Launched in 1964, the insanely avant-garde Aspen was a three-dimensional, multimedia magazine in a box. Inventive to the last, the New York-based publication included reels of Super-8 film, postcards, phonograph recordings of spoken word, jazz and electronica, sewing patterns, essays on critical theory and LSD, musical scores, posters, poetry, scripts, booklets and – hidden at the bottom – an advert or two.
As publisher Phillis Johnson reminded subscribers to the first issue, the word ʻmagazineʼ originally meant ʻa storehouse, a cache, a ship laden with stores.ʼ With contributions from David Hockney, Susan Sontag, John Cage, Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp, Ossie Clark, Peter Blake, William S. Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, Lou Reed, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Robert Rauschenberg, this storehouse was near-bursting with creative goods. Seeing as Aspen was first to publish Roland Barthes’ ‘Death of an Author’ though, perhaps we shouldn’t fawn too much over this roster of artistic revolutionaries. Initially inspired by the ski resort Aspen, content quickly drifted to cover Pop Art, media-made society, postmodern critical theory, London, psychedelia and Asian philosophy.
Arguably the most imaginative, groundbreaking and foolhardy magazine ever produced, Aspen only survived for 10 issues. Near impossible to track down in their original form, the Whitechapel Gallery is currently offering an extremely rare chance to see all ten issues along with fascinating paraphernalia. The complete archives are available online, but if you get the chance, you really ought to see these in the flesh. They just don’t make them like this anymore.
Aspen Magazine: 1965 – 1971 is at the Whitechapel Gallery until March 3.