Artforum | Contemporary Art Magazine


Artforum is an international monthly magazine specializing in contemporary art.


Artforum is published monthly from September through May along with an annual summer issue. The magazine is distinguished from other magazines by its unique 10½ x 10½ inch square format, with each cover often devoted to the work of an artist. Notably, the Artforum logo is a bold and condensed iteration of the Akzidenz-Grotesk font, a feat for an American publication to have considering how challenging it was to obtain fonts favored by the Swiss school via local European foundries in the 1960s.

John P. Irwin, Jr named the magazine after the ancient Roman word forum hoping to capture the similarity of the Roman marketplace to the art world’s lively engagement with public debate and commercial exchange. The magazine features in-depth articles and reviews of contemporary art, as well as book reviews, columns on cinema and popular culture, personal essays, commissioned artworks and essays, and numerous full-page advertisements from prominent galleries around the world.


Artforum was founded in San Francisco in 1962 by John P. Irwin, Jr. Irwin was a salesman for Pisani Printing Company and would make frequent stops to the galleries around Brannan Street and the Financial District for deliveries. Gallerists and artists, like Philip Leider, suggested to Irwin that he should start a local arts publication that catered to the West Coast arts scene since they were tired of reading about the same New York-based artists in Art in America, Arts Magazine, or Art News. Through the backing of Pisani Printing Company, Irwin successfully launched the magazine in a small office off of Howard Street. The first issue featured a cover with a work by the kinetic sculpture by Swiss painter Jean Tinguely suggesting the inchoate and indistinct identity of the fledgling publication. “That center section will contain a lot of divergent and contradictory opinion[s],” reads an editorial note in the first issue.

The next publisher/owner Charles Cowles moved the magazine to Los Angeles in 1965 before finally settling it in New York City in 1967, where it maintains offices today. The move to New York also encompassed a shift in the style of work championed by the magazine, moving away from California style art to late modernism, then the leading style of art in New York City. One of Leider’s final essays for the magazine, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation, or, Art and Politics in Nevada, Berkeley, San Francisco and Utah,” is a reflective first-person account of a cross-country road trip visiting earthworks, such as Michael Heizer’s Double Negative (1969) and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970). The essay grapples with the relationship between politics and art.

The departure of Philip Leider as editor-in-chief in 1971 and the tenure of John Coplans as the new editor-in-chief roughly coincided with a shift towards more fashionable trends and away from late modernism. A focus on minimal art, conceptual art, body art, land art and performance art provided a platform for artists such as Robert Smithson, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and others. In 1980, after opening his own gallery in New York City, Charles Cowles divested himself of the magazine. A sister magazine, Bookforum, was started in 1994.

In 2003, the Columbia-Bard graduate Tim Griffin became the editor-in-chief of the magazine. He sought to bring back a serious-tone and invited academics and cultural theorists who were mostly suspicious of art and the market. The writers were mostly European male theorists like Slavoj Zizek, Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Toni Negri, and Jacques Rancière. The magazine shed light on a new emergence of digital neo-appropriation artists such as Wade Guyton, Seth Price, and Kelley Walker and eventually featured a cover by artist Danh Vō.

Michelle Kuo, a PhD candidate at Harvard and respected critic, was announced as the editor-in-chief in 2010 after Tim Griffin resigned to pursue other work. The magazine followed a similar, sober tone of under its new leadership with roundtable discussions, book and exhibition reviews, and lively hyper-academic discourse. In October 2017, publisher Knight Landesman resigned in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct with nine women including a former employee who filed a lawsuit. Artforum initially backed Landesman, saying the allegations were “unfounded” and suggested that lawsuit was “an attempt to exploit a relationship that she herself worked hard to create and maintain.” The magazine’s editor Michelle Kuo resigned at the end of the year in response to the publishers’ handling of the allegations. Kuo released a statement in Artnews noting, “We need to make the art world a more equitable, just, and safe place for women at all levels. And that can only be achieved when organizations and communities are bound by shared trust, honesty, and accountability.” Artforum staff released a statement condemning the way the publishers had handled the allegations.

A new era of Artforum emerged under the leadership of David Velasco in January 2018. In his first issue, which featured a self-portrait by the born HIV-positive artist Kia LaBeija, Velasco wrote a poignant statement, “The art world is misogynist. Art history is misogynist. Also racist, classist, transphobic, ableist, homophobic. I will not accept this. Intersectional feminism is an ethics near and dear to so many on our staff. Our writers too. This is where we stand. There’s so much to be done. Now, we get to work.” Art critic Jerry Saltz immediately praised the new direction the magazine had taken, noting, “And just like that, an Artforum that needed to disappear was gone,” and featured writing and photographic essays by Molly Nesbit, philosopher and curator Paul B. Preciado, critic Johanna Fatemen, and artist Donald Moffet.

Artist Nan Goldin published a harrowing text and photographic account of her addiction to the prescription pain-relief drug, OxyContin, in a 2018 piece that prompted the founding of P.A.I.N., a campaign to expose the role that Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family have in the opioid epidemic in America. After reading Patrick Radden Keefe’s piece in The New Yorker and Christopher Glazek’s piece in Esquire on the Sackler’s “criminal misbranding” of the drug that led doctor’s to believe Oxycontin was less addictive that it had been reported, Nan’s essay demanded that the Sackler’s donate half of their fortune to drug rehabilitation clinics and programs. Writer Thessaly La Force of the New York Times Style Magazine writes of the artist, “It is rare these days to see a lone artist like Goldin — especially one both critically and commercially successful, whose work is in dozens of important museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art — step into the ring as an activist.”

In 2019, Hannah Black, Ciarán Finlayson, and Tobi Haslett released an essay in Artforum titled The Tear Gas Biennial, decrying the involvement of Warren Kanders, co-chair of the board of the Whitney Museum, and his “toxic philanthropy.” Although Kanders has donated an estimated $10 million to the museum, the source of his fortune comes from Safariland LLC, a company that manufactures riot gear, tear gas, and other chemical weapons used by the police and the military to enforce violent order. As of 1925, the Geneva Convention has outlawed the use of tear gas in all international military conflict, however, the tear gas fired at peaceful protesters and civilians by the police and military during the George Floyd protests as well as migrants on the US-Mexico border is the same brand of tear gas manufactured by Defense Technology, a subsidy of Safariland. A wave of artists from the Biennial, including Korakrit Arunanondchai, Meriem Bennani, Nicole Eisenman and Nicholas Galanin, demanded immediate removal of their work from the Biennial within hours after the essay was published. After mounting pressure from additional artists, critics, and gallerists urging the public to boycott the show, Kanders stepped down from his leadership position at the museum. The essay was instrumental in Kanders resignation as well as the museum cutting ties with Kanders financial endowments that are directly connected to the promotion and use of military weaponry and violence during peaceful social unrest.

On Artforum

A book by Amy Newman chronicling the early history of the magazine, Challenging Art: Artforum 1962–1974, was published by Soho Press in 2000.

Sarah Thornton’s documentary book Seven Days in the Art World (2008) contains a chapter titled “The Magazine” which is set in the offices of Artforum. In it, Thornton says, “Artforum is to art what Vogue is to fashion and Rolling Stone was to rock and roll. It’s a trade magazine with crossover cachet and an institution with controversial clout.

Source: Wikipedia

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