We’ve always stocked a lot of art magazines. Possibly far too many, and in the middle of last year, after we worked out how many we sold in relation to the focus we put on them and the space they took up in Magalleria, we decided to move them somewhere else. We put interior design magazines in their place. Suddenly people started asking for them again and buying them in improved numbers. By the end of the year we’d pretty much moved them back where they were.
I don’t really know why this is. As we went into 2017 the art magazine seemed tired. They are difficult things to market, mainly because they’re not really aimed at people who are interested in art. They’re for people in the trade – a fenced off group who sell, display or curate art. And very, very occasionally those who make art. Just about all these people subscribe to art magazines rather than randomly buy them.
It must be hard to grow a readership for such magazines. They’re usually choked with gallery advertising and where they’re more scholarly they’re heavily embedded with references, footnotes and bibliography; I recently skimmed a two-page article in a widely available art and design magazine that devoted the entire second page to references. I have an art history degree but, please, kill me now.
Is there anything on offer for an average, aesthetically sensitive, jargon-averse, broad age-range demographic, other than those magazines wholly absorbed with conceptual art, those dismissive of it and that populist ‘build your own collection week by week’ dreck? Well, yes, there is. Elephant has been around for a while and in our opinion its recent reboot makes it even better. Ditto Cabinet, a now almost venerable journal that’s not mentioned enough. Turps Banana is of course legendary, but aimed at those who like to get paint on their hands, as is the barnstorming new printmaking mag Pressing Matters (well, ink). We started trading around the time Even appeared (2015), which is more like the ideal – accessible, assume-nothing writing and an eye for genuinely interesting and under-reported developments in international art. We like the iconoclasm of Sluice (first issue 2017), as well as many more new and relatively new entrants – Diaphanes, Konig, Mincho, The Art-Form, One-Off, among others.
This week we received an excellent new indie exploring contemporary sculpture called Sculptorvox that I would have reviewed in this context, but I’d already made headway into yet another newbie art journal. This is Autodidact, which amusingly arrived on the same day as a new car magazine called Auto Addicts.
The Autodidact tagline describes ‘telling personal stories through one common theme’ which here is Duality. I’m interested in the self-taught and the non-academic. And while very much in the new indie mould (it’s Kickstarter financed) it doesn’t look much like many other art magazines. It looks very crisp and clean at first glance, and the list of contributors impressively international, although going through it a distinctly Norwegian thread becomes apparent. It’s traceable to the career background of the magazine’s editor in chief, Bardia Koushan, who offers a broad sweep of material, more safely categorised under creative or multi-disciplinary practice rather than broadly ‘art’. The minimalist design feels surprisingly warm. The text handling is a little rickety in places and has nowhere to hide when things are this bare. A couple of pieces have missed a decent copy edit. But we're offered magazines all the time that look perfect but are in fact dull, and this one isn’t. It’s a refreshing first outing that promises much for the future.
James Perolls’ Cromwell Twins grace the cover and allude to the theme; they remind me of the identical twins series shot by Diane Arbus in 1967. Inside, nearly all of the content intrigues and some of it you’d be unlikely to see elsewhere or in this context. Interviews are short, sometimes very short, and in the case of designer/photographer Paloma Lanna (Paloma Wool), experimental. Text here is ranged around portrait images to be read in clockwise snippets.
An interview with Richie Culver is frank, humane and generously illustrated; Culver is someone who pops up quite a bit and whose story is fairly well-known. He tends to say the same things but here they slot nicely into the duality context and he’s always refreshingly uncomplicated about his ascent: 'Someone saw my work and said I should send it in [to The Museum of Everything at Tate Modern]. Everyone likes to be put in a slot and I didn’t have a clue who I was. Suddenly I realised an outsider artist is exactly what I was.’ There’s a longer session with Norway-based Italian Massimo Leardini, a commercial photographer best known for his art projects, specifically his series of Nordic nudes. He’s not really pinned down in this piece; we get a significant glimpse of his portfolio but he offers too many shallow generalities about his methodology. A profile of the late Jannis Kounellis, a quietly inventive artist still best known through his association with Arte Povera, is much more satisfying. Like many of the artists explored in this issue, Kounellis worked outside his native country (Greece), moving to Italy at the age 20. He described himself as ‘a Greek person but an Italian artist’.
There’s an engrossing and informative interview with Iranian music and filmmaker Ash Koosha who, linking back to Leardini, is more concerned to connect with his audience: our understanding, listening experience and, dare I say it, our ‘engagement’ are all paramount. Koosha is an acute observer and a compelling theorist. He has been imprisoned in Iran and barred from entering the US (as support act to Mt Kimbie). Currently based in London he’s another crossover, futurist artist exploring arounds around synaesthesia: ‘Sound is as much space as space is sound… So I created a method to embody music in virtual reality.’ This led to collaboration with TheWaveVR for a literally phoned-in performance casting the audience as avatars inside a virtual environment artist manipulates in relation or response to constituent parts of the music performed.
There’s some fiction inserted in places, with illustration work and various artwork snippets worked around the interviews. The Cromwell Twins photo series closes out the magazine. Autodidact a well-balanced stroll that is positive, enjoyable and gently challenging, without any whiff of commercial interventions. Our customers will be picking up this one too.