In 1915 Alfred Stieglitz founded the arts journal 291 as a way to promote his gallery of the same name and as a forum for his contemporaries to publish experimental art writing. This led to the subsequent publishing of 391 in 1917 by Francis Picabia. Of the publication, Picabia said “Every page must explode, whether through seriousness, profundity, turbulence, nausea, the new, the eternal, annihilating nonsense, enthusiasm for principles, or the way it is printed. Art must be unaesthetic in the extreme, useless and impossible to justify.”
The very idea that the pages of art criticism should “explode” sounds humorous today. Yet if aesthetic and cultural phenomena detonate chaotically all around us, shouldn’t their intellectual analog rise to the occasion? 491 marks a continuation of the art critical tradition; an attempt to address the disparities between the art of Picabia’s revolutionary moment and that of today’s parallel confusion. A rolling online publication, this project arises from a need for both salient and polemical critiques that can access and transform the stakes of art today. For these reasons we present content that articulates latent failures and successes of contemporary art and culture, encouraging contributions from a broad range of writers and thinkers. We seek to use criticism as an unapologetically analytic method to understand art movements as something more than mere social trends. Contributors analyze specific art pieces, as well as overarching themes of the zeitgeist as a way of disentangling concrete perspectives.