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May days: n+1 against n+1 at the Frieze Art Fair

A few weekends ago, I joined the carefully-washed masses at the 35th Street ferry and headed to Frieze New York, the first stateside offshoot of the annual London art fair. The event was marginally less insufferable than Art Basel Miami, although that could be due to location--I'll take Roosevelt Island over South Beach any day. After a lap inside the massive tent-structure (heavy international gallery presence, hidden economy of glances behind dark lenses, some art), I noticed that the number of booths dedicated to magazines seemed much higher than in Miami.  Given this publication's abiding fascination with n+1 and its foibles, I also noted with interest that Paper Monument, n+1's relatively new contemporary art publication, had its own booth. There I found a well-dressed man sitting behind a table with copies of Paper nos. 1-3 laid out alongside a number of ashtrays. As I approached, I realized that the trays were commercial goods: $150 ceramic totems featuring a forlorn doodle-man holding a cigarette and a bottle of booze underneath the phrase "I wish my parents were still alive" (Jon Polypchuk, silkscreen on ceramic ashtray, edition of 100 with 10 artist’s proofs and 10 printer’s proofs, signed and numbered by the artist).

The Monumentalists can hardly be faulted for peddling their own brand of obscure chicanery, just like nearly every gallery present. And $150 seems downright reasonable compared to the other objects one could ash onto at Frieze (a $50,000 Tracy Emin neon?). But what was going on at Paper Monument went from amusing to disappointing only when I tried to exit the fair and ran into a contingent of costumed protesters handing out copies of the Occupy! Gazette. As it turns out, Paper Monument is one of two periodicals published under the auspices of n+1 -- the other is the Occupy! Gazette.  Did the saps handing out Occupy! and a flier for an alternative, less exploitative fair ("Un-Frieze") realize their comrades from Paper Monument had not only paid the union-busters at Frieze for a booth, but were currently in the air-conditioned tent high-fiving each other over $150 ashtrays? Maybe not, and maybe the protesters weren't directly affiliated with n+1, but the simple fact that broadcasts from the n+1 camp were to be found in opposite corners of the ring is instructive, and returns to Jamie Berk's critique of n+1's cultural politics published in our first issue. 

Occupy! and Paper Monument obviously serve radically different functions. Paper Monument is a visually pleasing art magazine with a minimalistic layout. It would make a great and and uncontroversial gift for your museum-going friends. The Occupy! Gazette poses greater difficulties of diagnosis. To appropriate Burton Malkiel's saw about corporate income statements and bikinis, what the Occupy! Gazette reveals is interesting, but what it conceals is vital. The Gazette is the closest thing the movement has to a report to stakeholders, an accounting of its actions, accomplishments, and goals. The Gazette purports to be "a history, both personal and documentary, and the beginning of an analysis..." Currently in its fourth issue, it is the paper of record of the Occupation, if one might call it that, and its scope is as archival as it is to present "what happens next; and more." It is not unlike a corporation or non-profit foundation's regular report to shareholders or donors. The comparison isn't that far-fetched: financial reports are to corporations what manifestos and pamphlets are to revolutions, appraising the supporters at home of developments and channeling through slogans and icons the toil of the trenches. 

Occupy! is no coffee table magazine. It's supposed to be a pamphlet of serious purpose. Anyone familiar with n+1's flagship magazine, or even Paper Monument, can attest to the polish both publications exude--editorial talent and graphic design are not areas of weakness. Yet the Occupy! Gazette, despite its infrequent publication, is positively shitty. Even if one forgives the atrocious layout (try to find the miniature table of contents among the back pages!), the quality of the writing and copy editing is apalling. Typos and grammatical errors everywhere. The whole thing breathes omission of effort and, far from n+1's usual intellectual rigor, reads like editorial window-dressing. Why should it be any different? 

Paper Monument and n+1 are meant to be consumed seriously (each costs over ten dollars) and displayed prominently, so that guests may flip through them and learn that you are a person of unrelenting culture, then glance over at the rolled-up Gazette peeking out of your messenger bag and also recognize that you don't aspire to the MOMA board. Like a celebrity's Instagram account, the Gazette is a passive vehicle maintained to signify an affiliation to a certain lifestyle, to complete a panorama in the eyes of observers. In other words, it's a Potemkin publication for a movement most people have gotten bored with, and that's why the OWS/Occupy Museum protestors can eat their hearts out in the sun while the editors of Paper Monument come up with their next mousetrap.