Gallery between the pages: Milwaukee’s Fine Line Magazine puts fine art in your hands
Cassandra Smith and Jessica Steeber made names for themselves through the stunning and thought-provoking shows they co-curated at the now defunct Armoury Gallery, once housed inside the historic “Fortress” building just north of downtown. Partially due to fatigue and partially due to circumstance, they pulled the plug on Armoury in May 2009. Compulsively attracted to contemporary art created by emerging and semi-established artists, the duo immediately began thinking about other venues in which to share the art they discovered, and they developed the idea for Fine Line Magazine.
Smith and Steeber describe Fine Line Magazine as a hybrid between the gallery and traditional magazines. They see it as a continuation of what they were doing at the Armoury Gallery, presenting challenging work aimed at creating a dialogue between the art, the artist, the gallery, and the viewer. The magazine is void of all advertising, reviews, previews, and biographies, while being overloaded with carefully curated visual content buffered by minimal text. As curators, Smith and Steeber hope that offering a sequential visual guide will prompt viewers to explore their reactions. They aren’t interested in answering questions, just providing the stimulation. “By taking away all the information and just presenting images, we are leaving it up to the viewer to find their own answers,” says Steeber.
The art presented in this conceptual project is delightfully aesthetic. The artists in the inaugural issue represent seven different countries with engaging and thoughtful interplay on this issue’s theme of “Welcome Home.” With a concentration on pacing, the magazine presents an undulating visual play that spurs the viewer to explore each image individually, but also to appreciate the interplay between pages through the well-balanced art direction of Jonathan Cassidy.
Creating a magazine at a time when the format is approaching obsolescence is a daring venture for two ladies who saw the demise of their gallery space not long ago. Smith and Steeber consciously wanted to create something tangible as a reaction to their lives working desk jobs, which require much of their time to be spent in front of computer screens. “The magazine is an art object that can stand on its own,” Smith explains. “Instead of buying it and recycling it, you might keep it like you would a book—a reference that you could come back to, not like a typical magazine.”
Ironically, the Internet made creating Fine Line Magazine possible. Smith and Steeber scoured websites for many of the artists they presented at Armoury, and they were pleasantly surprised by the ease of asking for high resolution images to print in a magazine, compared to convincing artists to send thousands of dollars worth of art to a small gallery in Milwaukee. They pulled from a pool of more than 100 artists for the first issue, and are excited by the possibilities of what else they will find in the future.
Although they both say that Milwaukee hasn’t necessarily inspired the magazine, the cost of living combined with a supportive creative community affords them a freedom that many other cities wouldn’t be able to provide. Milwaukee isn’t generally known for its international reach, but Smith and Steeber have been working on it. “I enjoy giving people something else to think of Milwaukee instead of beer or cheese,” Smith says.
At this point they are without a distribution company, and they are not currently seeking one. The magazine will be available online at www.finelinemag.com, at their launch at Studio Deep End on Friday, Nov. 19, and at select locations this holiday season including Art Vs. Craft on Nov. 27 and HoverCraft on Dec. 5.