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A radical history of Artforum

At Art Practical, Gwen Allen recounts the early days of Artforum, when it was scrappy California-based publication that embraced the marginal and the unpopular in art.

The magazine’s founders strove to materially embody the term forum, with its connotation of lively public debate and commercial exchange, since the ancient Roman forum that inspired the magazine’s name was first and foremost a marketplace. Artforum demarcated its forum as a special section, printed on brightly colored construction paper. “That center section will contain a lot of divergent and contradictory opinion[s],” read an editorial note in the first issue…

The Artforum logo is a condensed, bold version of the Berthold Akzidenz font, a notable fact, considering how difficult it was in 1962 to order the fonts favored by the Swiss school through local European foundries. (This was about to change: Spartan Typographers in Oakland began carrying the Helvetica font just a few months after the Artforum logo was designed.) Robertson created his logo by hand with a razor blade and adhesive.4 The rest of the magazine was set in News Gothic, an American sans serif designed in 1907 by Morris Fuller Benton for the American Type Founders. News Gothic, while not used by Swiss designers, was known for its geometric look and had more affinity to the Swiss aesthetic than other American sans serifs. Since Artforum was printed with hot-metal type methods, the choice of News Gothic was most certainly guided in part by the availability of that font at the Pisani Press, which had a limited variety of molds for casting type.

Early issues of the magazine, with their typos and the occasional upside-down picture, attest to a period of trial and error as staff members confronted the steep learning curve of the task at hand. As Leider recalled, “I can’t tell you how green I was. I didn’t know what typesetting was. I didn’t know what photoengraving was. I didn’t know anything…I had to learn everything.” What Artforum lacked in material resources and expertise, it made up for in energy and ambition. Leider, Coplans, and Monte all helped to find writers, artists, and advertisers. But it was Leider, as the founding editor-in-chief, who would shape the magazine’s future most profoundly.

Image: Francesca Pastine, ArtForum 50, Hindsight, Mask Series, 2014