Wander through cyberspace looking for "Avant-Garde," and you're likely to encounter more about it as the name of the typeface invented for this magazine than for the magazine itself. ¬†Neither the typeface nor the magazine lasted very long: ¬†Avant-Garde (the hyphen was not in the logo, but was in the fine print) began publication in January 1968 and ended just 15 issues later, in July 1971. ¬†So to call 1968 the "high-water mark" of Avant-Garde would be kind of obvious. ¬†It's also described as a "hardbound" periodical, which is not quite true--more like a thick version of a paperback book cover. ¬†But that was enough to set it apart from, say, LIFE or Time or Art News, and to mark it as High Art, something to save and display on a coffee table, next to the water-pipe, perhaps. ¬†There is real art, in abundance: ¬†one of¬†Avant-Garde's most famous issues included a vast survey of Picasso's erotic drawings. ¬†The September 1968 issue (pictured here) features work by American artist George Tooker, including his 1965-66 "Landscape with Figures" on the cover--as haunting an image of modern alienation as ever produced. ¬†And thrust onto the cover of a later 1968 issue is an astounding pair of breasts by Pop-Art star Tom Wesselman.
Knowing it when you see it?
The man behind "Avant-Garde" the Typeface was famed graphic designer Herb Lubalin. ¬†The man behind¬†Avant-Garde editorially was Ralph Ginzburg, a great Sixties character who had by this time served eight months in federal prison on a conviction (1963) of distributing obscene literature through the mails in a case that had gone all the way to the Supreme Court. ¬†(The original indictment had been brought by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy.) ¬†The conviction involved previous publications (such as his EROS magazine), but that doesn't mean that Ginzburg, in Avant-Garde, gave up on material that many people probably considered at least soft-core (did we even have that term in 1968?) porn. ¬†There's a color-photo story in this issue on New York's "Playhouse of the Ridiculous," a very downtown avant-garde theatrical troupe, who engaged in wild "happenings"-like performances and onstage sex simulations. ¬†Another color spread spotlights a¬†"Voodoo ritual dance," executed by a¬†voluptuous Caribbean dancer, nude save for well-placed props (live chicken, a human skull). ¬† There's a story by a female writer about a spectacularly endowed "Haitian Negro" male performer in a sex exhibition she saw in Cuba in the 1950s. ¬†And there's a calendar for 1969 that consists of 12 different cleverly set up photo shoots, each of them with bare-breasted women on prominent display.
A hawk's story of why he wants to kill
But the most arresting story has nothing to do with sex. It's "The Battle Hymn of Jeffrey Weinper," a non-fiction article by "a young hawk who tells why he quit college to slaughter in Vietnam." ¬† Jeffrey enlisted in the Airborne in July 1967, and writes: ¬†"Curiosity was a major reason for my enlistment . . . I am not enthused over the Vietnam War, but it is the place where I can go and kill people and they me. . . . The persistence of human violence . . . leads me to doubt the condemnation of war more than the phenomenon itself. . . . It may be that at some time, man will lose all his aggressiveness, rip off all his clothes, and spend his day dragging pot and sticking his finger in his navel. ¬†The day of Hippie Heaven and Universal Love may come, but when they do, man will no longer be man but something else."
A black box on the same page announced that "as this issue was going to press," Avant-Garde learned that Pfc. Jeffrey Weinper had been killed near Hue in South Vietnam.