OBSERVATIONS BY ALAN ROSENBERG

WET, THE MAGAZINE OF GOURMET BATHING, 1976-1981

I am pleased to tell you about an exciting exhibition to which I have loaned a rarity from my private library. I was contacted some months ago by Margherita Hohenlohe who had heard that I had a copy of issue number one of Wet: the Magazine of Gourmet Bathing. I do have that hard-to-find issue as well as an almost complete run of the magazine that was published in Los Angeles from 1976 to 1981 and which was among the first of its time to cover esoteric and underground aspects of art, design, music and fashion within a conceptual stream ("gourmet bathing") that floats throughout the magazine.  Ms. Hohenlohe has successfully gathered a complete set of Wet that is now on view until 21 September 2014 at Udolpho, her Berlin exhibition space for rare books and manuscripts (my copy of issue number one is not for sale). An exhibition of and about Wet was suggested by artist Julian Göthe and Hohenlohe brought on German cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen to write a text, excerpted as follows: 

When Leonard Koren initially founded WET Magazine for Gourment Bathing and had the term “Gourment Bathing” registered as a trademark, it seemed to be more like an eccentric outburst in the midst of the very particular scene of Venice Beach around 1976. Freak and hippy culture were a thing of the past, but an unbridled Californian hedonism continued to look for outlets and targets. Around 1976, the founding of magazines was not yet part of existing Punk and Fanzine culture. With his background in architecture, Koren’s magazine was initially supposed to pursue a particular interest in the field of interior design: sophisticated bathing. In doing so, it was possible to show playful interiors and interesting naked people, as well as realise crazy graphic design dreams. Furthermore, inspired by all kinds of representational forms, such as collage and contrast, which lie beyond the canon of psychedelic graphics, it was also possible to accumulate a large number of advertisements from the culturally still quite scattered world of the very early dawn of the Californian New Wave.

However, WET was not only a success with advertisers in fashion, gastronomy and architecture: Koren’s team was soon joined by people who would have a much greater influence which would stretch far beyond Californian culture. The graphic designer and cartoonist Gary Panter shaped the appearance of Californian New Wave and Post-Punk counter culture like no other. And this Post-Punk also didn’t happen after Punk; like British Punk or its cousin from Cleveland, Ohio, it happened at the same time. One can also observe this by looking at the history of The Residents, whose independent record releases are advertised at various different places in WET. Gary Panter was not only responsible for creating these ads (and, later on, the covers of other publications that were run by the Residents’ own label Ralph Records), but he also had immense influence on the editorial component of WET. Panter’s mannered, jagged, grotesque layout was absolutely and antagonistically contrary to the older competition of psychedelic graphics, LSD-ornamentation and underground comics—yet shared with it the enthusiasm for complexity, abundance and overkill.

Panter’s rise, however, also needs to be seen in the context of the opening of the magazine to all phenomena of a new underground culture far beyond interior design and avant-garde illustration. Performance art—such as the infamous transgressions of the early John Duncan (sex with corpses), representative of the very first signs of a new post- Cal-arts scene—is the subject of extensive coverage, and the repeatedly portrayed and interviewed Henry Miller acts as a cool father figure. New pop music floods into the magazine from every direction—even if the opposite of a taste-police had its say: Devo, of course sensational in 1978, are positioned right next to old rock, such as the J. Geils Band. The impression which one often has of very early manifestations of what would later become successful scenes, suggests that one is dealing with a closely linked but potentially very diverse provinciality. . .

. . . WET developed out of the applied arts, with its most original contributors coming from the fields of graphic design and illustration. Alongside Gary Panter, this included the young Matt Groening, who is known to the world as the inventor of The Simpsons. Groening, who not only entertained American underground and city magazines with his two comic strips Life in Hell and Akhbar & Jeff for almost a decade, but also worked as a music critic, first began to experiment with his bunny characters at WET. One best appreciates the heterogeneous density of WET by looking at what became of it: on the one hand, The Simpsons and The Residents, and on the other hand, the Japanese horticulture books that Leonard Koren writes today—and lots of other things in-between, whose connections we can only reconstruct if we once again attentively leaf through the 34 issues of WET that were published between 1976 and 1981.

In addition to Diederichsen’s text the gallery has published an exhaustive index to every issue of the magazine, crediting the personnel involved with each issue as well as the listing all the articles. I look forward to working with Margherita Hohenlohe again and to visiting her important venue for the display and study of material that, although originally intended to be ephemeral, now has an indelible place in our culture both underground and mainstream. Exhibition on until 21 September 2014. For more information visit Udolpho.

 Issue number one of  WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing , May/June 1976

Issue number one of WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, May/June 1976