In 1965, designers Tom Courtos, Ralph Tuzzo and George Lois were asked to create the inaugural issue of Aspen, a new magazine published by former Women's Wear Daily editor Phyllis Johnson. "Aspen should be a time capsule of a certain period, point of view, or person," Johnson suggested at the time, an aspiration that was quickly realised. It reached its tenth issue anniversary in 1971, with remarkable panache, but, as is the way with most magazines sooner or later, funding became troublesome, and Aspen faded from view.
Issues of the magazine have been hard to come by ever since, not least for the fact they're big, physical things laden with moveable parts. Courtos, Tuzzo and Lois – spurred on by Johnson's desire to escape the restrictive shackles of traditional print media – rebuked standard magazine formats and instead produced a black, hinged box filled with loose-leaf essays, recordings and interviews. Issue 2 followed suit, this time designed by Frank Kirk and printed white. Then came Issue 3, its outer form a pastiche of everyday detergent box packaging created by the great Pop artist Andy Warhol.
In a new exhibition at London's Whitechapel Gallery, all 10 issues of the magazine can be seen together. Finally. Warhol's box may lay claim over art world plaudits, but others appear here on an equal footing. Quentin Fiore's McLuhan issue (no. 4), featuring contributions by John Cage and Bob Chamberlain, retains a surprisingly contemporary freshness. So too does John Kosh's British issue (no. 7), complete with drawings by Eduardo Paolozzi, souvenirs selected by Peter Blake and an excerpt of J. G. Ballard's brilliant Crash. Others have dated, sure, but the magazine's conceptual strength remains throughout, and its content (supplied by Roland Barthes, Merce Cunningham and Yoko Ono, among others) still astounds. Aspen is a precursor to all that is good in print at the moment (including, perhaps, our very own Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design, which takes inspiration from the magazine's format), and a perfect argument for its continued existence. A must-see for designers and magaholics alike.
Aspen Magazine: 1965–1971 runs at the Whitechapel Gallery until March 13 2013.
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