Is it still a magazine if there are no words? What if there is no paper? What if it’s a sushi box, a Louis Vuitton bag, or a stack of junk mail? The five magazines below challenge the notion of the traditional magazine, alternately stumping and titillating their subscribers with a devil-may-care approach to publishing.

By Julie Cirelli

The late Aspen Magazine was the grandfather of all art-object-slash-magazine-slash-whatever-we-want-to-make-this-month periodicals. Founded by former Women’s Wear Daily editor Phyllis Johnson in the 1970s, the fi rst few issues dealt with all manner of Aspen life: skiing, wildlife, etc. Quickly, however, the magazine devolved, or evolved, into a hodgepodge of musings and criticism on contemporary art. Each issue contained at least one phonograph recording, and several issues included super-eight films. Issues came out irregularly and advertising was a nightmare, but the magazine was a hit with the arterati.

Spearheaded by Rem Koolhaas, the Dutch architecture power player, Volume magazine is a bimonthly, er, plastic box? Resembling nothing so much as a Japanese bento box and printed with the Volume insignia in relief, each issue has contained a DVD, CD or other object—but future issues may be a meeting, a film, or a performance. Koolhaas, in cahoots with the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University and Archis magazine, hopes to challenge the status quo of architectural and public planning—and magazine publishing.

Who knows how many subscribers to McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern unwittingly chucked issue number seventeen into the recycling bin, not realizing that the cellophane-wrapped batch of flyers and junk mail was, in fact, a magazine? The literary quarterly founded by novelist Dave Eggers prides itself as much on its design as on its content. Locating a McSweeney’s in your local magazine shop can be a bit of a guessing game: Think “Which one of these objects does not belong here?” and then grab the felt box with a plastic comb inside or the scrap paper–filled cigar box.

Arkitip considers itself more of a serial art piece than reading material. Subscriptions run about $75 and provide, as its website explains, content for “art collectors of all economic levels.” Each issue includes original, sitespecific art work and usually some kind of goody: Issue sixteen came with a vacuum-sealed bag filled with drink coasters adorned with Tupac Shakur lyrics and issue seventeen with a seven-inch infl atable plastic ball designed by Phil Frost. Published in limited editions, each issue is coveted for the potentially valuable art contained within.

Touted as “the couture version of a magazine” by sister publication V, Visionaire commissions a mega-famous artist or designer to create an individual issue, each time resulting in an entirely unique format. Subscribers shell out big bucks for a subscription, spending nearly $700 for four issues— a bargain compared with what one might spend to buy them separately. You could pay over $1,000 for a box of toy dolls designed by ten different designers, from Hermes to Alexander McQueen, or $875 for a box of twenty-five lenticular cards (the image changes as you tilt them back and forth) designed by filmmakers Sofia Coppola, Wong Kar Wai, and Gus Van Sant, among others. (An eighteen-karat gold charm is embedded in the case, to boot.) A recent fashion issue came encased in the signature monogrammed leather of Louis Vuitton; all 2,500 copies sold out in three weeks.



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