Covering the Art World: Six Decades of Artforum

Covering the Art World: Six Decades of Artforum

Sotheby’s New York presents a special exhibition in partnership with Artforum, showcasing six decades of the leading art world publication’s covers. The never-before-seen presentation is open to the public through 23 August.

Sotheby’s New York presents a special exhibition in partnership with Artforum, showcasing six decades of the leading art world publication’s covers. The never-before-seen presentation is open to the public through 23 August.

“The magazine was reviled and celebrated at the same time. But it was always talked about.”
—Irving Blum, Dealer

S ince 1962, Artforum has delivered groundbreaking criticism on the latest developments in contemporary art – exploring trends, making discoveries and writing the history of the art of our times. As the magazine of record, Artforum’s role remains constant: giving visibility to emerging artists and delivering a fresh perspective on the established canon, all while examining the social realities and political landscapes that give rise to visual culture globally.

By bringing together the magazine’s complete print archive, this exhibition celebrates Artforum’s extraordinary contribution to the discourse on contemporary art, which is now widely available to scholars and the public following the completion of a 12-year digitization project. Unparalleled in depth, the Artforum archive forms a comprehensive critical history of contemporary art, representing the work of the writers and artists who have defined the field. Today, it is a vital resource for students, art professionals and collectors.

From its first issue, published in San Francisco in 1962 (the magazine would move to New York in 1967), Artforum set itself apart from other magazines with its distinctive square format and compelling artwork. Never before displayed together, these covers are a stunning, often provocative, view of the evolution of contemporary art.

This exhibition marks the beginning of a partnership between Artforum and Sotheby's which will include programming intiatives. Sotheby’s will also utilize Artforum’s unparalleled archive in order to enrich its auction cataloguing and research.

A Timeline of Contemporary Art

“The cover is a portal to the issue. Ideally, all aspects of what’s happening in an issue are somehow compressed into this one image.”
—Tim Griffin, former Artforum Editor in Chief

With its distinctive square format and bold imagery, the Artforum cover has made a powerful statement about contemporary art since the premier issue came out in June 1962. The first cover featured a mysterious image – a photograph of the shadow cast by a Jean Tinguely sculpture – piquing the curiosity of readers introduced to this new magazine dedicated to a “free exchange of critical opinion.” As the readership and influence of the publication grew, its covers came to signal the editors’ judgment about the artists or trends that mattered most, often introducing new modes of artmaking to a wider public. When seen together, the covers serve as a timeline of contemporary art, from Abstract Expressionism through Pop art, Minimalism and Post-Minimalism, Land and Performance art, Neo-Expressionism and other movements, with forays into art that engaged with fashion, political activism and the art market itself.

“One preoccupation of the artists was the idea of being on its cover, being on the Artforum cover.”
—Annette Michelson, Critic and Artforum contributing editor

Guests point at the September 1992 issue , featuring Charles Ray, Fall' 91, 1991.

The Artists

“I did it in Artforum because that was the magazine. . . . It was the best medium at the time.”
—Lynda Benglis, Artist, on the controversial ad that she placed in 1974

Guests in front of Benglis’s ad from the November 1974 issue.

From the beginning, artists have been central to Artforum, not just as the subjects of editorial coverage, but as contributors. In the 1960s, Robert Morris and Robert Smithson published seminal critical essays about the new art forms they were pioneering at the time, while other artists, such as Jasper Johns, wrote reflections on artists who influenced their own practices. Through the decades, the Artforum editors often turned pages of the magazine over to scores of artists to create new projects exclusively for publication, including Laurie Anderson, Bruce Conner, Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe and Lucas Samaras. Some artists, in acknowledgment of Artforum’s influence within the art market, even took out full-page ads promoting themselves.

Jeff Koons’s ad from the November 1988 issue.

Most famously, Lynda Benglis purchased two pages in the November 1974 issue in which she posed nude, sporting a pair of sunglasses and “clutching an enormous dildo,” as Janet Malcolm described it in The New Yorker. The ad, in response to the macho posturing of Robert Morris in a gallery ad reproduced in a previous issue, led two editors, including Rosalind Krauss, to leave the magazine, objecting to its “vulgarity.” On the other hand, Ed Ruscha’s January 1967 ad, in which he seemed to have been caught slumbering following a ménage à trois, was met with relative indifference. In 1988, Jeff Koons revived the tradition with a series of ads that ran in Artforum and other art publications.

The Critics

“There was a great deal of passion involved in Artforum; we believed in what we wrote. We believed in what we were saying, and we believed in the importance of the art, that it could still in some way change the world.”
—Barbara Rose, Art historian and Artforum contributing editor

“The Radiant Child” by Rene Ricard from the December 1981 issue.

From its earliest years, Artforum gained a reputation as the publication that attracted the most talented and influential critics of its time, launching the careers of such giants in the field as Barbara Rose and Michael Fried, who brought a rigorous, academic approach to the magazine. According to Amy Newman, who documented the first 12 years of the magazine’s history, Artforum’s contributing editors made the magazine into “a mirror of its era. It exhibited the confidence in ideology, pleasure in analysis, ardent morality and commitment to hard, disciplined thinking that the generation of intellectuals educated in the postwar period hungered for.” Successive generations of Artforum writers discovered and nourished artists who continued to push the limits of contemporary art.

Many of these critical essays are still referenced today. The full digital archive, rich with the complete record of criticism, can be found online at, and perhaps represents the greatest value of all: 57 years charting the zeitgeist of contemporary art.

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