May 21, 2011

(Destroy All Monster’s Magazine images from Geisha This!)

Artists’ Magazines & Destroy All Monsters

Recent interest in artists’ magazines, or little magazines, as they are known in the architecture world, is approaching a zenith. A number of beautiful facsimile editions and gallery exhibits have arrived at a time when the artist magazine, or zine culture, would appear to have left the printed world for the pixels of the internet. Anyone who has visited Motto, or Printed Matter, knows that “little magazine” production is alive and well; from crude xeroxed missives, to craft-intense assemblages, a torrent of diy publications are circulating through knowledgeable communities, often with little or no web presence at all, and, perhaps, in opposition to digital mediums. 

Gwen Allen’s recent study, Artists’ Magazines: An Alternative Space For Art, published by MIT in March, couldn’t have arrived at a better time; her book explores some of the most well-known underground publications, like the luxurious Aspen, positioning the artist magazine as an “alternative exhibition space for dematerialized practices of conceptual art.” I’ve yet to digest Allen’s work, so I can’t speak to its successes, but from the projects covered, Aspen, 0 - 9 (Bernadette Meyer & Vito Acconci), File (General Idea), and Interfunktionen, it’s a welcome conversation starter.

Also welcome is Primary information’s generous Destroy All Monsters Magazine 1976 - 1979, the complete reprint. Primary Information, the wonderful folks behind such dandies as Real Life Magazine Selected Writings, the complete Avalanche Magazine facsimile edition, and the Great Bear Pamphlet Series reprints, have made rediscovery, preservation, and presentation of artists’ magazines and ephemera their focus, building on the practices of kindred spirit Printed Matter’s work with artists’ books. Their sensibilities and curation are impeccable, and they are perhaps best-suited to tackle DAM.

Destroy All Monsters is, arguably, the quintessential US art-proto-punk-noise collective (close race with Smegma and Los Angeles Free Music Society), a visionary group whose sounds and images remain as raw and relevant today as they did emerging from the wrecked living room of God’s Oasis, DAM member Jim Shaw’s drive-in art church, circa 77. Comprised of art students, Shaw, Mike Kelly, Cary Loren, and Niagara, all of whom would go on to art careers, DAM created a universe in sound and image populated by “man ray, the Velvet Underground & Nico, the hairy who, silver apples, captain beefheart, stanley mouse, sun ra, comix, stooges, beardsley, and the MC5,” according to Carey Loren.

"We were mid-west art student loners flying through time in a blur of art and noise…,” states Loren in the liner notes for the the 3 cd collection issued by Ecstatic Peace in 96. “There was also the fact that we were each strongly developed visual artists, sensitized to the decadent, theatrical, and off-beat. our constant flow of music, films, drawings, photographs, collages and magazines were a romantic imitation of an art movement in progress." 

Operating within the framework of Pop Art, DAM’s visual language is formed from the detritus of popular culture: monsters, pinup girls, criminals, consumer goods, 50s cold war suburbia, and the beat and post-beat art underground. Geisha This, a collection of DAM images from the magazine, published in 1995, is chok-full of two-tone overlays, and dense collages demonstrating not only their unique iconography, but also their experiments in offset printing. 

“To save on paper costs, most of it was appropriated using flyers and outdated ads found around Ann Arbor campus,” states Loren. “Printing over these discards and printer ‘seconds’ gave each copy a unique superimposed background.”

Enough can’t be said of the role the Xerox machine plays in artist magazine production, and in the work of DAM. Loren’s “xeroxing melded old family snapshots with campy film stills, strippers, and photos of Niagara into a mix of stilted design, Op-art backgrounds, and 1960’s era cut-up magazines.”

The first issue had a print run of 1,000 copies. It’s nice to imagine the kinds of people who ended up with a copy, especially given the distinct counter-culture at work in 60s/70s Michigan: black panthers, MC5, the stooges, John Sinclair, SDS/Port Huron statement, Motown et al, and radical jazz and funk. So if you missed it the first time or two around, now’s your chance.

Order your copy here.

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