Museum-Goers React to Brooklyn Museum’s Showcase of Zines

From now until March 31st, 2024, if you walk through the Morris A. and Meyer Shapiro Wing on the 4th floor of The Brooklyn Museum, you will have the chance to see the exhibit, Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines. Last weekend, I had the privilege to visit the historic collection of zines and even conversed with my fellow museum-goers about their first impressions of this expansive exhibit.

According to the museum website, the term “zines” refers to fanzines, magazines, or any self-published book of text or images. As I walked through the various rooms of the exhibit dedicated to zine eras, I noticed an emphasis on counterculture and alternative narratives.

Starting in the 1970s, this exhibit spans five decades of the rich zine history of North America. Much like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, the exhibit felt bigger on the inside. “I’m honestly really overwhelmed in a very good way, how much there is here,” mused Stephanie N. from the Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn. “I thought I was going to be here for an hour but I’ve barely got through anything.” 

Now an archivist, Stephanie used to work at the Barnard College Library, home to a prolific major zine collection, which created her entry point into zine culture. She shared with me that she also dabbled in her own zine making. Before going our separate ways, Stephanie imparted, “This is I feel like an exhibit that I personally am going to need to come back to a couple times before it closes to really see everything.”

“This is I feel like an exhibit that I personally am going to need to come back to a couple times before it closes to really see everything.”

When asked what brought Gabrielle P.  from Manhattan to this particular exhibit, she said, ““We wanted to come to something a little more contemporary, so we stumbled into here expecting one thing but didn’t fully expect this a) how much content there is here and b) how raunchy it is.” The curators certainly did not shy away from prominently displaying the art of an explicit nature, denying censorship of the human body engaging in what mass media would deem risque.

Gabrielle brought my attention to a particularly striking and massive piece. She said, “We loved the envelopes on the wall all made out to Kate. I thought it was so personal how she collected all of them and made it into a consolidation of all these memories. I save all my letters at home which is why I felt connected to it.” The piece entitled Envelope Quilt, created by American born artist K8 Hardy, showcases 8 years of written correspondence she received during the Riot Grrrl era of the 1990s.

Click image to enlarge.

K8 Hardy worked predominantly with the queer feminist collective LTTR (originally “Lesbians to the Rescue”) and if one were to look in the “Critical Promiscuity” section of the exhibit, they would find Hardy’s zine FashionFashion on display. The term “Critical Promiscuity,” coined by art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson to describe the zines of LTTR. The ethos of LTTR strove to make zines accessible while also striving to form a sense of community on a global scale.

Zoe, who was visiting the museum along with Mira, made note that “It’s such a big part of especially youth culture and it’s nice when they’re taken seriously. The archival of zines is taken seriously.” Not only did the exhibit exude a reverence towards the art form of zines, but it also highlighted the voices and perspectives of those oftentimes on the periphery of history.

Hailing from Brooklyn, Mira P. confessed, “I was expecting it to be just kind of like white ladies and all white artists and that’s not the case.” It had also come to my attention that the curators made sure to cultivate a diverse array of artists and voices not only from the hegemonic dominant culture. 

“I was a big Bikini Kill lover in my day,” said Mira, who had chosen to visit the museum before the start of her college spring semester. “In 6th grade I had a very big Riot Grrrl phase and I grew up with Rookie Mag and Tavi Gevinson.” The underground feminist punk scene of Riot Grrrl can be seen on display while the more mainstream zines, like Rookie Mag, faced omission.

“It’s really crazy to see all of them physically in front of you.”

“It’s really crazy to see all of them physically in front of you,” said Lucia M. who currently lives in New York, but grew up in Hawaii. “All of the ones that I’ve been looking at like IFP and Gendertrash From Hell… I’m a little disappointed that I can’t turn through the pages.” IFP (Infected Faggot Perspectives) refers to a zine created in the 1990s by and for gay men living with HIV/AIDS positive status in the US. While Gendertrash from Hell, also conceived in 1990, focused on the transgender and transexual experiences of those living in the US.

Lucia went on to say, “I really love the queer history space archive exhibit. I really like non-traditional zines.” The exhibit made sure to highlight zines that existed beyond the written word, focusing on audio-visual and multimedia zine representation as well. 

I believe Gabrielle P. put it best when she said, “It’s a lot to take in all at once so having this as my first big interaction with it is almost like running into a wall. I’m like ‘Okay, didn’t know any of this existed.’ So it’s eye opening.” 

As someone also relatively new to the zine scene, my eyes and curiosity have been opened about this often overlooked art form. If you’re looking for an exhibit that is encompassing yet intimate, be sure to take the 2 or 3 train to Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum station, before this ephemeral exhibit vanishes.

© Taylor Beckman (2/12/24) – Special for FF2 Media ®

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

Explore the exhibit by buying a ticket to the Brooklyn Museum.

Read more about the exhibit in FF2 Media’s post from Debra Thimmesch.

Watch Miranda July speak about her and Joanna Fateman’s zine Snarla.

Read Julia Bryan-Wilson’s piece on LTTR for Artforum.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Displays from the Copy Machine Manifestos exhibit at Brooklyn Museum photographed by/courtesy of Taylor Beckman.

Tags: Bikini Kill, Brooklyn Museum, Copy Machine Manifestos: Artists Who Make Zines, fanzine, Julia Bryan-Wilson, K8 Hardy, Lesbians to the Rescue, LTTR, Riot grrrl, Rookie Mag, Tavi Gevinson, Taylor Beckman, Zine

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Taylor Beckman (she/her/hers) is a sister, daughter, friend, avid baker, and adorer of Regency-era British television shows. After graduating from Muhlenberg College with degrees in both Psychology and Theatre (acting and directing concentrations), she flew to Europe where she performed as a theatre artist, teaching English in Belgium and France. Once she returned to the States, Taylor pursued a career in acting until the pandemic happened and she changed the trajectory of her life. Taylor is now a student at NYU getting her Masters in Drama Therapy where she hopes to combine her love for theater with the inherent therapeutic qualities that stories possess. When she isn't writing theatrical reviews or profile pieces for FF2, Taylor can be found drinking mint tea and reading a Charlotte Brontë novel. Thank you to Jan and the FF2 Media team for the opportunity to critically engage with people and the art form of performance.
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