Dear Friends and Readers,by Phong Bui
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
“Culture is the arts elevated to a set of beliefs.”
At the end of September, 18 years ago, I remember buying two copies of The Seven Arts (a monthly with the traditional subdivision of the arts into architecture, sculpture, painting, music, poetry, dance, and performing, although its central concern was literary criticism, prose fiction, and poetry, published between 1916 to 1917) at a yard sale in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and how happy I was, just a few days after the first issue of the Rail was launched, to be reminded of endless remarkable individuals whom I had met through Meyer and Lillian Schapiro. Between 1986 and 1996 when Meyer passed away at 91, and 1996 to 2006 when Lillian passed at 104, I met Saul Bellow, Isaiah Berlin, Lionel Abel, Nicolas Calas, Diana Trilling, Leon and Barbara White, Irving Howe, Ilse Mattick and her son Paul Mattick (the editor of the Rail’s Field Notes), Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason, Allan Kaprow, Barbara Rose, David Shapiro, Louis S. Asekoff, Joseph Masheck, Robert Bergman and Laurie McCannel, all during my weekly visits. How rich and interesting their lives were in having friends from every field of discipline.
I was so taken by the first editorial in The Seven Arts, “It is the aim of The Seven Arts to become a channel for the flow of these new tendencies: an expression of our American life…. In short, The Seven Arts is not a magazine for artists, but an expression of artists for the community.” With the few exceptions of the short-lived Blast of the Vorticist movement in England (first issue in 1914 and the second in 1915, edited largely by Wyndham Lewis with contributions from Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Edward Wadsworth, Jacob Epstein, Rebecca West, and Spencer Gore) and perhaps The Dial (edited by Scofield Thayer and Dr. James Sibley Watson from 1840 to 1929) The Seven Arts, edited by James Oppenheim, Waldo Frank, and Van Wyck Brooks, was considered one of the most ambitious magazines with the sole purpose of transforming American life through the arts. Instead of exploring American genteel tradition, it thrived on the creation of the artistic avant-garde. And even though it only existed for one year—with twelve luminous issues—it established many significant literary voices, including Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, H. L. Mencken, Kahlil Gibran, Robert Frost, and Amy Lowell, and included essays on philosophy and social commentary by John Dewey and Bertrand Russell. I love Marsden Hartley’s art reviews, Paul Strand on photography, Paul Rosenberg on music, H. Granville Barker on theater, and Kenneth Macgowan on film. Despite the dreadful condition of World War I that led to the Great Depression, then eventually World War II, magazines like The Seven Arts paved the way for the birth of countless other important publications, including for example, The Modern Quarterly (edited by V. F. Calverton and Samuel D. Schmalhausen, known for supporting the work of African American intellectuals and publishing opposing views within the same issue), and Perspective USA (edited by James Laughlin, the founder of New Directions). I can think of other precious ones that were solely dedicated to the cross-pollination between social/political or literary ideas and visual culture such as Art Front (another short-lived magazine published by the Artists Union between 1934 and 1937 for which Stuart Davis was among the editors), or View (edited by Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler published between 1940 to 1947), and VVV (edited by David Hare from 1942 to 1944). As far as experimental and avant-garde cinema goes, Film Culture is one of the most essential (edited by Jonas and Adolfas Mekas from 1954 to 1996 with the total of 79 priceless issues), and one of the most intimate and inventive is Hanuman Books (founded by the polymath Raymond Foye and the poetic Francesco Clemente, published from 1986 to 1993, dedicated to the writings of particular artists or poets with a size that fit in a breast pocket for seamless referencing throughout a day’s activities). In the last several decades, other magazines and journals have tried to carry on this indispensable legacy, from October (founded in 1976 by Annette Michelson and Rosalind Krauss as a peer-reviewed academic journal specializing in contemporary art, criticism, and theory), Avalanche (edited by Willoughby Sharp and Liza Béar published between 1970 and 1976), Art-Rite (edited by Walter Robinson and Edit DeAk, and Joshua Cohen published between 1973 to 1978) to Bomb (launched in 1981 by Betsy Sussler, Sarah Charlesworth, Glenn O’Brien, Michael McClard, and Liza Béar, who aspire to offer conversations between artists of all disciplines), then Cabinet, Esopus, the Journal, e-flux, Triple Canopy, among others, all striving to provide very generous platforms for known scholars and writers as well as emerging voices in contemporary culture and beyond.
Of course one monumental difficulty is keeping it free to the public (a notable, and perhaps the only distinction of the Rail from other magazines and journals) without a specific aim of reaching a precise demographic, exacerbated by our perpetual and willful allusiveness to the question of our “mission statement.” The most accurate and haiku equivalence we can offer is, “The Rail reflects the artists’ journey, arduous, complex, and fun.”
We’re grateful to our new friends Elyse and Lawrence B. Benenson for their commitment to underwrite the Fiction Section. We’re thrilled to welcome Raymond Foye, Joachim Pissarro, Douglas Dreishpoon, Matthew Biro, and Terry R. Myers on board as new Editors-at-Large and Consulting Editors. We’d like to also thank Sara Conklin and her exceptional staff at Glasserie, one of the best Middle Eastern restaurants in the world, who hosted our first Annual Raffle Dinner after a tour of the Rail’s history at our former HQ in Greenpoint, which conveniently is located right above the restaurant. Lastly, we send our deepest thanks to the Steering Committee Members of the Rail’s Friends in Solidarity Charles Traub, Shoja Azari, Lisa Kim, Shirin Neshat, Christine Kuan, Tomas Vu, Carroll and Donna Janis, Clark Winter, all of whom, on the Rail’s behalf, advocate for the Rail to be kept free forever by the support of their friends and community. As a conduit for the freedom of action, the Rail is poised to go far, and we’ll go far together.
Happy 18th year anniversary,
onwards and upwards,
P.S. This issue is dedicated to the extraordinary lives of Annette Michelson who was immensely influential in bringing American avant-garde film to the critical attention of the museum and gallery world as a serious art medium; William Corbett, whose contributions to the world of poetry are as invaluable as his fluent comittment to art writing and criticism; Richard Timperio, an artist, maverick art dealer, and beloved fixture of the early art scene in Williamsburg, whose inclusive vision of art was exceedingly rare and admirable; and the legendary and generous Paul Virilio, a philosopher, urbanist, teacher, and writer on the now and forever critical issue of how speed and acceleration have impacted our contemporary lives.
P.P.S. Happy belated birthday to Birte Kleeman, Julia Rommel, and David Walentas.
PHONG BUI is the Publisher and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Rail.