A Salute to Artpress

01/30/2013 04:39 pm ET | Updated Apr 01, 2013

In the middle of the '70s, when I was just starting out, a singular, miraculously independent magazine called Artpress first appeared in Paris.

Catherine Millet, who was not yet the internationally renowned novelist she has become, was at the helm as its director.

Jacques Henric, her companion, who enjoyed the rare prestige of one who had already fired on the dancing bears -- not of social democracy, but of hardline Stalinism -- too.

Daniel Templon, already recognized among French gallery owners as one who counts in Europe; Myriam Salomon, who was secretly working on her collection of Sol LeWitt, Martin Barré, and other Donald Judds; Philippe Muray, on the verge of his "Céline" and "Le XIXe siècle à travers les âges"; Guy Scarpetta; Philippe Sollers, at the time director of the remarkable Tel Quel, a neighboring publication, and others.

Not exactly a magazine of art (even though the best representatives of conceptual art, land art, or Arte Povera were praised in its pages), nor precisely a review of ideas (though it was there, for example, that the New Philosophers would immediately find their most steadfast allies), it was a special place, an Unidentified Mediatic Object, a beast of a nameless species and without any actual precedent. (Perhaps one might count Acéphale, Contre-attaques, Révolution surréaliste or Internationale situationniste, that have marked avant-garde history, but it is not comparable to those either.)

Let's just say an avant-garde review. The central organ, in the French language, of this great cultural revolution which, from New York to Paris, shook up the right thinking, smashed the automatic reflexes, and swept away the thick layer of stupidity of official cultures. The very best of those times.

Forty years later, nothing has changed.

Others, younger, have joined the troupe (Annaël Pigeat, has succeeded Christophe Kihm and Catherine Francblin as editor-in-chief).

New alliances have been formed (the philosopher Elie During, the authoritative review, Ligne de risque).

The best of, not only art, but today's literature (Christine Angot, Philippe Forest, Pierre Guyotat, Jean-Jacques Schuhl) is still found in these pages.

But, with the exception of Philippe Muray, the same ones are still there, more present than ever, and ultimately, time hasn't changed them all that much.

The tone of the magazine, in particular, has remained remarkably intact. Rebellious and serious. Free and faithful to its line. Open to new tendencies in art and thought (to such a degree that, over the years, it has committed no important faux pas or errors of appreciation), yet uncompromising with regard to its fundamental affinities (as in Henric's article on Philippe Sollers' masterpiece, "Portraits de femmes") or to the invisible foundation laid here four decades ago (a certain idea of ethics, the poetics of politics, a policy of style). Sticking to its guns (against philistines of both the left and the right) concerning contemporary art when it bears the name of Grayson Perry, Tatiana Trouvé or Marina Abramović, but simultaneously keeping its distance from the superficial singularity of those for whom the market has become the only judge of what constitutes the beautiful and the worthwhile. (There are so many false artists, the value of whose works is inversely proportional to their price!) In a word, sectarian, in the fine original sense of the word, back when words had meaning -- secare, separate, sort, make the selection between what is good and what is not. The spirit of Artpress.

One can benefit from re-reading Joseph Kosuth's manifesto of January 1973, declaring art the new philosophy of post-Hegelian times, the text of which is included in the album, co-published by Éditions de La Martinière, on the occasion of this 40th anniversary.

The Sollers-Godard dialogue of 1981 that centers on «Le trou de la vièrge» also bears re-reading, as do the first texts devoted to an unknown named René Girard, in 1978.

One finds the admirable constancy, as early as 1975 -- when there weren't exactly crowds of us on this front -- in support of Solzhenitsyn and the dissidents of what Milan Kundera called captive Europe.

Let's try not to miss, even if, for some of us, it won't be without shame, the minutes of the controversy surrounding the "Paris-Moscou" exhibition held at the Centre Georges Pompidou in 1979, of which Artpress was among the very few to denounce its constituent Munichism. Or those on the Finlay affair (the name being that of an antisemitic sculptor the city of Paris had commissioned to create a work commemorating the Declaration of Human Rights) -- there, once again, Artpress was alone, and there as well, Artpress won, by having the commission cancelled.

And finally, we will admire the fineness of the path, always teetering along the very crest, upon which the review has always trod. Brethren, stay on the right side of the undying moral order that raises its snout every five years (recently, this or that association for the protection of children, attempting to have an exhibition in Bordeaux closed), and to the left of the propensity some avant-gardes may also have of reproducing conformism (such as the performances of Tino Sehgal, where the blow is stronger than the gesture, and the slapdash work predominates over any actual lasting quality of art).

The test of the passage of time coupled with the experience of a time that is not past. Who could say it better?