The Modernist and the Magazine

Harper's Bazaar Magazine (June 1939). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Harper’s Bazaar Magazine (June 1939). From the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Broom Magazine (February 1922). From The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.
Broom Magazine (February 1922). From The Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University. Photograph by Kylie Sharkey.

Before beginning my semester’s study of modernism and archives I had many preconceptions. When I thought of the modernist movement, and those quirky artists who advanced it, words like avant-garde, outlandish, and innovative came to mind. The iconic names of twentieth century visionaries soon followed—Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Stein. But what I was is less likely to imagine were these artist’s connections to the magazine. Figures like Gertrude Stein have been understood as standing on one side of a chasm of exclusion, the commercialized world standing on the other ledge, ignored and rejected from the modernist circle—however, my digital exhibition “The Modernist and the Magazine” aims to upset this notion. Above two of my exhibition objects are pictured. The cover of the February 1935 issue of Harper’s Bazaar in which Stein published, “I Came and Here I am” hints to the author’s presence in popular culture and popular publications. While the cover of the January 1922 issue of Broom shows her presence in more experimental magazines. I hope that by exhibiting ephemeral publications that showcased Stein I can show the real relationship between the modernist and the magazine.

Thanks to the new ability to produce cheap paper, magazines saw a boom at the turn of the century. My exhibition puts into focus two kinds of magazines that emerged from this boom— artistic publications known as “Little Magazines” like transition, Camera Work, and Broom and more mainstream titles like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. Stein’s work appeared in both types of magazine; her writing as at home next to a photograph of a Henri Matisse sculpture as next to an advertisement for Tiffany’s jewelry. These publications had the power to disseminate Stein’s work to larger audiences. While many have the misconception that modernists wished to be exclusive, I hope to show that they in fact had a desire for their aesthetic work to affect public discourse. The best way to impact the masses was to reach them, and the magazine proved a worthy vehicle. By offering papery exhibition spaces for avant-garde pieces, magazines and modernists entered a symbiotic relationship.

Stein’s writing is notoriously tricky. Her words shook the literary community and were the subject of both praise and criticism. Some argue that she was self-indulgent, incoherent, and boring. But others, including myself, support her “reinvention of rhetoric”. Her pieces take the most simple sentence and morph and repeat it until it takes on new meaning. All of these stylistic risks unfolded on the pages of magazines. They framed her modernist ideas in commercialized publications that carried her odd style to the masses. One could open a Harper’s or Broom and read her unique work. Of course, the magazine was not an all-idyllic setting. Stein faced misprints and revisions that undermined her deliberate writing choices. These changes were the product of both common publishing mistakes as well as calculated attempts to make her work more accessible.

My exhibition has to grapple with a complicated relationship, the modernist at once at odds but also at home within the magazine. It is this complex, tumultuous, and ultimately beneficial connection that compelled me to curate “The Modernist and the Magazine”. Circulating publications fostered, disseminated, and encouraged experimental work. While anxieties regarding editing and public understanding were ever present, the benefits of magazines far outweighed their perceived incongruities with the modernist movement. My job is to detail this relation through primary objects. The task of lending tangible footholds to a difficult idea is as exciting as it is challenging. “The Modernist and the Magazine” works to close that perceived chasm between Stein and the mass market, highlighting her exceptional writing’s place within the unlikely medium of the magazine.

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