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Kim Zorn Caputo

Tim Davis

No one reads the essays in art books. Admit it. We skim the opening flourish, note the chosen illustrations, and press on. I myself have worried about carpal tunnel, flipping past heavily printed, earnestly epigraphed introductory essays, to get to the gristle of the pictures. Not reading art essays is a pleasure akin to skipping the awkwardness of first date dinner banter and jumping straight to the goodnight kiss. It feels like racing for an airplane with luggage screeners handing you cups of Powerade and jetway minders wrapping you in a space blanket and laurel wreath. So please, put the writing down, and turn to the pictures in this tribute issue to Kim Zorn Caputo and the magazine she founded. That is what Kim would have wanted you to do.

Kim was that reluctant cultural hero, the visionary publisher. Like James Laughlin of New Directions, who carted his Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams volumes to bookstores in the boot of his car; or Kurt Wolff, who founded seven publishing houses to birth dire and dialectical books of Kafka, Musil, Benjamin, Klee and Renger-Patzsch, Kim Zorn Caputo created a place for artists to launch their finest, least compromised work. Her greatest generosity came not in routing out unknown talent, but in allowing vital contemporary photographers to show their work outside the gallery's anxious commercial thrum, and beyond the reach of professional criticism, which, H.L. Mencken was pleased to admit, "is prejudice made plausible."

Blind Spot was never languageless. From the first Kim set the sounding-and-gathering expeditions of the photographers against her own short, rich terrines of text. These raw, personal, meaning-hungry entries almost dared photographers (who inevitably derive so much content from the heartless flux of the visual world) to, please, say something. She dared herself to, too. Issue One began with the flip, Frank O'Haraish headline, "THERE ARE MORE PHOTOGRAPHERS IN NEW YORK THAN CAB DRIVERS!" but before long settled in the bicameral chamber between hemispheres of the brain, discovering the term "blind spot" while researching her son's learning disability. The second to last word Kim wrote for the magazine was "healing." The last word was "with."

Let's pretend you're all with me that the nature of production was the great essential concern of 20th century culture. If so, the nature of distribution will surely come to be the 21st's. Wolff wrote of his beginnings as a publisher, “Success is not a determinative in this sphere - most often success is just a pure coincidence. It happened that Max Brod designated me as publisher of all his written and unwritten works….Soon he sent to me a young man named Franz Werfel who soon after brought around his friend Franz Kafka.” The success of Blind Spot has been its “withness;” the sense of welcome locality the magazine emanates through swaths of more professional periodicals. We are living in a time of elaborate, almost baroque professionalization. The Western world feels more like Napoleon's Grande Armée every day, as we are kept striving by the awarding of trinket medals for our service. Every 25-year-old artist has an advanced degree. “What do you do?” is the first question off the dock at most social engagements. We have become homo faber.

Kim managed to guide Blind Spot around the advertising-haunted cataracts of commercial magazines - which are by necessity concerned with what Adorno called “the manufacturing of goodwill;” the creation of desire for unneeded markets. Blind Spot's goodwill has come from its sure, deliberate curation. Not trying to be everything to everybody, it hasn't worried about getting someone's knickers in a twist. Each issue is like a dinner party, as dependent on the guests as the menu. Some issues are, as such, stiff and uncommunicative affairs, but each was produced as a personal gesture, and was distributed as such: uncompromisedly, minimally.

The new Blind Spot has to steer through its own shoals: of 501(C)(3) fundraising and the loss of Kim's quiet charisma. It must figure out what to make of itself and somehow, how to make itself heard. I'd take Coleman Hawkins as a model. Artists (and institutions) tend to follow two tracks. There are those that find a niche and stick to it, doggedly, in spite of the vagaries of the marketplace, of zeitgeist or style. Louis Armstrong was such an artist. Coleman Hawkins was unlike those. He wrenched the saxophone from its status as a novelty instrument and added a creamy, muscular improvisatory style to the early jazz dance bands. He then went on to adapt to each innovation in the cultural language of jazz, producing the first big-selling small-group recording (“Body and Soul”), riding athwart mid-century big bands, and collaborating in the end on modal open sessions with John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. More than changing with the times, Hawkins almost seemed to see in each of these innovations a new system of distribution for his musicianship; avenues of egress for his perpetual production. He was less like a genius, and more like a stockbroker.

With is an Old English word. It means “against.” We still hear that Sanskrit-derived sense in withhold and withdraw. Let's hope Blind Spot, with Coleman Hawkins on the poop deck eyeing an astrolabe keyed to not-for-profit trade routes and thoughtful systems of distribution, keeps its withness intact, including all its etymological vagaries. It should push and pull at our expectations. It should marginalize and draw in. It should stay contrary and generous, as Kim would have wanted it.