Notes on an Index. by Cliff Eyland
The Border Crossings Study Centre is composed of every issue of Border Crossings magazine housed in specially built cabinets designed by B_order Crossings_’s editor Meeka Walsh and architects Neil Minuk, Eduardo Aquino and Karen Shanski. The shelves fold up – or rather transform themselves – into a crate for transport with space enough for an ingeniously-made reading table and box chairs. The concept grew out of conversations that Meeka and I had about how a magazine could be presented in a gallery, and about historical precedents for such a presentation.
Border Crossings is organizing a tour of this Study Centre. Hosting institutions will create their own exhibitions to accompany this object, which I’d characterize as both a small library and a giant exhibition catalogue. Most institutions will likely want to unite works of art from their collections and other local collections with Border Crossings’s articles. If so, the possibilities would range from the art of the late-1970s to work made this year. Space has been allotted for future issues of the magazine, so I expect that the Border Crossings Study Centre could be on the road for some time to come.
The inaugural exhibition of the Study Centre at Gallery One One One included work, most of it from the gallery’s permanent collection, by artists Aganetha Dyck, Wanda Koop, David McMillan, Eleanor Bond, William Eakin and Marcel Dzama, all of whom have appeared on the cover of the magazine, sometimes twice. (Indeed, Eleanor Bond has appeared three times.) Gallery One One One’s second exhibition – Part Two – included work, again mostly from the gallery’s permanent collection, by KC Adams, Sheila Butler, Caroline Dukes, Ivan Eyre, Suzanne Gauthier, Noam Gonick, Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline, Guy Maddin, Don Reichert, Diana Thorneycroft, Esther Warkov and Richard Williams.
I have named these notes after Rosalind Krauss’s October magazine article Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America,1 which appeared coincidentally when Arts Manitoba, Border Crossings’s predecessor, was founded in the late-1970s. For Krauss, the word “index” refers to the 1960s and 1970s rise of photography and photo-text art. (In semiotics a photograph is called an “indexical” sign because it carries traces of its referent as light the way a tire track holds the image of the tire that makes it.) My use of the word “index” has to do not only with the index of the contents of Border Crossings magazine, which appears below this text online and also as a paper copy on the Border Crossings Study Centre table, but also to the index.html convention that organizes the Internet as the default designation of a website’s home page.
Krauss’s notes begin with a disparaging reference to the 1970s catchphrase “pluralism,” a word often used to characterize the emerging complexity of the art world at the time, a complexity that, as we know, has grown geometrically since. Is not an art magazine – is not Border Crossings by its very nature – “pluralistic”? The term pluralism, like the term “postmodernism,” presses its logic without much fuss back into the past and forward into the future. Jackson Pollock in the famous 1949 issue of Life magazine can serve as an example of a backdated pluralism. In 1949 it would have been taken for granted by the avant-garde that Pollock was the only serious artist featured in that issue of the magazine, but now we are just as interested in the New England landscape painter and the African photographer who are also profiled. That’s because we have developed an ethnographic attitude to art that tends to contextualize whatever we look at, new or old, high or low, in non-universalistic terms. One of the aims of the Border Crossings Study Centre is to redouble the magazine’s pluralism by encouraging iterations by new artists of the art featured in its pages; to deepen a viewer/reader’s sense of art history, which these days can be shockingly shallow; and to encourage the rediscovery of some fascinating but neglected art.
Border Crossings has an illustrious past, but what of its future, and the future of other art magazines? And what of this troubling index.html phenomenon? Vanguard folded, some of us remember, when Russell Keziere stepped down as editor; ArtsAtlantic survived Joseph Sherman’s departure by only a few years; Artichoke died with its founder Paula Gustafson; Parachute ceased publication when Chantal Pontbriand decided to cease publishing; and Impulse expired because, well, we don’t know, but Eldon Garnet’s personal investment must have had as much to do with its existence as these other ventures have to do with their dedicated editors. The art magazine is a delicate flower. C Magazine, Fuse and Blackflash have all survived departing editors, and the newish magazine Galleries West seems to be doing well, but it is new. Could Canadian Art magazine weather the departure of Rick Rhodes? And could Border Crossings continue to prosper after the departure of editor Meeka Walsh and contributor Robert Enright? I’m hopeful, but I wonder.
Many contemporary art magazines, including Border Crossings, are becoming Internet/print hybrids, publications that have an index but also an index.html home page. Will they soon become Internet-only ventures like Akimbo.ca and Artnet.com? Sarah Thornton’s recent book Ten Days in the Art World (Thornton is an ethnographer, by the way) describes the current acrimonious contest between the print and Internet sectors of Artforum magazine. No doubt the future will provide us with more bickering about online versus print publications. The luxury art book and art magazine will survive in many forms, but after only about ten to fifteen years of a fully functioning graphically interfaced Internet it is astonishing that we are at an historical moment of uncertainty about all print publications, art magazines included.
Border Crossings has a clever strategy: its current name does not suggest, as its old name Arts Manitoba did, its geographical location. To continue with the old name would have committed the magazine to another 1970s catchphrase “regionalism.” Instead, and happily, the magazine practices a strategic internationalism, sometimes featuring an international superstar such as Eric Fischl on a cover while continuing due diligence toward Canadian artists inside.
As I page through back issues of Border Crossings magazine, I tend to connect a 1977 review or a 1993 interview to a notice that I have just received at home about an opening next Friday, or an obituary that I may have read last week online, or to the current rise of an artist whose work interests me. I have just heard, for example, that the noted New York artist Nancy Spero has died. A quick look at the index shows that Border Crossings’s editor Meeka Walsh has been interested in Spero’s work for a long time.
If Julian Schnabel had died last week, however, I’d be out of luck, because he is featured only once in Border Crossings, in a piece by Robert Enright. Schnabel, we assume, must never have been so important to Enright, Walsh or Border Crossings’s many other writers, and if the interest is not there, the art won’t be addressed. Although editor Meeka Walsh may write about whatever she likes and assign what she wants covered, the magazine’s voluminous index is a complex product of time and circumstance, contingency, amicability, access and the inclinations of dozens of writers, as must be true of any magazine with such a long history. The index of Border Crossings magazine is an index of Canadian taste in visual art grounded in decades of aesthetic negotiation.
While the Winnipeg content of Border Crossings is complete,2 and the Canadian content is comprehensive, Border Crossings’s international coverage is based on and in New York, and it has a special texture that we may attribute more personally to Walsh and Enright (art writers Robert McGee and James Trainor and a few others have also corresponded from New York, of course). I’d like to characterize Enright and Walsh as writers who, in art, lean toward sensuality and sexuality spiced very often with a sense of provocation just this side of transgression, as evinced in their work on such New York figures as Robert Frank, Eric Fischl, Lisa Yuskavage and Helmut Newton, but this or that slice of over twenty-five years of writing could yield other conclusions, and I may well be projecting my own preoccupations on them.
Walsh’s introductions are literary play that aligns itself by turns with a particular Border Crossings’s issue’s content, or not. In fact, over the years, since Border Crossings has moved more fully into visual arts coverage, the overt “literariness” of Border Crossings has increasingly consisted firstly of her editorial insistence on comprehensible, literate art writing, and secondly on her own editorial introductions, which often take a poetic turn. (The essays and reviews themselves also have literary status, of course.)
Robert Enright’s interviews are simply the best in the business.
You’ll notice a fair number of poets and literary writers among the regular contributors to BC, but you’ll also notice that their major contributions inhabit Border Crossings’s early issues. They include Arthur Adamson, Randall Anderson, David Arnason, Dennis Cooley, Lorna Crozier, Pat(rick) Friesen, Myrna Kostash, Robert Kroetsch, Patrick Lane, and Wayne Tefs.
You’ll also recognize nationally-known art writers whose work appears in other Canadian magazines and journals, such as James D. Campbell, Gary Michael Dault, Terence Dick, David Garneau, Alison Gillmor, Terence Heath, Amy Karlinsky, Myrna Kostash, Robert Kroetsch, Martha Langford, Robin Laurence, and Robert McGee.
You’ll see the names of artists who write, including: Sheila Butler, David Garneau, Sky Glabush, Lee Henderson, Christopher A. Olson, Myron Turner and myself (given: David Garneau and Gary Michael Dault listed above, are also, of course, artists.)
I was particularly keen, as I got a little more systematic in my examination of the magazines by way of the index, to track down the first mention of artists who have since become storied, because, like other magazines, Border Crossings is a maker of art world reputations. Many of the following artists were either first introduced to the wider world of art by this magazine, or else given that invaluable extra push at the beginnings of their careers. They include: Paul Butler, Karel Funk, Tim Gardner, Guy Maddin, Sarah Anne Johnson, Diana Thorneycroft, Aganetha Dyck, Wanda Koop, David McMillan, Eleanor Bond, William Eakin, Marcel Dzama, The Royal Art Lodge, Laura Letinsky, and Two-Six. I could name many others.
A Note on the BCSC
‘Before there was conceptual art I did the magazine pages,’ [Graham] said, referring to his legendary art gestures, like his 1965 reproduction of a supermarket register tape in the pages of a fashion magazine, which he called Figurative. ‘In fact I always disliked conceptual art, because my work is about anarchistic humor.’ The work he’s arguably best known for has probably been the most misunderstood. Homes for America (1966-67), [see above] a series of photographs of cookie-cutter suburban houses, began as a slide show that emphasized the similarities between the repetitive, Fordist system of post-war suburban housing developments and the serial approach of Minimalists like Steve Reich and Donald Judd. Refashioned as an artwork intended for publication in a magazine, the series was meant as a parody of ‘think pieces you might find in Esquire Magazine with good photos’ as well as a rejection of the limits of the art gallery’s ‘white cube’ format in favor of the ubiquity and disposable nature of monthly periodicals.
- From “Grahamarama,” by Peter Scott on Dan Graham in Artnet magazine
A reproduction of a painting or a performance reproduced in a magazine is a photograph embedded in writing and graphic design. Too often we tend to look through magazines rather than at them. The text and images of Dan Graham’s Homes for America are arranged graphically in a way that would hardly pass muster as “good graphic design” then or now, but he was making a point about minimalism. Ironically, Graham’s eccentric formal layout strengthens Homes for America’s case as a work of art. If we hone to our own conceit that the Border Crossings Study Centre is also a labyrinthine photo-text work, an instance of “meta-art” explicitly conceived with such precedents as Rodchenko’s 1925 Worker’s Club and Dan Graham’s Homes for America in mind, then the contributions of photographers as makers of documentation and as artists is of special importance. Contributors such as Winnipeg photographer William Eakin, then, rank very highly after Enright, Walsh and BC’s cadre of writers and artists, whatever the number of personal entries in the index. Ernest Mayer, who has only one entry in the index, is and was a photographer at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and, like Eakin, his documentation of other artist’s art has been sprinkled throughout BC’s pages for twenty years, often without attribution, as is the custom of photographers work for civic galleries. Photographer Sheila Spence, who also worked at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for years, has also had many of her photographs of other artist’s art appear in the magazine in additon to her own work. Mike Carroll and Joe Grande of Grandesign are the current graphic designers of Border Crossings, and they have had numerous predecessors. Although the history of the graphic design of Border Crossings can’t be addressed here, the constitution of Border Crossings magazine as a work of graphic design must also be acknowledged.
Krauss, Rosalind. “Notes on the Index: Seventies Art in America,” in October The First Decade, 1976-1986, ed. Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp, and Joan Copjec, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987, 2-15.
Can any Winnipeg artist of stature claim to have been ignored by Border Crossings? I can find only one important omission in Janice Gurney, whose Winnipeg Art Gallery Sum over Histories exhibition of 1992-94 was overlooked. Her artist husband Andy Patton makes it onto our index list, but not her. I also note that Winnipeg artist Ivan Eyre has never been featured on the cover of the magazine, even though his work has been frequently featured. The absence is notable if one weighs the artist’s local stature as a Winnipegger who has had a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. The relatively few entries for Winnipeg curator Wayne Baerwaldt is easier to explain since the artists that he championed as a curator in the 1990s and 2000s are very well represented. I also notice, and this is a matter of curiosity more than anything else, that Letters to the Editor entries appear only in Volume 10#2, 65, Volume 10#3, 54, and Volume 10#4, 89.