Middlebrow (Other Little Magazines #06)

Like the expansion of middle class was the social synonym of modernity, the rise of middlebrow is the sure epitome of the current digital turn.

Beyond authorship legitimated within the strict circle of highbrow culture, now now everybody can finally be an artist. Pick up the right digital tools and the right taste handbook and you too can be an artist recognized by about 223 people around the world.

Or you can also be a successful middlebrow architect, as thousands of rather decent published buildings come to prove over the last 5 years, by happily entering the 15 minute hall of fame of daily internet blog platforms aiming to reveal yet another potential claim to stardom.

(The only wrong thing with this being that there are people out there that actually think this should be stopped, regulated, or somehow controlled, as I’ve heard last week in the BIArch symposium from none other than the bloggers themselves!)

Proving that the phenomenon of middlebrow is true, and relevant, and escapes gatekeepers, and is to be studied as a phenomenon that redefines the previously well-kept frontiers of creative disciplines, the truth is that new magazines seem to pop up by the month only to cover the diverse and immense sea of visual and material middlebrow production in which we are now fully immersed.

When one would think it is an insane moment to start print media, only the production of middlebrow seems to justify that new print objects do show up.

Marc Valli, the editor of Elephant (and also the owner of the exquisite Magma magazine shop), defends the new publication as serving to cover the “vast and vital space in the middle”, the production that neither doesn’t quite fit into the strict legitimating mechanisms of the “art world” nor is it overtly “commercial” (although, let’s face it, mostly the middlebrow work is only precisely that: a fair and proper means to a living).

Another example of the current funny play with one’s own brows (or the lack of them) is the also new Nobrow magazine, a publication that bears no text whatsoever as its most brilliant feature.

Somehow resounding of the lowbrow art movement, and not as outrageous as the Lowbrow Project, Nobrow is ultimately a magazine that also deals with one of those activities –illustration– that has always been pushed to the minor or middle arts’ corner and now wants to enjoy its own cult status on a worldly scale.

As Raymond Williams once suggested, one may also correctly state that highbrow culture had to be rescued from deadly ennui by letting itself plunge onto the wide hypnotic embrace of an endless popular culture. As for the world of architecture print –and while we reminisce for immersing architecture in popular culture or await for Icon’s other take on pulp fiction– it may be said that not many publications address middlebrow.

The new Scandinavian magazine Conditions does, however, address middlebrow when it both repudiates the commercial tendency of most technical architectural magazines around it, and, at the same time, does not really carry any intellectual pretensions to define the borders of an architectural highbrow culture.

With a first issue on Strategy for Evolution, Conditions defined the interdisciplinary as its horizon of ambition –and perhaps the interdisciplinary is indeed the new middlebrow. But it is only within its second issue on Copy and Interpretation that the magazine really shifts onto the ambiguous and interesting middle ground in which most current architecture must today be interrogated.

While the highbrow magazines of the past insist in plunging into obscurity by dwelling into ever boring disciplinary obsessions –and while there’s also basically nothing wrong with the fact that the architectural blogzines that surround us are carrying middlebrow architecture to new heights of a-critical visibility– there is still a huge lack of reflection on what is really going on in other than the starchitects’ heads at this point in history.

7 responses to “Middlebrow (Other Little Magazines #06)

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