Travelling Eye

You Call That Art? On the echo caused by "Travelling Eye".

It was the day of the first editorial conference after the museum in progress had opened its doors in the profil. And what appeared in that first exhibition space seemed to offend the aesthetic sensibilities of quite a few members of the editorial staff. In the photograph by Bernhard Fuchs, a yellow Fiat 900 with an Upper Austria licence plate stood at the edge of a coniferous forest, taking up two valuable profil pages. "You call that art?" "I could do something like that!" "Boring holiday shot." The tone of irritation was hard to miss. After all, up till now, art had only appeared in the context of a news magazine as yet another subject to be covered. Art, on the other hand, that failed to be immediately recognisable as such – and what precisely qualified an old Fiat, with an outdated license plate and parked in a forest, as art anyway? – was more than a lot of people could accept, a reaction certainly not limited to our editorial staff. Nor did it help that the following weeks brought an Opel Ascona, a Ford Transit, and, finally, a red Toyota, all of them in or near a coniferous forest. Art? In the thoroughly organised environment that a product of the media like a news magazine was supposed to represent? Fuchs, in turn, was succeeded by John Baldessari of all people, who the editorial staff found even more aggravating. The man didn't even fill the entire double page, leaving lots of white and empty space, while anybody with any experience in journalism had to be painfully aware of the acute and chronic shortage of space. Sacrilege!

Under the circumstances, the beginnings of "Travelling Eye" could hardly have been more auspicious. A mere two pages – out of a total of 76, 100, or even 124 – had the potential to cause uncertainty and set off an animated discussion. Two pages over which the editorial staff had no influence, two pages nobody knew anything about until they actually appeared. Take Felix Gonzales-Torres' vultures, for example: four times in a row grey skies with distant birds, hardly recognisable as vultures – this was supposed to be art? Given the choice, Hans Rauscher, editor-in-chief of the "Kurier", and himself the owner of a nice collection of paintings, would have preferred to stop the "Travelling Eye" immediately. And it is highly unlikely that he was alone in this as far as the rest of the media world was concerned. To art its freedom – in the classic type of museum, in a gallery in the traditional sense, perhaps, but not in a news magazine. Here, where one expects to be informed, even enlightened, this freedom all of a sudden comes up against its limits. It runs the risk of being treated as a liability, as a nuisance, because it exceeds the boundaries our gaze has long since grown accustomed to.

I admit that I hadn't expected quite such a lot of irritation, back in the spring of 1995, when Josef Ortner presented the project to me. However, it is precisely the extent of the resulting uncertainty which serves to underline the urgency of this venture. The mass media, even the profil, are basically predictable: We've become familiar with the attitude of a particular medium in much the same way as we've grown used to the "page-6 girl" of the "Kronen-Zeitung". We are familiar with the dramaturgy of a paper/magazine, and we are aware of where to look, day in, day out, week after week. Nor do the headlines/articles/commentaries hold any great surprises for us anymore, since, as a rule, the electronic media have already acquainted us with the relevant topics; superficially, perhaps, but we have an idea of what is going on. Therefore, the surprise effect of a project like "Travelling Eye" has to be considered a positive development, also from the perspective of those involved in the production of a particular publication: It lends the magazine an added dimension, employing unusual means to fuel the kind of discourse a medium like the profil seeks and depends upon. And the museum in progress was certainly the subject of a more animated discussion than many a profil article appearing at the time. Should the profil continue this cooperation – and, both, as a reader and a regular visitor to the museum I find this idea very appealing – I would like to offer the following advice: In the future, do not limit the museum to a single double-page spread, or an enclosure, but instead make use of the entire magazine. Romp about, right in the middle of the leader, the advertisement, wherever the artist feels he needs the space to express his art – give him the run of the magazine as a whole for a change. It is certainly not going to be to the disadvantage of the profil.

(Hubertus Czernin, born 1956, acted as editor-in-chief of the profil from 1992 to 1996.)