The notion of printing a "nudie magazine" may seem dated in an age when print publications are dying, porn is widely available for free on the Internet and graphic nudity and sexuality are becoming common promotional vehicles and products (accidentally released sex tapes, reality TV fodder). But Momma Tried, created by local artists Micah Learned and Theo Eliezer, is greatly inspired by 1960s-era Playboy.
"We’re interested in Playboy of (the 1960s) era," Eliezer says. "For me personally, Hugh Hefner is a role model for his work in the civil rights movement and being an advocate for blacklisted authors. He really took a lot of risks. In retrospect, his vision back in those days, which is separate from the Playboy vision now, was a radical owning of sexuality that was healthy and progressive. That was the original inspiration for Micah and I."
But it is an art project (they're also inspired by artist Maurizio Cattelan's Toilet Paper), and they're updating the images to fit their artistic vision.
"We wanted to address what was problematic about publications at that time," Eliezer says. "There is amazing quality that exists from that time, but there is so much misogyny and segregation. We wanted to create something that took the best from that era and pair it with progressive contemporary ideas."
The first issue of Momma Tried, the name taken from a Merle Haggard song, was released a year ago. There's a Kickstarter campaign to help fund publication of the second issue, which they expect to release in November. (The issue will cost $25, and a donation of $25 includes a copy as a reward, plus 3-D glasses to view 3-D content.) In spite of the ubiquity of sexual imagery in media today, they had a hard time finding a printer for the first issue.
[jump] When Learned and Eliezer created the first issue, they thought their biggest printing problem would be the size of the print run: 1,000 - in the gap between very small artist-run press' maximums and the low end of the big magazine industry printers at approximately 50,000. But many printers didn't want to touch what the two viewed as progressive, "body-positive" content. Eventually they found a printer in Iceland that wanted the job.
"The first printer prints some of the most famous literary journals and art magazines in North America," Eliezer says "We initiated by being very open about our concept: 'We have art content, literary content as well as this progessive body-positive nude content.' They were very open to working with us; it was when they received our files that they dropped us as a client. There is nothing graphic about our content. There are no erections, no labia, it’s all the human body in artistic contexts."
Momma Tried is a magazine. They're not posting its content online, although its Instagram page has a lot of behind the scenes shots and some examples of pages and their inspirations. But beyond that, it is perhaps more conceptually a magazine than not. The issue price of $25 may be a cheap thrill for art collectors, but it doesn't suggest something as disposable or temporal as a magazine or newspaper.
"We’re creating an installation piece," Eliezer says. "Or a reclamation of the page as an artists’ medium. Which is why we don’t have advertisers. We want the full experience of the magazine to be funny and engaging and intellectual and stimulating and artistic and separate from the way print media exists outside of the arts."
They plan to split the second issue's print run into two versions. There will be 700 newsstand-friendly copies and 300 "Not safe for work" copies with a different cover.
The NSFW version will have, "More sexual cover for collectors who appreciate art and a cheeky aesthetic and want something a little bit more risque," Eliezer says.
Whether the body imagery is more pornographic or artistic may be in the eye of the beholder. But regardless of what sort of collector, art or otherwise, buys the issue, with a portfolio of two editions (plus other projects), they'll be better positioned to approach art foundations for grants to fund future issues.