Your guide to… Elephant magazine

by Grace Wang in January 2017
Art & design

During the holidays, we received a message on Facebook asking for art review magazine recommendations for a Christmas present. I immediately thought of Elephant magazine, the London-based publication focusing on contemporary art and visual culture.

Featuring original voices and uncovering new talent and trends, it engages in the same way a well-curated gallery does — halfway through, you’ll even be treated to a ‘Paper Gallery’ (below): paintings presented on a thicker paper stock, giving you space to soak in the artworks at your own pace. We ask editor Robert Shore to guide us through the new issue, which is themed around art collectives.

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1. In a time when egotism is talked about often, it’s especially refreshing to come across Elephant’s theme of collaborative art collectives. Could you talk a bit about this?
There’s a lot of pessimism at the moment so it’s important to be reminded that when people act collectively, they can still make a difference and change things for the better. The issue is full of stories of individuals joining together to have fun and do interesting, creative things — and making the world a more accepting and bigger-hearted place in the process. That’s a cause for optimism, surely?

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2. Japanese illustrator Noritake’s cover image (above) is ace. How did that become the cover?
Given the issue’s theme, choosing a cover image that showed people doing something together was a no-brainer. We found Noritake where we find a lot of people — amidst the clutter and chaos of the internet. He stood out because of the amazing lack of clutter in his work. It’s really, really hard to be that clean and lean.

If you try really hard you can imagine that the chopsticks the figures are holding are actually paintbrushes, so they might be part of an art collective. (One of the collectives featured in the issue, Random International, creators of the Rain Room, have lunch together every day except Friday. Top tip: eating communally is a springboard to creativity.)

What’s particularly nice is that Noritake himself designed the cover — only the most dedicated of minimalists would have specified that spine colour! You could say that, at least for the time it took him to place the image and text and pare away all extraneous detail, Noritake joined the Elephant collective.

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3. From Chim^Pom and Gelitin, to the new generations of Guerrilla Girls around the world, tell us about some collectives featured in the issue…
Western art history is premised on the idea of the individual genius. Even the great 20th century art movements that drew so much creative energy from people coming together to pool ideas — from Cubism to Abstract Expressionism — ended up serving as launch pads for the careers of often soi-disant individual geniuses. The advent of the true collective is one of the most interesting, not to mention socially progressive, art phenomena of the past half-century.

People seem to take their clothes off in public a lot more when they’re in a collective — probably as a result of the confidence being part of a group gives you. The Neo Naturists did it to startling effect in the British Museum in the 1980s. Do Gelitin even own any clothes? And when they’re not getting naked, people in collectives often wear masks (Guerrilla Girls), hazmat suits (Chim^Pom) or poodle disguises (General Idea). All of which I mention to underline that, although they’re doing thoughtful, socially progressive things, the people in the collectives we feature look like they’re having fun. And the spectacle of joy is always inspiring.

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4. The issue also showcases individual artists’ fantastical works, like Ugo Rondinone (above), Amadou Sanogo, and Cornelia Parker. Could you introduce readers to a couple of your highlights?

I am contractually obliged to say I love it all but it’s the truth anyway. A few examples:

— If you don’t know the work of Refik Anadol (below), you might enjoy discovering his amazing, cutting-edge work using sound-analysis algorithms and light projections.

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— Kerry James Marshall (below) is one of the best and most important painters of his generation, and his conversation is every bit as stimulating and urgent as his picture making. As he tells us: “A number of black artists shifted away from figurative to abstract work because they felt it limited their access to the mainstream. They wanted to be free of the perceived limited readings imposed on their art because they were black. For me, that it is a kind of failure — a surrender to white supremacy. If you really want to be free, you have to be free in the fullest sense of the word. That means not being ashamed, not feeling diminished by a racial identity, able to project an ideal image like yours powerfully into the art world.” I love his boldness as both a painter and a thinker.

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— What Jessica Stockholder can do with a rusty hinge and a bunch of orange shopping baskets is nobody’s business.

— I also particularly like a couple of the stories at the front of the magazine, about the rise of estate-agency art and the art world’s growing obsession with karaoke. Rebecca Clarke’s illustration showing James Franco as Lana Del Rey (below) is one of my favourite things too. And I’m hoping that our competition encouraging readers to come up with their own dream art collective — on the model of a rock supergroup — will take off on Instagram. If only Harry Styles would get on with it and join Gelitin, the world would be a much better place.

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5. Why should everyone buy a copy?
Because it will immediately improve the quality of your life. It also automatically qualifies you as a member of the Elephant collective. AND (yes, there’s more) — if you order a copy through our website you get a three-dimensional cardboard elephant to cut out and construct (below). A friend for life.

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