was founded in San Francisco (1968) and featured artists like R. Crumb.
2. I conducted my research with the invaluable support of friends like Natasha Wheat and Simon Jolly. Funding for my research made possible by the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery. Thanks also to Adrian Fish (871 Fine Arts) and Steven Leiber, and the librarians at the SF central library.
3. “Artworks created or published on Art Com Electronic Network on the WELL included John Cage (The First Meeting of the Satie Society), Judy Malloy (Uncle Roger, Bad Information, Thirty Minutes in the Late Afternoon), Jim Rosenberg (Diagram Series) and Sonya Rapoport (Digital Mudra Online).”