What Does Master Art Magazine Have a Rock Band 80s?

You never know what you’re going to find when record shopping in Poughkeepsie, New York. Flipping through the vinyl at Darkside Records recently, I stumbled across a 1983 LP by Detroit band Art in America. Yes, the very same name as the century-old art magazine.

The band’s music engages in some of the aesthetic of contemporaneous prog rock bands like Yes, but focuses on radio-ready, three-minute pop tunes. The cover of the self-titled LP, released on CBS/Epic-Pavillion Records, features a dreamy, lush green landscape superimposed with a number of floating blue orbs, with the band’s name inscribed in red in the sky. The image is the first record cover by the Greek-born, single-named artist Ioannis, who later designed covers for bands like Deep Purple, the Allman Brothers, and King Crimson.

Active in the Detroit music scene in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Art in America consisted of three siblings from Michigan—lead singer and guitarist Chris Ruetenik, drummer Dan Ruetenik, and harpist Shishonee Ruetenik—along with bassist Jim Kuha. To burnish their image, the Rueteniks eventually became the Flynns, a punchier stage name for the first American rock band to employ a concert-size Lyon & Healey pedal harp.

Courtesy Art in America.
Photo courtesy of Art in America.

But how did an art magazine come to be the namesake of a Detroit rock band?


It all started with Warren Westfall, a “bohemian” friend who had stacks of the magazine lying around, says Chris Ruetenik. “What is Art in America?” Westfall asked in a conversation with the band, he recalls. “It is its popular culture. It’s the synthesis of all the cultures that have contributed to it. The band is a result of that synthesis. Thus you are… Art in America!”

Rick Smith, the band’s manager in the ’80s and now principal of Michigan’s Wild Justice Music, says he cleared the use of the name with the magazine’s then editor-in-chief, Elizabeth C. Baker. “Let’s rock and roll,” Smith says she told him. Baker, reached by phone, didn’t recall the conversation and pointed out that such requests would normally go through the publishers. Neither Whitney Communications Corporation, which owned the magazine at the time, or Sony, which now owns Columbia, responded to emails.

“It’s news to me,” Baker said in a phone conversation. “I’m very glad to know about it. I was fascinated to see a harp in a rock band, and it’s a charmingly inventive video.”