Iconoclasts and superstars, artists and writers, hippies and beatniks, hard-bitten publishers of “adult-themed” magazines and idealistic authors of art manifestos join forces against the establishment in this exhibition devoted to the underground press of the late ’60s and early ’70s. The show, curated by David Platzker, a noted dealer in ephemera, takes as its starting point Al Goldstein’s tabloid paper, Screw: The Sex Review. In its early days, Screw often included “arty” content in an effort to circumvent obscenity laws (Screw No. 1, published in 1968, featured a centerfold by Yayoi Kusama). At the same time, overtly sexual art by the likes of Brigid Berlin and Peter Hujar was finding an outlet in the more high-minded New York Review of Sex and Politics, which also published John Chamberlain’s photographs of Ultra Violet, fiction by Charles Bukowski and a column by art critic Gregory Battcock.
Vintage covers and spreads from these and other publications make up the bulk of the exhibition, rounded out with copies of Barney Rosset’s Evergreen Review and books by Gay Talese, Andy Warhol and Terry Southern. A classic drawing by R. Crumb graces the cover of an early East Village Other; an issue of Gay asks, “Is Mick Jagger on Top?” Screw presents an “Armpit of the Month.” Silly, yes, but serious, too, a point made explicit by the inclusion of The Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (1970) and a 1969 collection of writings on museum reform from the Art Workers’ Coalition. Whether literary, countercultural or pornographic, the era’s alternative magazines were each engaged to some degree in a common struggle for sexual and intellectual liberation—one that would pave the way for our own undoubtedly more inclusive, but sadly more politically correct, cultural landscape.—Anne Doran