As editor of Studio International magazine from 1965-75, Peter Townsend oversaw its transformation from a mainstream Britain-centric publication into a vanguard journal chronicling some of the most radical artistic endeavours in the UK and internationally.
In a new exhibition at Raven Row curated by CCW Reader Jo Melvin, the selection of five issues from Townsend’s editorship – April 1966, May 1968, September 1969, July/August 1970 and July/August 1972 – focuses on the role of sculpture, which over this period was a vector for profound change in art: from post-constructivism and kineticism, through the abstract formalism at St Martins School of Art in London, to post-minimalism and conceptualism.
As a socialist, Townsend saw in sculpture a privileged medium to effect social change. The exhibition will revisit the role of sculpture in the definition of public space in a period when it became the flashpoint for political and social contestation. In this context, the pages of Studio International themselves played a role in shaping the debates about the limits and visibility of contemporary art. Included in Five Issues of Studio International are works by Keith Arnatt, Charles Biederman, Daniel Buren, Robyn Denny, Jan Dibbets, John Ernest, Garth Evans, Barry Flanagan, Naum Gabo, Anthony Hill, John Latham, Richard Long, Kenneth Martin, Mary Martin, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Emilio Prini, Gerry Schum, William Tucker, William Turnbull, Nicolas Schöffer, Bernard Schöttlander, Lawrence Weiner and Gillian Wise.
Speaking about her process, Melvin said, ‘Peter Townsend’s preoccupations determined my selection of magazine issues, and my intention is to find a way to materialize the magazine’s discussion of how it presented, as well as affected, sculpture’s influence on the perceptions when it was at the centre of political and social debates. What role did Studio International play in shaping editorial tactics in art magazines? This boiled down question indicates the motivation for my on going engagement in reconsidering the period and how editorial policies can help to determine how we think about art.
In 2008 I curated Tales from Studio International at Tate Britain, showing archival materials. However, in this exhibition, I include the some of the works referred to in the pages of the magazine. It is a unique curatorial approach, and it is interesting to mention that the 1970 issue of Studio International was defined as a “48-page exhibition”, in which six critics invited various artists to exhibit their work in the pages of the magazine. This was an “exhibition in a magazine” and for Raven Row I define my curatorial approach as the opposite a “magazine in an exhibition”. The space of encounter might be the magazine exhibition and it’s interesting to consider how dematerialization affects the sculptural encounter. And how we continue to think about what the sculptural encounter is.
Today, when the borders between critic, writer and artist are blurred, art magazines do not hold the power as they had previously. It would be like believing we can go back to a time when books were made using and re-using velum! Townsend was acutely aware of the time and how new printing technologies for instance off set lithography transformed print possibilities, and publication became a material for artist production. The magazine blurs the boundary between editor/curator/artist/writer, and these terms have been up for grabs since that time. The magazine definitely sets a touchstone for artists’ taking control and I think the current interest in artists’ publications, whether online or hardcopy can be traced to these precedents.’
Five Issues of Studio International runs from Thursday 26 February to Sunday 3 May 2015.