Continental Schrift: the story of Interfunktionen.
With these words, as Benjamin H.D. Buchloh recalls, Marcel Broodthaers voiced his outrage at Anselm Kiefer's "Occupations" series, featured in the 1975 issue of the German art magazine Interfunktionen. Kiefer's 1969 project showed the young artist performing the Nazi salute in front of European monuments such as the Colosseum and prompted Broodthaers to withdraw one of his artist's books from publication under Interfunktionen's mantle. His reaction effectively cut off funding for the next issue and sealed the fate of what until then had arguably been the most important European art magazine since World War II. Dealers pulled their ads; curators and other artists conveyed their dismay, as did the magazine's founding editor, Friedrich Wolfram (aka Fritz) Heubach. The "whole thing wasn't legendary, it was a scandal," recalls Buchloh, who as Heubach's successor commissioned the contribution without a second thought. Although he would become a fierce critic of Kiefer's later work, for Buchloh, the artist's "Occupations" suggested "a real working through of German history. You have to inhabit it to overcome it"--precisely not the type of clear-cut, critical gesture his Belgian friend Broodthaers expected.
What was critical could still be readily agreed on back in '68, when Interfunktionen came into being as an organ for activist art. That summer the opening of Documenta 4 had come under public attack for a conventional, market-driven agenda that was felt to represent inadequately the art of the '60s. With the exception of some "environments," neither space nor money was available for new media: An event involving performance and sound art, long planned by the local theater and Happening artist Wolf Vostell, was canceled. American Pop and Minimalist artists, hot tickets on the German art market, far outnumbered artists from any single European country, provoking critics to nickname the show "Americana" and to refer to New York City as a "suburb of Kassel." The curatorial team, headed for the fourth time by the aging Arnold Bode, was laced with prominent dealers, journalists, and directors of art academies--conflicts of interest hard to imagine today.
"We didn't sit down to create a magazine. It developed out of the context, out of the quarrels over Documenta," Heubach recalls. "We thought, we'll make a documentation." Number 1, originally available in an edition of 120 for 15DM, gives just that impulsive impression: a cheaply glue-bound collection of some seventy-five pages, made of assorted papers printed, typed, or handwritten, including loose enclosures, foldouts, and collages of news clippings with scrawled citations. In his introduction, Heubach warns that the restrictive policies of art institutions like Documenta impede the free, experimental production of art. Detailed records describing the canceled multimedia event and a general collection of news coverage follow.
Midway through the issue things heat up. "Honey-Blind Action" documents performances staged by artists during the opening press conference: Jorg Immendorff jumped across tables, waved a stick topped with the silhouette of a cute polar bear painted light blue, and smeared honey over the microphones, while his wife, Chris Reinecke, "hugged and kissed everyone," including the alarmed Bode. Vostell poured a bag of change in front of the curators as a symbolic donation, and Heubach, among others, raised a banner reading, "Prof. Bode, we, the blind, thank you for this pretty show." Newspaper articles are interspersed with an absurd correspondence between Reinecke and the city of Kassel, which officially fined her 27.35DM for the removal of honey stains from tables and carpets. Matching the city's bureaucratese, her formal reply declined responsibility and requested that the bill be sent to her husband instead at the same address, The "Manifestoes" section gathers fliers that greeted visitors at the exhibition opening, such as a poster announcing an alternative, critical realist exhibition by Dieter Ruckhaberle, which read: "What's left to do for artists of a nation that wages a criminal war such as the one in Vietnam ... other than to make Minimal Art?" Issue number 1 closes with accounts of "The Postcard Affair": Special limited editions of the magazine contained prints banned from the official Documenta book-stores, including Vostell's postcard of a fighter jet montaged over the Fridericianum and K.P. Brehmer's stamp featuring a red flag mounted over that same building.
The twenty-four-year-old Heubach was in the trenches alongside these artists, many of whom had a hand in putting together the first issue of his magazine. A doctoral candidate in psychology in Cologne since 1965, he had met Vostell and through him many other artists in a city that had emerged with nearby Dusseldorf as the center of the postwar German art world. "Heubach always scurried around," Immendorff recalls. For instance, he was an early member of the artist's LIDL Akademie, an alternative venue for artistic and political activities that grew out of the student uprisings at the Dusseldorf Art Academy and that was extensively covered in the first five Interfunktionen issues, and he cofounded the nonprofit organization Labor ("laboratory") for the "research of acoustic and visual phenomena," together with Vostell, the composer Mauricio Kagel, and the filmmaker Alfred Feussner. The idea for the magazine's title sprang from these interdisciplinary interests. "Interfunktion--that meant multimedia, audio and visual theater, and so forth. 'Inter' was in. Today one would call it 'global,' back then 'inter' was enough," Heubach wryly explains. "For example, there was Intermobel, a furniture company, and Internationis, a federal program that subsidized exchanges with international artists."
The magazine had stumbled on its voice. It would be committed to critically engaged art, to contributions by artists, to impromptu coverage of the most current developments, and to projects drawn from a variety of disciplines and media. In the expanding world of European art periodicals, shrewd reporting on the art of the day was hard to come by. Flipping through Das Kunstwerk or Cimaise today feels like touring a junkyard of editorial, critical, and artistic efforts; Heubach justly deemed most of them "indescribably stupid, putting their money only in pictures." Events like the Documenta performances or the LIDL Akademie were routinely relegated to the news sections as juvenile curiosities; artists' voices were limited to the occasional sound bite or interview; and artistic projects in publication format were unheard of. Heubach wanted something "more authentic," an artists' magazine like Vostell's decollage but without its limited attention to Fluxus and Happenings.
The magazine was the medium: Layout on a printed page had to be integral to the submission. Whether authors collaborated with the editor or had a free hand in the design, the visual and conceptual integrity of a contribution always guided the final product. If this entailed making facsimiles when artists did not provide enough original paper, if it meant hours of folding oversize sheets by hand, if it required accepting staples, illegible scribbles, or typos--the editor's attitude was "so be it." An open-minded selection process enhanced the fresh, hodgepodge flavor. Today Heubach laughs off frequent compliments for his good eye: "I simply followed my curiosity and the advice of artist friends," especially Vostell and, later, Dan Graham. That's why the pages of Interfunktionen are a kind of raw history, suspended in an exciting zone somewhere between the messy present and sure-footed predictions of an art-historical canon. It was all about instinctive reaction. When Heubach heard about the cancellation of Hans Haacke's 1971 Guggenheim retrospective, he immediately solicited partial publication of its controversial centerpiece, the Shapolsky real-estate project. And if he took a shine to the work of young artists that had never been shown before, such as Lothar Baumgarten's explorations of nature and culture or Rebecca Horn's body extensions, he let them introduce themselves in a section entitled "New People."
By issue 3 such sections began to provide structure and focus. Under the mantle of "Information," the editor presented a myriad of short submissions, ranging from a public letter by Joseph Beuys and others protesting the Cologne art fair to the amusing, pseudoscientific correlation made by Heubach between an evening's television program and average toilet-water usage. The more substantial "Theory" section appeared long before that wave hit the '80s art world. "Theory meant parallel productions, a kind of read experience," Heubach elaborates. "It didn't necessarily have to do with art, it provided another perspective on reality." For example, it was in this context that structuralism found its way into German art via the figure of Michael (aka Mark) Oppitz. Another member of the Heubach circle and an accomplished anthropologist trained under Claude Levi-Strauss, he penned semiotic reflections on non-Western architecture and Broodthaers's use of the eagle image, and influenced artists like Baumgarten, whose work, in Buchloh's estimation, "is unthinkable without Oppitz."
The "Theory" section advanced Heubach's conceptual vision for the magazine, with essays and lecture manuscripts straight from his own typewriter. As a psychology student, Heubach says, he "could easily relate to art which was conceived mentally, which dealt with the experience and construction of reality and self." This was understood always through the lens of the viewer, not the artist. Freud's psychobiographic take on Leonardo was a definite dead end; Heubach favored the various uncertain paths down which artists sent their audience. This approach surfaces in treatises on psychological aesthetics based on empirical studies for his doctoral work, as well as in discussions of art forms he considered symptomatic of a crisis of experience brought about by developments ranging from consumer culture to space travel to futurology. For Heubach, Pop art situated itself dangerously close to the world of consumption, and only in the later work of Lichtenstein and Oldenburg did it defamiliarize its objects. Happenings and Fluxus were more acceptable in triggering both distancing and participatory experiences of the everyday; Land art complicated the experience of our surroundings and our selves through strategies of ambivalence; body and performance art fore-grounded the tension and fluent boundaries between experiences of self and outside; encounters with Beuys's signature materials like wood and fat alternated between appalling simplicity and multivalent psychological and historical meanings.
These favorite topics appeared prominently in Interfunktionen under Heubach's editorship between 1968 and 1973. Beyond individual contributions here and there, extensive space of more than thirty pages was routinely devoted to thematic documentations. Fluxus was featured in issue 2, with manifestos and detailed chronologies listing performances. There was Land art in issues 3 and 7, including full-bleed illustrations of Earthworks by Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria, and others, along with published and previously unpublished writings by artists like Robert Smithson and Dennis Oppenheim. Body art figured in issues 6 and 8, with photographs, stills, and occasional typewritten descriptions of performances by Vito Acconci, Dan Graham, Bruce Nauman, Oppenheim, and the Viennese Actionists. And there were five mammoth collections of photographs and drawings covering recent actions by Beuys.
Heubach systematically pursued artists who worked outside traditional media and who, in his biting words, "radically snubbed prevalent artistic taste, still indebted to the pretentious and muddled spirituality of the '50s." That actually meant something in Europe, where the gulf between established and experimental art was so much greater than in the US. Efforts on behalf of varied media extended to music, film, and literature. Heubach was in the thick of the literary and musical avant-garde, for Cologne was home to West German Radio (WDR), with its legendary support of electronic music, radio plays, and new poetry. Kagel early on contributed Detour to Higher SubFidelity, featuring photographs of alternative record styluses--straws, scissors, fingernails, forks, funnels, combs, what have you--accompanied by deadpan commentary; Philip Glass and Steve Reich followed later. Cologne's lively film scene, too, left its mark on the magazine. Members of the resident independent film group X-SCREEN published work in progress, as did Valie Export and Peter Weibel. Heubach's support of new media and interdisciplinary work was aimed at exploding existing boundaries and fostering dialogues, as evidenced by the loose intermingling of these remarkably varied pursuits within each issue. Space was further available for artists who escaped even the broadest categorizations, whose work paralleled, as it were, the editor's open, all-embracing attitude. Thus maverick Dieter Roth appears in 1969, with characteristically circular, at once melancholic and humorous musings on the adjective "old"; and in 1970, with pseudoscientific diagrams and notes cunningly entitled Vom Pferd, meaning literally "about horses" but also referencing the German idiom for "pulling one's leg."
Over the course of its seven-year life span, Interfunktionen largely stuck with its profile as a forum for current critical, interdisciplinary, and new-media art projects and became one of the most important organs for contemporary art in Europe (despite its somewhat irregular appearance and relatively limited circulation of around a thousand copies). However, the changes that did happen--some quietly, some dramatically--relate to paradigmatic shifts in postwar art and extend its pages' relevance beyond that of a mere source of information.
The magazine reflected--and helped bring about--the transformation of transatlantic art relations. With few exceptions, these had been rocky and competitive from the '50s through the mid-'60s, with American artists like Donald Judd cockily declaring "European art is over with" and their Continental peers feeling trampled by the market mania for art made in the US. That deadlock gradually loosened and gave way to cross-fertilization, facilitated by commercial air travel, which allowed artists to build personal relationships and dealers to develop cross-continental stables. Beginning in 1968 Heubach, too, made regular trips to New York, and with the initial help of his more outgoing friend Lutz Schirmer, later an important art-book publisher, he made contacts with dealers like John Gibson. "Through him I got to know more closely artists like Oppenheim and Acconci," Heubach recalls. "Dan Graham and I shared an interest in psychology, and we hit it off right away." This connection did not remain a one-way street. "My large apartment in Cologne became a port of entry for many American artists; Dan came to visit a lot." Graham recalls such visits fondly: "I remember it was full of fun; he had lots of people over. That's where I met Polke." Interfunktionen changed dramatically, and the local "art from the Rhineland" flavor of the first two issues expanded to include substantial international coverage. Throughout the '70s, European and American artists would now, at worst, peacefully coexist or, at best, stand in productive dialogue--not only in the magazine, but in a new transatlantic art world at large.
The role of critical engagement likewise changed across the ten issues Heubach edited. The magazine was born in and out of '68. The activist spirit of the Documenta protests carried over into the second issue, which documented Laboratory: 5 Day Race, a weeklong "parallel and contrast action" staged by Vostell and others in the parking garage beneath the second Cologne art fair. Other early issues covered art and events with similarly specific political and social references, most prominently the demonstrations, happenings, and debates surrounding studio-art education at the Dusseldorf Academy--Immendorff's alternative LIDL Akademie, an interview with Beuys on "The Ideal Academy," as well as correspondence that eventually led to his ouster from the academy. That specificity waned. To be sure, Heubach's commitment to critical art remained, for, as Graham remembers, "Fritz was antigallery, antielitism, antiestablishment." But with increasing coverage of, say, Land and body art, it was defined more broadly as reflections on reality and selfhood. The magazine's new international perspective helped in that shift, since American art was arguably less specific and active in its political engagement during this time. Heubach poignantly articulated these changes toward the end of his tenure in a one-page "Commemoration of the Protests Against Documenta 68." A news clipping from the first issue reappears with the caption "these days are over now" and criticism of the upcoming Documenta for its showy "magic pluralism" and its use of "reputable leftists."
The founder was on his way out. Interfunktionen was no longer in debt and had gained a reputation, but the flip side of that success was public expectation and routine, which, if followed, "would have spoiled the fun." Heubach made the drastic decision to end the magazine in 1973 with its tenth issue, but his good friend Buchloh disapproved and, before Buchloh knew it, was invited to take it over. Heubach thought "it would be super if someone so competent would continue." Although Buchloh had minored in art history and visited exhibitions like Documenta 4, he came from the literary world: Following studies of German literature during the '60s, he spent two years in London writing fiction to detach himself "from the increasing group pressure of the desperate circles of the anarchist left in Berlin." Upon returning in 1971, he dove into the art scene. He assistant-directed Rudolf Zwirner Gallery, edited publications for the Koning brothers, and got to know Heubach and Interfunktionen through Oppitz, his school friend and roommate. "You have to be completely, madly, convinced of your mission when editing a magazine," Buchloh describes his decision to accept, "and it offered the possibility to fuse my '60s political radicalism with my newly defined artistic interests."
During Buchloh's unexpectedly short tenure Interfunktionen became more ambitions. In part this was necessity, since he lacked Heubach's publishing skills and delegated production and distribution to professionals. Neither did Buchloh contribute texts of his own to the magazine; in fact, he first wrote on art only two years later, for the 1976 catalogue of the Sigmar Polke exhibition he curated. The new editor was freed up to spend more time streamlining the content. Systematizing Heubach's interdisciplinary pursuits, he planned a sequence of thematic issues on the book, as well as film and architecture, the latter of which never appeared. With its focus on the bound, printed page, number 11 best embodied Buchloh's motivation to provide a medium for artmaking that, as he recalls, "would break down market confinements and develop new forms of distribution, in line with the political dimension of Conceptual art." The issue included the editor's translation of a Dan Graham article on the book as object and a translation (in collaboration with Oppitz) of a text by linguist Roman Jakobson on painter-poets. There were also historical documentations, such as a bibliography of artist's books compiled by Germano Celant, as well as carefully chosen artists' projects. Immendorff's Towards a Development of Political Critique, 1971, part of his '70s investigations into modes of politically engaged art, presented, in Buchloh's eyes, "an accurate reflection of what is possible in a magazine." Portraits that the artist (and high school art teacher) had painted of his students from working-class backgrounds are juxtaposed provocatively with their photographic portraits and criticism like "The shape of my face is fairly precise, the mouth is a little too small, the hair is too much into my face." Daniel Buren's Ink on Papers, 1974-75, in turn focused on the magazine as object, its material and sequential nature: His trademark stripes introduce each individual contribution and then reappear as a group in the back, at which point the reader notices that different types of paper have been used throughout the publication. The project was repeated with corrections in the following issue, inadvertently making the stripes a signature for the two issues under Buchloh's editorship.
In those issues Interfunktionen subtly developed a stronger European profile. Americans and Germans shared space with a broader representation of the continent by Belgians, French, and Italians. At the same time, the magazine's distribution under Walther Konig now extended to major European cities and to New York's main art bookstores, Jaap Rietman and Wittenborn. Even if the magazine didn't make a splash stateside, and even if it soon went bankrupt in 1975 as a result of the Broodthaers debacle, postwar European art was beginning to assert itself abroad. In 1977, Buchloh left his recent appointment at the Dusseldorf Academy and moved to North America, teaching and writing on European (and American) art. It is largely his accomplishment--first as editor, then as writer--that European art has never again been seen as "over with." This includes German artists few know Buchloh to have supported: He went to bat for the young Kiefer against his pet subject Broodthaers, and he published artists like Immendorff and A.R. Penck long before they rode the unfortunately labeled neo-expressionist wave to New York.
The curious aftermath of the magazine better suits the notoriously critical image that Buchloh attained for many in the American art world. As a result of his scathing 1980 critique of Beuys in Artforum, Interfunktionen died a second death that year at the unlikely hands of its founder. Heubach and Buchloh had argued over artists from the moment they met. "We agreed on Polke and Immendorff," Buchloh recalls, but "I could not stand Vostell, and he wasn't so supportive of Broodthaers and Buren. The Kiefer project was a response to his support of all these German body artists. Now that was German body art. The real rupture was Beuys." Under the pseudonym Gufo Reale, Heubach had also published scornful takes on Beuys in Interfunktionen, but as a trained psychologist interested in reception, he saved his criticism for critics and collectors and their mythical image of the artist. To psychologize artist or work, as Buchloh's Artforum essay did, was to Heubach "obsolete." In response to Buchloh's charge that Beuys had fabricated his quasi-mythic origins, Heubach remarked, "This archaic shamanism, the story of his plane crash, that was all fiction! It's your own fault if you take that seriously. The weight of the story was a function of the audience." Heubach also felt deeply indebted to Beuys for supporting the magazine over the years with his generous editions. No surprise, then, that Buchloh's essay made him "angry and disappointed to such a degree that [he] withdrew from him the rights for the magazine." Since his successor had long given up the publication for financial reasons, this remained a symbolic gesture. But it seems poignant that insider disputes over what was--or was not--properly critical would cause the leading organ for critical art in Europe to self-destruct not once but twice.
Christine Mehring is assistant professor of art history at Yale University. (See Contributors.)
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|Date:||May 1, 2004|
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