Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Esopus, the Magazine

This morning I received an e-mail from a former student, announcing that her first issue of Esopus had arrived, and that she was "smelling it right now." I had introduced my Art and Design Since 1945 class to it last quarter, and they all responded enthusiastically-- and a couple of them subscribed.

It's difficult to describe Esopus, which is published by a non-profit foundation and comes out only twice a year. It's an amazing bargain (well below its actual cost) at $10 US a pop on the newsstand (if you can find it), or $9 each by subscription. The production quality is superb, and the variety of topics covered and materials used provide a visual and tactile experience unlike any other print medium I can think of. On top of that, they commission a music CD based on a particular theme, and some of the tunes are so witty and intelligent that even a cranky old classical and jazz purist like I am can enjoy them.

The "smelling" part comes from the fact that the papers and inks used for the art works and articles evoke an almost pheromonic response from lovers of paper. I wouldn't exactly call the experience erotic, but it's certainly enticing.

This issue contains a couple of things that have stirred the little section of my brain devoted to wonder: a segment called "Drawing Comparisons," which includes facsimiles of sketches by former MoMA director, René D'Harnoncourt, comparing art works from various island cultures in Melanesia. The drawings are part of regular file-folder feature drawn from the museum's archives; in the past these have included the evolution of a flow-chart describing the influence of Cubism, and sketches by Lewis Mumford of an exhibit that was never mounted. Both Cubism and Mumford are among my abiding interests.

Some of what's included is surprisingly intimate, like the notes to his children by Robert Guest, an exhibition designer. Guest has written lunch-box notes to his kids for many years, and his wife has retrieved thousands of them (an artful arrangement of these notes graces the issue's cover). A few of them are included as "Daily Reminders." One feels privileged to be allowed to read them, even though they're fairly simple: "Take time to relax and think about life." They're illustrated with sweet drawings, and make me wish I'd done this with my children.

The most amazing section this time is well within the realm of the traditional Wunderkammer: Doug McNamara's "Biodiversions," a series (mostly on vellum) of scientific illustrations of organisms that don't actually exist. The drawings are astonishing, amusing, delicate, beautiful, fanciful, and poetic all at the same time. And the paper makes you want to fondle it. I'm not kidding.

The CD will accompany me down the road to work tomorrow. This one's called "Good News," and was inspired by a quotation from Confucius: "The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large." One of the songs celebrates the tax rebate--which hasn't shown up in my bank account yet, but a part of it will go to support the Esopus Foundation because I get such sheer pleasure from what it brings me--even if it is only twice a year.

Now I'll be looking forward to the newest issue of the quarterly Cabinet Magazine, named after cabinets of wonder, and usually filled with provocative and beautifully written and illustrated stuff on a particular theme (bones, mountains, insects, electricity). It's due any day now.

Photo credit: since this post is almost an ad for the magazine, I hope it's ok to use the cover photo. I know I should ask, but I'm shy.


philip likens said...

Esopus might contain as many words as your post. Emphasis on might. Except in the other sentence. Nevermind.

Beautiful magazine though... smells good too. And the feeling... well, you paper people remind me of an essay - second skin - a friend of mine wrote.

Owlfarmer said...

If you think this blog is overly wordy, don't ever look at the other one.

I swore when I began blogging at Wayne's and Trayc's urging that mine would not be composed of sound bites and little tidbits. In fact, the new effort is purposefully "smaller," though still not a quick read.

But Esopus focuses on visual art, so you shouldn't have been surprised; Cabinet (which I'll bring in next week, since the new issue just arrived) is rather more "verbose."

Thanks for the link to Haynes's page. Interesting guy.