“By eliminating art criticism and exhibition reviews in favor of interviews and documentation of works, Avalanche provided a more direct channel for the artist’s voice. From its vantage point in SoHo, Avalanche surveyed the new media art of the late 1960s and early 1970s, including conceptual art, performance, video, dance, and music. Both chronicle and agent for these newly minted forms, Avalanche sought to put the media into the hands of artists--who, in turn, not only used the magazine to promote themselves and publicize their work but tapped its potential as a medium in and of itself. The first eight issues were in the form of a square magazine with coated pages, featuring brooding portraits of artists on each cover. […] When printing costs skyrocketed in 1974, Avalanche switched to a newspaper format. Its circulation ranged from 4,000 to 6,250.”
Selected Subject Headings
- Art - 1970s
- Artists - interviews
- Artists’ statements
- Artists’ writings
- Birds in art
- Body art
- Choreographers - interviews
- Choreographers’ writings
- Composers - United States - interviews
- Conceptual art - works
- Experimental poetry, American
- File (periodical)
- Food (restaurant)
- Grand Union (dance company)
- Institutional critique
- Mail art - Canada
- Multimedia (art)
- New York (N.Y.) - intellectual life - 1970s
- Performance art - exhibitions
- Performance art - scripts
- Performance art and video
- Video art - exhibitions
If one tries to conjure in one’s mind New York’s experimental artistic milieu during the late 1960s and early 1970s, quite certainly one will end up recalling grainy black and white images of expansive semi derelict lofts occupied by monitors or groups of people attending or participating in performances, concerts or dance events. And bite marks on arms, mattresses being moved around, mirror displacements. But what one might not well be able to recall is that these conjured images most likely were first encountered in Avalanche.
Published from 1970 to 1976 by Willoughby Sharp and Liza Béar, Avalanche is not only a beautiful publication documenting a particular artistic moment in a particular time and place, but also a unique expression of what happens when two-like minded friends embark in a publishing venture to diffuse what they liked and thought was significant, known from direct experience; importantly, and we believe this to be the reason why the magazine has achieved its totemic stature, Avalanche is the result of that rare gesture, which is to allow artists to express themselves through their own words and work.
Besides its Rumbles and Messages sections which functioned as a community board for local, national and international events and publications, the magazine is mostly a collection of artists’ pages and interviews with artists; these were lavishly accompanied by images of their work, presented in by-then innovative layouts reflecting the process-like formal aspects of the featured practices: a multitude of video stills and performance images, serial presentations of the different stages of earth works, even photostory attempts at representing that most fleeting of all forms: dance.
All the interviews or dialogues were conducted by Sharp and Béar, sometimes in tandem, sometimes each on their own; each interview has a description of when and where it took place, descriptions like “Richard Serra talked to Liza Béar on Sunday, January 27, at 319 Greenwich Street, New York, the day before he left for Peru” or ““Willoughby Sharp did this interview in the artist’s Oakland, CA. studio in Thanksgiving Day, 1973”
These lovely details transmit a genuine familiarity with the artists they chose to interview or feature in the magazine’s pages; the list of these, artists and friends, is just astonishing: Robert Smithson, Richard Long, Jan Dibbets, Sol Lewit, Lawrence Weiner, Yvonne Rainer, Carl Andre, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Simone Forti, Vito Acconci, Terry Fox, Jackie Winsor, Stanley Brouwn, Hanne Darboven, Gilbert & George, Trisha Brown, Jannis Kounellis, Jack Smith, Steve Paxton, Ed Ruscha, Nancy Holt, Phillip Glass, Gordon Matta-Clark, On Kawara, and on and on it goes.
Now, we’ve written “New York” and “a particular artistic moment in a particular time and place,” a somehow misleading description as the depicted milieu was not an isolated one; both Sharp and Béar were traveling and meeting artists in Europe, but also in the Pacific Coast; sure, they all convened later on in New York, which attests to its relevance as a diffusion node. After all, Avalanche was published there, and South of Houston and the postindustrial spatial debris was also located there, no matter if replicas of “loft living” exist now even in Yootó.
Reading retrospective accounts of these times, one finds that scholars and commentators are torn between nostalgia or misled apprehensions shaped by their current, and momentary, omniscient position of experiencing what happened to SoHo and how a way of living was transformed into a “lifestyle.” We concur with their diagnoses about the area, as most likely Lev Zubov could as well own a building there.
But to imply that artists used venues like Avalanche “to promote themselves” or that this publishing venture took part in the civic disruption brought to that particular local scene by mercantilism points to an important misunderstanding: artists of course want to talk about what they do, that’s why they are artists and do what no one else can do. Avalanche and derelict buildings were a welcoming venue for their imaginings and experiments. To suggest that artists or a publishing venture like Avalanche are to be blamed for the socio-historical contexts in which they exist, and to believe that the scholar and commentator has no part whatsoever in these contexts' shaping is something that continues to puzzle us.
The fact is, ccindex has indexed Avalanche; others have indexed Avalanche more thoroughly. A limited edition jewel box containing an exquisite material facsimile was published in 2010, and we’ve heard that Avalanche even exists as a series of underground free floating Portable Digital Documents; exhibitions have been organized around the magazine, pamphlets and chapters in books are also dedicated to it. One could assume then that what the featured artists produced and had to say remains relevant not just because it offers a glimpse to a moment in which “the very definition of artistic production was being interrogated and extended,” but also because it might provide an indication to younger artists of what can happen when a non-institutionalized space for creation is granted to them without having to be mediated by the new managerial cadre which crowds our current cultural landscape.
Despite all this, we are aware that mythologizing is a danger one faces when considering the magazine and those years, what is now imagined as a long lost “community.” To counter this danger, one just needs to place Avalanche in perspective with a thorough knowledge of the socio-historical and technological context in which these art practices took place.
Think of it, while these particular artists were experimenting downtown, further uptown, in 1520 Sedgwick Avenue to be slightly specific, other artists were also experimenting in ways that were to interrogate and extend what artistic production could be, paving the way to yet another astonishing cultural moment in New York City, but with a different kind of reach. Global, in this case.
Artists, midnight marauders, uptown, downtown, all around town. Avalanche brought to us the downtown ones, but it is only in conjunction with the rest of them that one can understand what New York City has done to our consciousness and the continued pleasures one can derive from its yet to be probed unique mongrel constellations.
To peruse the indexed contents of Avalanche, please log into the database.
Please click on each image for its proper attribution and copyright notice.
 Gwen Allen. ”Appendix: a compendium of artists’ magazines from 1945 to 1989: Avalanche,” in Artists’ magazines: an alternative space for art. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2011, p. 242.
In a 1973 statement by Sharp and Béar, the following point is made: "Avalanche avoids critical opinion in order to present the artist's own view of his work."
“The Grand Union: there were some good moments…,” Avalanche (New York), no. 8 (Summer-Fall 1973): 40-47. Also, in issue no. 10 one can encounter a fotonovela by Jack Smith, “with Ronald de Carlo as the average person who, in every life of Lucky Landlord Paradise, is a postman of Lotusland.” Jack Smith. “Fear ritual of Shark Museum,” Avalanche (New York), no. 10 (December 10): 26-27.
See Richard Serra and Liza Béar, “Prisoner’s dilemma,” Avalanche (New York), no 9 (May-June 1974): 26-29; Stephen Laub and Willoughby Sharp. “Stephen Laub’s projections,” Avalanche (New York), no. 10 (December 1974): 24-25. In some instances, artists were the editors of their own words, as in “The performer as persona: an interview with Yvonne Rainer,” Avalanche (New York), no. 5 (Summer 1972): 46-59, which was edited by Rainer.
Los Angeles and San Francisco appear to have been visited quite often; as examples of international travel, we could note that Béar met Jannis and Phillip Glass in Rome, and Daniel Buren was interviewed in Cologne.
Interestingly, the last issue of Avalanche, already in a newspaper format, disclosed in its cover the economic structure which prompted its folding, pointing already to a changed landscape affected by the 1973 oil crisis and related inflation.
Librarian Amy Ballmer produced the very thorough Avalanche Magazine Index, indexing even the advertisements that appeared in the magazine; Primary Information produced a beautiful facsimile of the magazine in a limited edition of 1,000; Lisa Le Feuvre organized in 2005 the exhibition Avalanche 1970-1976, in the CHELSEA space in London and a pamphlet was produced with Béar and Sharp’s text “The early history of Avalanche;" and lastly, in Gwen Allen’s useful Artists’ magazines: an alternative space for art, a chapter is dedicated to Avalanche, “An artists’ magazine: Avalanche, 1970-1976,” ibid., pp. 91-119.
Lisa Le Feuvre, “Preface,” in The early history of Avalanche. London: Chelsea College of Art and Design, 2005: [i-ii].