The Art of Rags
Printed Matter Inc. in New York, the preeminent artists’ bookshop and gallery, opened on Saturday with the exhibition Realize Your Desires: Underground Press From the Library of Stefan Brecht, featuring a collection of alternative and independently published newsprint periodicals from the early ‘60s to mid ‘70s.
Those of us who cut our teeth working on and for undergrounds often referred to them as rags. It was fitting that one of them that I worked on sublet space from Mr. Leshner, a rag man. In exchange for cheap rent on Union Square, we’d answer calls and give him messengers from rag-buying customers. It’s often incredible to think that over 40 years later, our rags have artistic as well as documentary status.
Realize Your Desires features work from nearly 30 presses with over 400 individual issues. The exhibition highlights both well-recognized and under-known publications, presented from the collection of the late poet, theater critic and philosopher Stefan Brecht, including my own New York Review of Sex and Politics. The exhibition spans across Printed Matter’s back wall and adjoining project room, with hundreds of items available for purchase (several in complete or near-complete runs). It runs from June 18 through July 31.
“Usually published as weeklies—often in large editions—and broadly distributed locally and by subscription, the Underground Press provided a vibrant space for revolutionary ideas which played out on all fronts of politics and culture, and offered a searing response to many issues of the day,” notes Printed Matter. “For the years it was active, the Underground Press served as a radical agent in the push for civil rights on a host of issues, including the anti-war movement, black power movement, women’s liberation, gay rights, sexual liberation, drug culture and anti-colonialism/imperialism.”
Realize Your Desires offers an incredible opportunity to see the pre-internet, the rags of the ‘alternative’ press, that for me was my primary, secondary and graduate school of politics and design.
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