04. February 2016

Exchange, information, circulation: During the era of weekly journal DER STURM magazines were the most influential medium around. SCHIRN MAGAZINE takes a look back

By Katharina Cichosch

In point of fact without the magazine there would not have been a gallery, and no STORM women, at least not in the sense presented here: The first edition of “Der Sturm – Wochenschrift für Kultur und die Künste” was published under Herwarth Walden’s direction in 1910 and contained: plain but elegant typography, some explanatory notes, sometimes a bit more text but, most importantly: a large print, a copy of an artwork by artist friends or by artists reviewed in the issue in question. As was typical for the early art magazines it was both, or rather: everything, from the get-go. Literary and poetic texts by luminaries such as Arthur Rimbaud found a place here alongside prints of art works, critical exchanges, political statements leveled at the Imperial establishment and its plans for war, as well as also of course publicity for one’s own works. The medium provided an opportunity to establish loose networks long before this concept progressively emerged as the motto for not just for the digital Bohemians from Berlin to Zagreb, Vienna to Amsterdam.

From art critic and author to gallerist

These informal friendships and acquaintanceships often resulted in something tangible. Two years after its first issue, “Der Sturm” was already boasting its hundredth edition. This called for celebration: For the anniversary Walden presented an exhibition with works by, among others, Oskar Kokoschka, Edvard Munch and previously lesser-known French artists – he adopted the compilation for this exhibition from curator friends, but after the runaway success of the show, in-house exhibitions were soon planned and implemented, with Walden now advancing from art critic and writer to gallerist. The rest is history: Not only did Herwarth Walden help numerous unknown male artists achieve prominence, but also far more female artists than was customary at the time. The magazine existed for a further 20 years, until 1932, and during that time, the STURM gallery was complemented by a theater, book shop and academy of the same name.

From Amsterdam to Zagreb: Medium and expression of self-empowerment

It was only through the advancement of printing and the ensuing increased availability of books, written ideas and thoughts that public engagement with a phenomenon such as the fine arts was even possible in the first place. Over the course of its now almost 200-year history, the art magazine has exercised all manner of different functions, often simultaneously: It was medium and expression of artistic self-empowerment, offering independence from the market and institutions – at least notionally – that is today inconceivable in that form. It provided and created ideas, as well as being a platform for silliness of all kinds, for games and experiments, but also for revolutionary work. Just by looking at the titles of the different publications, the chameleon-like multi-faceted character of these art magazines becomes clear: At the time of the first issue of “Der Sturm”, energetic titles such as “Der Gegner”, meaning the adversary, or “Aktion” were being sold in Berlin, while in Zagreb the “Zenit” was being distributed, presenting, among others, works by Vjera Billers, and in the UK the scene read “Blast”.

Some magazines only had a single issue

Others were indeed more modest, prosaically calling their magazines “Het Overzicht”, the review, or revealing the publication’s program in the title, as was the case with “Futuristy”, “Die Form” or “De Stijl”. Not to mention the fabulously silly titles of the Dada and Satire publications ranging from the onomatopoeic to pure nonsense to titles such as “Der Blutige Ernst” (bloody earnest, co-published by George Grosz), a name that today would grace any Hamburg punk band (why has no-one decided to name themselves after the journal yet?): The art magazines of the first generation especially provided unprecedented freedom to not only be allowed to write and print everything and anything, but also to publish it – in a technical sense, disregarding political censorship and minor disputes. And this exchange worked in two directions: What is today proclaimed the gold standard of communication was a matter of course for Walden, Grosz or Francis Picabia in publishing his Dadaist manifesto: Art magazines where platforms for exchange for the avant-garde, they intrinsically provided the possibility for action and reaction – in a later issue, or simply in one’s own publication. Some magazines only had a single issue while others, not lastly “Der Sturm”, were published over many decades and hundreds of issues.

Extract from Dutch magazine De Stijl, with 'klankbeelden' by Theo van Doesburg, via Wikipedia

Not a medium amongst many

Holding any arbitrary current publication in one’s hands today it is hard to imagine the revolutionary force this pile of paper once would have had. Not even because today’s art magazines must of course (and this is hardly condemnable) also be economically viable. But rather because their history cannot be thought in reverse: When magazine such as “Der Sturm” were first sold on a larger scale (sometimes in five-figure print runs), this medium was imperative in its character. It did not provide one alternative amongst many, but was the medium per se. For exchange, the gleaning of information, for the dissemination and discussion of ideas and contents on Dada, Futurism and Surrealism, art and literature, action and reflection, biting satire and counter projects to the restrictive spirit of the time, to name but a few. For this reason alone, the aspect of the quasi-compelling is very hard to attain today, even by publications, art books and printed manifestos that are more open in aesthetic and conceptual terms.