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The 60s magazine that encouraged a new sexual freedom

Challenging racial stereotypes and shattering sexual taboos, Avant Garde embodied the rebellious spirit of the era

When Avant Garde magazine first hit New York in 1968, the world was in protest. From the student uprisings in France to the civil rights movement in America, rebellion was rife; and powered by a promise of a more liberated, less oppressive kind of society. Given this context, it’s not such a surprise that a magazine focused on political activism, racial equality and sexual freedom made such an indelible imprint on the era.

Founded by publisher Ralph Ginzburg and illustrator Herb Lubalin, Avant Garde ran for just 14 issues between May 1968 to July 1971. Crammed with provocative photo stories and bold investigative work, the magazine opened up a world of possibility to a politically disaffected audience. “I think Avant Garde is iconic because it took a lot of risk,” explains Alexander Tochilovsky, curator at the Herb Lubalin Study Centre of Design. “There were very few magazines in that period, with that kind of circulation, that attempted to do anything close to what Ginzburg and Lubalin did.”

The centre, which opened in 1985, aims to collect and preserve the vast collection of Lubalin’s work. Avant Garde is included, along with the illustrator’s equally influential magazines Eros and Fact. “(Ginzburg and Lubalin) continued to rattle the cage, and to question the norms,” adds Tochilovsky. “It's a heady mix of eroticism, art, politics, liberalism, anti-war sentiments, photography, humour, race relations. A simple scan of the table of contents of each issue gives you an idea of how wide and how provocative its scope was.”

Luckily, thanks to the Herb Lubalin Study Centre, that scope can now be seen fully by a global audience. Earlier this month, each edition of the magazine was uploaded and digitised for the first time; with the back catalogue now able to view online for free. 

According to Tochilovsky, it’s a vital move – and one that will hopefully help to encourage and celebrate the importance of independent publishing. “Our time certainly needs a magazine like it because large mainstream magazines are not taking as many risks, both editorially or graphically,” he says. “Perhaps people seeing this project will be inspired to start something in its spirit, something to set a different tone. Just look at the world today, or even just the US, and it is apparent that the issues that Avant Garde addressed in the late 60s are still very much the same.”

Read all of the issues in full on the official Avant Garde website here.