The mag that popped the art

Looking back at the multimedia mag that pushed the 60s – and inspires today

Aspen, Vol. 1, no. 3 (December 1965)
Aspen, Vol. 1, no. 3 (December 1965) Edited by Phillis Johnson, designed by Andy Warhol and David Dalton

Aspen magazine was a pretty great publication, pushing the perimeters and challenging the concept of what the magazine format can – and still could - do. Distributed between 1965 – 1971 by reader subscription, Aspen’s publisher was a formidable business woman, Phyllis Johnson, who, after a conference on art and business, somehow transformed her luxury lifestyle magazine about the goings-on in the ski-resort of Aspen into a who’s-who of everyone important in art, music and culture at the height experimental hippy era. With ten issues going out between 1965 – 1971, The omnipotent contributor list included to name just a few: Peter Blake, William Burroughs, John Cage, Yoko Ono, Marcel Duchamp, Philip Glass, Sol LeWitt, John Lennon, Roy Lichenstein, Jasper Johns, Lazo Moholy-Nagy, Velvet Underground – Roland Barthes published his seminal essay ‘Death of the Author’ here first in Issue 5/6. Andy Warhol designed the third issue and made a ‘Ten trip ticket book’ of ‘LSD’ tabs. Other issue themes included ‘The Pyschedelic Drug Issue’, ‘British Art & Culture’, and ‘Asian Art & Philosophy’.

Whitechapel Gallery — Aspen Magazine
Aspen Installation Shot Courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

The first ever ‘magazine in a box’, each issue of Aspen was themed and customised and packed with multimedia surprises: zines, flipbooks, booklets, super 8 film spools, posters, mazes to cut and construct, tape recordings and postcards. In both editorial and design concept Aspen was inspired: not only did it marry business with contemporary art, but it allowed its readers to get deeper into the content in an active way.

Recently Aspen has resurfaced, in the form of exhibitions at the Whitechapel, London (that closed in March this year) and now at MACBA, Barcelona as part of their ‘Arte, Dos Puntos’ show (up til January 6, 2014). Viewed in an exhibition context the excitement of unfolding Aspen decades on is inevitably dulled, but since so few of its copies are still in existence its conservation as an artefact of our times is essential: Aspen prefigured the multimedia propensities of now, and addressed them in a genuinely interactive way.

Not only did it marry business with contemporary art, but it allowed its readers to get deeper into the content in an active way

Aspen’s re-emergence demonstrates the growing nostalgia for printed formats and a renewed appreciation of physical publications that have been extensively corroded by the net, and documents an era of some of the best artists in modern history: inspiring stuff for the future from the past.

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