The New Esopus Magazine Has Projects With Marilyn Minter, Mickalene Thomas, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Is Generally a Delight

The cover of Esopus 23, with Jean Tinguely at the Museum of Modern Art in 1960.COURTESY ESOPUS

The cover of Esopus 23, with Jean Tinguely at the Museum of Modern Art in 1960.


Once a year, a truly beautiful thing occurs in the bookstores of all 50 United States: new copies of Esopus magazine arrive. Esopus is a freewheeling treasure trove of a book, sumptuously designed and filled with often-elaborate projects by artists, writers, and others, as well as the results of deep dives into tantalizing archives. There are usually wild production experiments—pullouts, inserts, posters, and, always, a CD stuck at the end, compiling songs by artists tackling a given theme. Because it uses so many different types of paper, it also smells astoundingly good, and I sometimes just rustle its pages when first picking it up. “Mmm…the smell of fine, freshly printed paper,” I think. “What a thing!”

In any sense, that moment has again arrived. Esopus 23 is officially out, and was officially christened at a launch party at the Museum of Modern Art this week. It includes dazzling work by Marilyn Minter, Mickalene Thomas, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, who has contributed a manifesto-like essay called “On the Value of Literature,” which is printed as a modest little pamphlet and included in a folder with the magazine. (He’ll do a very-sold-out event with Esopus next week at Bookcourt in Brooklyn.)

“The whole point of the projects is to give the artists total freedom,” Esopus’s founder and editor, Tod Lippy, told me recently. Thomas, for instance, has created a remarkable collage section that includes sliced-out and embossed pages that is as richly textured as her paintings, and Minter has offered up a shimmering series of pages with photographs of condensed liquid on glass, at least two seeming to involve a cut-off tongue. “Obviously there are logistical and financial constraints,” Lippy said, “but we have a very crafty printer in Canada who finds ingenious ways to get around things that would normally cost a lot.”

A spread from Mickalene Thomas's 2016 Together work for Esopus.COURTESY ESOPUS

A spread from Mickalene Thomas’s 2016 work, Together, for Esopus.


The magazine has a print run of 7,500—impressive for such an elaborate production, particularly one that relies on donations to make ends meet—and is widely distributed. Lippy said, “It’s very important to the mission that it be in every state and in Barnes & Noble and accessible to a wide audience.” A Barnes & Noble is actually where I first encountered it, as a kid, sometime in the early 2000s in New Jersey. (It began in 2003 as a biannual, but switched to annual publishing in 2014.) They also give away 500 copies of each issue to rural and inner-city libraries. (It’s also available to purchase online.)

But back to the treats in this issue: Hampton Fancher, the idiosyncratic screenwriter of Blade Runner who is fresh off of writing the sequel, has penned two movie treatments based on local news stories that Esopus readers sent in that they thought might make interesting films. (He’ll do two events with the magazine at the Museum of the Moving Image this month—a screening of Blade Runner and another of his directorial debut, Minus Man.)

A spread from the section devoted to MoMA's sculpture garden.

A spread from the section devoted to MoMA’s sculpture garden.


Each issue includes a section devoted to material from MoMA’s archives, working with its chief archivist, Michelle Elligott. “Every issue I go to MoMA, early in the production process, and she sits with me, and shows me like three or four folders or many more folders related to things she thinks might make good material for this series,” Lippy said. “It’s like my birthday. It’s incredible.”

This time the focus is on MoMA’s storied garden, where Jean Tinguely showed a self-destructing machine in 1960, where Yayoi Kusama had a “nude-in” in 1969, and where, just last year, Pierre Huyghe showed his remarkable sculpture with a beehive head. These and other works are presented with an incredible photographs over a series of pages, and in the middle is a re-creation of the invitation card for a party celebrating MoMA’s inaugural Summergarden series in 1971. (Looking through Esopus is best done at a table, otherwise all of these surprises start falling out all over the place.)

Knausgaard's essay.

The opening spread to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s essay.


After flipping through some recent issues, I told Lippy that I was pretty amazed he was able to pull off some of the printing work he does, but he made it sound like no big deal. He said, “There are always ways around seemingly daunting limitations, if you really think hard, basically.”

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