The Minimalism Issue (#5,6)
New York City, USA: Roaring Fork Press, 1967
8.25 x 8.25 x 2.125”
Corrugated cardboard mailing box containing 26 items, plus advertisement folder.
The first and only double issue was edited and designed by artist and critic Brian O’Doherty, with art direction by David Dalton and Lynn Letterman. The contents includes essays by Roland Barthes (the first appearance of his landmark text The Death of the Author) and Susan Sontag, musical scores by Morton Feldman and John Cage, five flexi-disc records (Beckett, Burroughs, Cunningham, Duchamp, Feldman and Cage), a ‘conceptual poem’ by Dan Graham, a grid study in three dimensions (Seven Translucent Tiers) by Mel Bochner, and a reel of Super-8 film. The film reel contains Rhythm 21 by Hans Richter, Lightplay (excerpt) by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Site (excerpt) by Robert Morris & Stan VanDerBeek, and Linoleum (excerpt) by Robert Rauschenberg. Planned multiples by Donald Judd and Claes Oldenburg were not realized.
The advertisements folder includes ads for Artforum, two books by Cage (Silence and A Year From Sunday), a checklist of Something Else Press book and Great Bear Pamphlets and a colour brochure for Bolex Super-8 projectors. Although these ads seem wisely pitched to their readership, this was the last issue of Aspen to feature advertising. After this the cost of production was covered (theoretically?) exclusively by subscription rates.
There are no records as to the periodical’s circulation numbers, but a review in Time magazine in 1968 cites the number of subscribers at 20,000. O’Doherty’s notes indicate that there were plans to produce this double issue in numbers of between 15,000 and 20,000, but the scarcity of extant copies suggest this did not materialize. Because of a shortage of funds, many copies were produced without the film roll, or with a note that it would ship later.
Being a double issue meant that the price was $8.00. A copy of Life magazine was thirty-five cents at the time. An inflation calculator suggests that the $8.00 cover price would today be around $55.00. Copies of the issue, now, even in poor condition, sell for ten times that amount. A current subscription for The Thing Quarterly (which, despite being boxed works by individual artists, seems likely to have been influenced by Aspen and SMS) is $240.00, for four issues, making them $60.00 each. McSweeney’s periodicals (which publish in various unusual formats, such as a cigar box) might be seen as the closest current model to Aspen, and their pricing is similar to the regular priced Aspen issues (adjusted for inflation).
"In 1967 I edited issue 5+6 of Aspen – an assemblage of artists, writers and musicians in shifting configurations. The themes were language, silence and time. I commissioned Roland Barthes to write ‘The Death of the Author’; Susan Sontag, ‘The Aesthetics of Silence’; and George Kubler – the author of The Shape of Time (1962), which we were all reading then – to write ‘Style and the Representation of Historical Time’. I also asked Samuel Beckett to contribute something. After I explained some of my ideas he replied: ‘Ah, sure I haven’t a scrap.’ I was prepared for that. I said: ‘Could I use something out of “Texts for Nothing #8”?’ He said ‘Yes.’ ‘Would you read it for me?’ ‘No, I don’t do that. But you could get Jack McGowran to read it.’ Jack, though long gone, is, in my view, the unsurpassed Beckett performer. I called Jack in Dublin. Yes, he would read it. Send the fee. I did. Back came this magnificent tape. Some have generously called it the best Beckett reading ever. My wife, Barbara Novak, and I are in the kitchen listening to this great fugue. Suddenly, it stops. I call Jack. ‘It’s wonderful, Jack, but it stops half-way’. ‘Ah,’ said Jack, ‘that’s as far as the money brought me.’ Back to the publisher. More money. The full tape arrives."
- Brian O’Doherty, Frieze talk, 2012