Archive for April, 2019

Of all the stupid things you are likely going to do today, I must insist that printing this PDF is not one of them. This portable document format file is anything but portable and calling it a document is, at best, a euphemism. Believe me when I say that I like printing digital artefacts on dead trees as much as the next guy, but this is one PDF that was never meant to make it to meatspace.

Unless, of course, you happen to have a burning desire to coat a square kilometer of the planet with black rectangles. In that case, you should definitely print this 2,568 page PDF.

The PDF in question was unleashed on the world in a tweet by Kenneth Goldsmith, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who teaches classes about how to waste time on the internet, founder of the avant garde repository UbuWeb, and self-described “uncreative writer.” When I spoke to Goldsmith over email, he said he was in the process of printing out the PDF.


“I think it is the most shockingly mangled and abortive monument I can think of.”

–Robert Pogue Harrison, Rosina Pierotti Professor of French and Italian Literature, Stanford University

When the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened in Washington, D.C., there were immediate objections to a quotation inscribed on his statue. An utterance that King had spoken in humility had been edited to read as a statement of conceit: “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness.”

The stone likeness of King was similarly condemned. A “failure,” wrote Edward Rothstein in the New York Times in August 2011. “The memorial could be vastly improved by simply removing the statue,” opined Philip Kennicott in the Washington Post.

The podcast above discusses the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and the Monument To Women, in Nauvoo, Illionois. Things get really interesting around 40:00.

Dennis Smith and Florence Hansen
Joyful Moment

[Christy] Rupp and I live in the same building in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks south of City Hall, where the most reactionary mayor in New York’s recent history delivers the city over to powerful real estate developers while city services decline and our poorer citizens are further marginalized. The combination of the Reagan administration’s cuts in federal programs to aid the poor and New York’s cynically manipulated housing shortage has resulted in a reported 30,000 homeless people now living on the streets of the city. The hard and brutal conditions of these people’s lives can be imagined by observing the few of them who spend every evening in the alleyway behind our building competing with rats for the garbage left there by McDonald’s and Burger King. Mayor Koch was publicly embarrassed in the spring of 1979, when the media reported the story of a neighborhood office worker attacked by these rats as she left work. Such an event would certainly have been routine had it happened in one of the city’s ghetto districts, but in this case the Health Department was called in, and their findings were rather sensational: the vacant lot adjoining the alleyway contained thirty-two tons of garbage and was home to an estimated 4,000 rodents. But they also found something else, even more difficult to explain to the public. Pasted to the temporary wall barricading the vacant lot from the street were pictures of a huge, sinister attacking rat, reproductions of a photograph from the Health Department’s own files.

–Douglas Crimp, “The Art of Exhibition” (1984)

Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, . . . who teaches art history at the State University of New York at Westbury, defends the propaganda materials he has selected for this exhibition by, among other things, attacking the late Alfred H. Barr, Jr., for his alleged failure to comprehend “the radical change that [modern] artists and theoreticians introduced into the history of aesthetic theory and production in the twentieth century.” What this means, apparently, is that Alfred Barr would never have accepted Professor Buchloh’s Marxist analysis of the history of modern art, which appears to be based on Louis Althusser‘s Lenin and Philosophy. (Is this really what is taught as modern art history at SUNY Westbury? Alas, one can believe it.)

Hilton Kramer, quoted in Douglas Crimp’s “The Art of Exhibition”
October, Vol. 30. (Autumn, 1984)

We have here yet another example of [Hilton] Kramer’s moralizing cultural conservatism disguised as progressive modernism. But we also have an interesting estimation of the discursive practice of the museum in the period of modernism and of its present transformation. Kramer’s analysis fails, however, to take into account the extent to which the museum’s claims to represent art coherently have already been opened to question by the practices of contemporary — postmodern — art.

Douglas Crimp, “On The Museum’s Ruins”
October, Vol. 13 (Summer, 1980)

STUDENT: Walter Benjamin talks about how the substructure changes faster than the superstructure and the fact that it is only now that we are able to discern what form it has taken. Is he referring to an overall change in society due to the modern era of limitless reproduction?

Also, Benjamin distinguishes between exhibition value and ritual value. He says a piece of art always has an aura which is never independent from its ritual function, and that every piece is “embedded in a fabric of tradition.” He then goes on to say that with the rise of mechanical reproduction art has shifted to being based on a practice of politics. Is this change in art’s principle motivation the exhibition value he mentions, or am I missing something?

TEACHER: By substructure and superstructure, Benjamin means technological conditions and the form of consciousness these conditions bring into being. His argument, derived from Hegel and Marx, is that there is NO SUCH THING AS HUMAN NATURE OR HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS, PER SE. Rather, different forms of human consciousness are brought into being by technological conditions. Recall Brecht’s assertion, in The Epic Theater, that ‘human nature’ is alterable and a discontinuous ‘process’. If this is true, it’s not possible to understand a social formation, to become conscious of it, until after it has developed. We can’t theorize the age of mechanical reproduction until after is has already shaped the very consciousness with which we will attempt to understand it.

One more word about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it… When philosophy paints its gray in gray, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy’s gray in gray it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.

–G.W.F. Hegel

By implication, we can’t make very many predictions about the future – which is why Benjamin writes in terms of tentative theses – and must rather reflect upon history, rethinking and rewriting it in terms of new insights. The example I gave of this in class the other day was that of the heroic creator Rodin, whom Krauss teaches us to rethink and reevaluate from the perspective of Andy Warhol, the avowedly mechanical artist. It’s only from the position of Warhol that we are able to look back at Rodin, the authentic and original artists who sculpted ‘with the hand of God’, and see just how deeply immersed he was in the market, repetition and modes of mechanical reproduction.

To our astonishment, Rodin, viewed in retrospect from this new ground, suddenly appears no longer the genius artist we knew and loved but now the impresario of Kitsch. Thus, a ‘Great Man’ has been rendered historical and a great myth, that of the ‘originality of the avant-garde’, has been debunked. We are freed from the romantic ideology of “heroism and hero-worship”.

Barbara Kreuger
I Shop Therefore I Am (1987)

Ritual value is the magical power objects have over individuals. Recall, in Ivan Illich‘s Vineyard of The Text, the power that reading the Bible had before the rise of the printing press. Bible were rare and precious, and the reading of them had a cult value. It was a sacred event. After the printing press, everybody can have their own Bible and reading it whenever they want in the privacy of their own home. If an object has ritual value then it actually has authority over us, whereas if an object has exhibition value we have authority over it. If you want to see the Sistine Chapel, today, you don’t make a pilgrimage to Rome. Instead, you click this link. Cultural artifacts are available ‘on demand’.

Benjamin’s argument addresses the transition from cult value (in which the work of art is “embedded in a fabric of tradition”) to exhibition value (within modern Capitalism, under which history is nothing more than a bargain basements of styles from which the consumer picks and ‘samples’). This transition marks a seismic shift in human ‘nature’ and consciousness. Further, this shift in the cultural superstructure reflects a prior shift in the material substructure, one ripe with political implications. Benjamin ends his essay with the clarion call that contemporary critical thought must concentrate not on ‘aestheticizing politics’ (recall the films of Leni Reifenstahl, which occasioned Benjamin’s essay).

Rather, critical thought today should be directed toward ‘politicizing aesthetics’.

By extension, Benjamin’s essay argues that we must critical interrogate the entire optical realm we inhabit, the ‘architecture’ of manufactured images that surrounds us so completely that we now take this ‘world’ entirely for granted and consider it to be natural, normal and inevitable – if we bother to consider it at all.

The implications of all of the above for today’s university are tremendous. This should give you plenty to consider for your final. Good luck as you prepare it!

Right On Time!

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Uncategorized

Mia Lin
Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial

Frederick Hart
Three Soldiers Monument

The years that saw the memorial’s proposal, design, and construction—1980 to 1982—coincided with a momentous shift in the topography of American political culture: the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the ensuing negotiation of a new federal agenda. This development was shaped by the theories of economic neoliberals on the one hand and by the values of their socially conservative allies on the other. Far from being a fait accompli, amassing the public will to support this new agenda took real work. In large part, this was accomplished through a series of conflicts waged at the level of culture. The earliest of these battles was the controversy over Lin’s design. Revisiting the terms of this conflict not only provides insight into how and why visual art came to be so politicized in the 1980s, but also sheds light on the debates of our present historical moment, which, in many ways, parallel the debates of that period regarding the social purpose of art.

Culture Wars: A riveting account of how Christian fundamentalists, Orthodox Jews, and conservative Catholics have joined forces in a battle against their progressive counterparts for control of American secular culture.

What are we doing in IT1?

Here’s a quick review of today’s lesson for anyone who might want a summary like the one I wrote the other day about Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Ethics.

What I tried to point out in class today is how decidedly non-metaphysical the archaic Greek gods were. They were anything but Aristotle’s unary, self-identical, non-contradictory, unchanging, fully actualized and active, rational, and immaterial Creator, or Unmoved Mover. Rather, the Homeric gods were plural, embodied, passionate, self-contradictory, mercurial, etc. If there was any classical Greek principle or virtue of which the Homeric gods knew nothing, it would have been the famous ‘golden mean’. The archaic Greek gods were not moderate but excessive beings.

This polytheistic and plural view of the gods radically alters not only our understanding of them, but also whatever expectations we could plausibly entertain with regard to the humans depicted in The Illiad. This is because, as Jean-Pierre Vernant agues, rather than understanding the Homeric gods as anthropomorphic (derived from human nature), it is best to understand the bodies of Homeric heroes as ‘theomorphic’ (based on the bodies of the Olympian gods). Homeric (i.e., pre-Socratic) emotions, motives, and actions are anything but consistent and rational. While Homeric characters may undergo various modifications, some quite extreme, none of the various ‘characters’ in the Illiad – if we can even justifiably consider them characters – shows any of the well-defined identity or progressive development for which we may have been trained to look when reading literature. These warriors don’t go on any sort of “hero’s journey”.

On a higher level, this insight into the nature of the Homeric gods alters not only how we view the plot and characters in The Illiad, but also how we understand the very form of the book itself. We have received The Illiad, in tamed condition, heavily processed and (re)constituted by the librarians of Alexandria. The story, as we now have it, may well show numerous signs of rational formal design. But once we remove from the text, with the help of Knox and Heller-Roazen, the major Alexandrian insertions, the epic suddenly appears to us for what it originally was before Aristarchus ‘corrected’ it: WILD.

Final Readings of The Semester!

Posted: April 18, 2019 in Readings

In years past I have asked students to read all three of the essays below. This time, as my explanations of very new difficult ideas have gotten notably slower, I will only ask you to read ‘End of Art’ and ‘Art of Exhibition’. ‘Museum’s Ruins’ is available but optional. Read it and ask questions if you feel the inclination. Good luck!

Princeton University Press: Here’s a sneak peek at our Fall 2019 catalogue, out next week! This page is from Protest!: A History of Social and Political Protest Graphics, by Liz McQuiston.

Throughout history, artists and citizens have turned to protest art as a means of demonstrating social and political discontent. From the earliest broadsheets in the 1500s to engravings, photolithographs, prints, posters, murals, graffiti, and political cartoons, these endlessly inventive graphic forms have symbolized and spurred on power struggles, rebellions, spirited causes, and calls to arms. Spanning continents and centuries, Protest! presents a major new chronological look at protest graphics.

Beginning in the Reformation, when printed visual matter was first produced in multiples, Liz McQuiston follows the iconic images that have accompanied movements and events around the world.

As I tried to suggest in class, one of the great endeavors of Surrealist art was to argue that modern science – a supposedly disinterested and value-neutral method of approaching the world – is, as a matter of fact, driven by multiple unacknowledged desires and fears. To employ a term made famous by Sigmund Freud, science has an Unconscious. To expose the unconscious of science is precisely the point of Buñuel and Dalí’s film Un Chien Andalou, which takes it cues, scene for scene, from the writings and diagrams of Rene Descartes. What this film tries to show is that scientific knowledge is gendered, male. This cinematic critique of the supposed objectivity of modern science is invaluable.

However, one can’t help but notice that this film, for all that it sheds light on the desires driving science, nevertheless continues to play with the objectification of women. There have been a number of responses to the scandal of Surrealist art, including at least two different Feminist responses. The first, which we might associate with second-wave feminism of the ’60s and ’70s, would be shocked and outraged at the overt sexism of Buñuel and Dalí’s art, and the way Surrealism, in general, objectified Woman. By contrast, the second, which we might in turn associate with third-wave feminism of the ’80s and ’90s, would be intensely curious about the ways Surrealist practices problematize normative modes of perceiving Woman, or gender in general, as well as male-dominated scientific knowledge, and, by extension, all “objective” reality.


Praising Rosalind Krauss

Posted: April 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

2012 Distinguished Scholar Session
Honors Rosalind Krauss

College Art Association

The 2012 Distinguished Scholar Session, taking place at the 100th Annual Conference in Los Angeles, will honor Rosalind Krauss, University Professor at Columbia University in New York. Yve-Alain Bois of the Institute for Advanced Studies will chair a session, called “The Theoretical Turn,” in which five to six participants—among them Harry Cooper, Jonathan Crary, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, and Hal Foster—will explore and celebrate Krauss’s many contributions to the history of art. The Distinguished Scholar Session will be held in Room 515B at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Thursday, February 23, 2:30–5:00 PM.

Krauss’s acute observation of twentieth-century art began at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she received her undergraduate degree in 1962. She began writing criticism in 1966, mostly for Artforum, while working on her PhD at Harvard University, which she earned in 1969. MIT Press published an expanded version of her dissertation as Terminal Iron Works: The Sculpture of David Smith in 1971.

Krauss continued writing criticism and generating art-historical essays that challenged steadfast analyses of Auguste Rodin, the Surrealists, and Jackson Pollock, to name a few topics. She joined the Artforum editorial board in the late 1960s and appeared on the masthead as assistant editor from 1971 to 1974. Krauss and her colleague Annette Michelson left the magazine in 1975 to establish the scholarly October, which strove to forge a relationship between contemporary concerns and scholarship, with particular emphases on the history of modernism, its fundamental premises, and the ability of writing to reinvigorate the era. For Krauss and others, October was an opportunity to integrate artists such as Richard Serra and Sol LeWitt into their theoretical convictions and investigative criticism.

(read more)


Professor Rosalind Krauss Receives Honorary Degree from Harvard University

University Professor Rosalind Krauss received an honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Harvard University at their 360th Commencement on May 26, 2011.

In a voice that is both passionate and precise, conceptual and tactile, Krauss reveals recurring structures of form and meaning that resound across various artistic practices—abstraction, photography, video and performance art—connecting them to each other and their historical context, without conflating their methods or meanings in grand generalizations of aesthetic value. Krauss writes, “What I must acknowledge is not some idea of the world’s perspective but simply my own point of view. One’s own perspective, like one’s own age, is the only orientation one will ever have.”

It is no exaggeration to say that Rosalind Krauss has been the preeminent American art historian to have taught generations of colleagues and students, across the arts and the humanities, to courageously espouse, what she once described as “the paraliterary space”: “the space of debate, quotation, partisanship, betrayal, reconciliation…” We honor Rosalind Krauss for her indomitable spirit and her pioneering work.

–Drew G. Faust, President, Harvard University

Post-Colonial Studies

Posted: April 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

What Woman is to Man, the Colonized is to the Colonizer.

Francis Fanon
(1925 – 1961)

Frantz Fanon was one of a few extraordinary thinkers supporting the decolonization struggles occurring after World War II, and he remains among the most widely read and influential of these voices. His brief life was notable both for his whole-hearted engagement in the independence struggle the Algerian people waged against France and for his astute, passionate analyses of the human impulse towards freedom in the colonial context. His written works have become central texts in Africana thought, in large part because of their attention to the roles hybridity and creolization can play in forming humanist, anti-colonial cultures.

Pitying Rosalind Krauss

Posted: April 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

RogerKimball2 (1)

Roger Kimball
“Feeling Sorry for Rosalind Krauss”
The New Criterion
May, 1993

Billed as “a pointed protest against the official story of modernism,” the six, untitled chapters of The Optical Unconscious deal with the same knot of ideas that Professor Krauss mooted a few years ago in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and L’Amour Fou: Surrealism and Photography. Once again she is spooring after (as she put it in The Originality of the Avant-Garde) “a demythologizing criticism” that supposedly will “void the basic propositions of modernism” “by exposing their fictitious condition.” Max Ernst, Georges Bataille, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, and other Krauss regulars are re-enlisted in the project of discrediting—or deconstructing —modernism. As before, they are strained through the forbidding argot of the two Jacques—Lacan and Derrida—Melanie Klein, Jean-François Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Walter Benjamin, et al. “Phallicism,” the informe, “part-object,” the “paranoiac-schizoid scenario of early development,” “the mirror stage”: all our old friends have come back for an encore.


Professor Krauss even uses many of the same decorations with which she festooned earlier volumes. Bataille’s photograph of a big toe, for example, which I like to think of as her mascot, reappears. As does her favorite doodle, a little graph known as a “Klein Group” or “L Schema” whose sides and diagonals sport arrows pointing to corners labeled with various opposing pairs: e.g., “ground” and “not ground,” “figure” and “not figure.” Professor Krauss seems to believe that this device, lifted from the pages of structuralist theory, illuminates any number of deep mysteries: the nature of modernism, to begin with, but also the essence of gender relations, self-consciousness, perception, vision, castration anxiety, and other pressing conundrums that, as it happens, she has trouble distinguishing from the nature of modernism. Altogether, the doodle is a handy thing to have around. One is not surprised that Professor Krauss reproduces it many times in her new book.


Any Thoughts?

Posted: April 16, 2019 in Uncategorized

I mean, can you relate? If so, how?

Any thoughts as to why Linda Nochlin might like the paintings of Alice Neil? Make a comment and earn your A.


Alice Neel
(1900 – 1984)




1978 NEEAL0004-200



Much has been written about Surrealist painting and sculpture, but most of the erotic, disorienting and exquisite Surrealist photographs of Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Andre Breton, Brassai, Salvador Dali, Andre Kertesz and Hans Bellmer have remained all but unknown – until now. Traditional criticism has viewed Surrealist photography as a pale imitation of authentic Surrealist work. The assumption has been that photography, a “realistic” medium, is fundamentally incompatatible with a cause devoted to the wildly subjective, the world of dreams and the unconscious. As a consequence, Surrealist photography, a major body of 20-century art, has remained largely unexplored. L’Amour Fou studies the crucial role photography played in the Surrealist movement. It shows how photographers enlisted into the service of “subjective” Surrealism their medium’s very claim to “objective” reality. Of greatest interest, of course, is the book’s abundant reproductions of the fantastic and distorted photographic creations that must be acknowledged as an important part of the Surrealist oeuvre.

And for lovers of realism at any price, who would tire of these perpetual allusions to secret and unusual attitudes of the mind, there is still the eminently realistic performance of the double who is terrified by these apparitions from the beyond.  These tremblings, this childish yelping, this heel that strikes the ground rhythmically in time to the mechanism of the liberated unconscious, this double who at a certain point hides behind its own reality, offers us a portrayal of fear which is valid in every latitude and which shows us that in the human as well as the superhuman the Orientals have something to teach us in matters of reality.

A kind of terror grips us as we contemplate these mechanized beings, whose joys and sorrows do not really seem to belong to them but rather to obey established rites that were dictated by higher intelligences.  . . . And it is the solemnity of the sacred rite–the hieratic quality of the costumes give each actor something like a double body, a double set of limbs–and the actor stiffly encased in his costume seems only the effigy of himself.

There is something umbilical, something larval in their movements.  At the same time one must note the hieroglyphic aspect of their costumes, whose horizontal lines and segments extend beyond the body in all directions.  They are like huge insects covered with lines and segments designed to connect them to some natural perspective of which they seem to be no more than a detached geometry.

One senses in the Balinese Theater a pre-verbal state, a state which can choose its own language: music, gestures, movements, words.

And beyond the Warrior, bristling from the formidable cosmic tempest, is the Double, who struts about indulging in the childishness of his schoolboy sarcasms, and who, roused by the afteraffects of the surging storm, moves unaware through charms of which he has understood nothing.

–Antonin Artaud, “The Theater and Its Double”

That photography is a function of doubling–not only does it ‘mirror’ its object but, technically, its prints exist as multiples–made it a perfect vehicle for Surrealism, which exploited this aspect in its use of double exposures, sandwich printing, juxtapositions of negative and positive prints of the same image, and montaged doubles to produce this sense of world redoubled as sign.  The first issue of La Révolution surréaliste carried several photographs by Man Ray in which doubling was at work.

But doubling, as was pointed out, has a certain psychoanalytic content, one aspect of which Freud discusses in his essay “The Uncanny” (1919).  Ghosts, the very stuff of uncanniness, are doubles of the living; and it is when live bodies are redoubled by lifeless ones–as in the case of automata or robots, sometimes with dolls, or people in states of seizure–that they take on the uncanniness of ghosts.  That doubles should produce this condition is due, Freud explains, to the return of early states of dread.  One of these derives from infantile feelings of omnipotence, in which the child believes itself able to project its control into the surrounding world only to find, however, these doubles of itself turning round to threaten and attack it.  Another is castration anxiety, in which, similarly, the threat takes the form of ones phallic double.  More generally, Freud says, anything that reminds us of our inner compulsion to repeat will strike us as uncanny.

–Rosalind Krauss, Art Since 1900



Readings For April 18th

Posted: April 16, 2019 in Readings

These essays, by the living legend Rosalind Krauss, are insanely difficult. But it is impossible to overestimate their influence. Please just give them the old ‘college try’. I will do my very best on Wednesday to become a woman and explain them to you in terms you can understand. I guarantee it will be a wild ride. Good luck!


Rosalind Krauss is, without visible rival, the most influential American art writer since Clement Greenberg. Together with her colleagues at October, the journal she co-founded, she has played a key role in the introduction of French theory into the American art world. In the 1960s, though first a follower of Greenberg, she was inspired by her readings of French structuralist and post-structuralist materials, revolted against her mentor’s formalism, and developed a succession of radically original styles of art history writing.

Rosalind E. Krauss
Art History – Columbia University

“The Originality of The Avant-Garde” (1979)
“Sculpture in The Expanded Field” (1985)
“The Motivation of The Sign” (1992)

(this last essay is optional!)

Auguste Rodin
The Three Shades (1886)

Hands Holding The Void (Invisible Object)


Woman With Her Throat Slit

Not sure I agree with the opening paragraph of the article below, though the statement as a whole is worth considering. In fact, Roland Barthes adopts his interest in mythology from the illustrious Claude Levi-Strauss, whose Structural Anthropology is the unspoken complement, in Beatriz Colomina’s “Split Wall”, to the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud. Barthes merely directs Levi-Strauss’s method of analysis away from archaic cultures and towards contemporary French society. But what is myth anyway? For Barthes, myth is a way of thinking automatically and in shorthand, as if in a dream. Here, though, thought does not take the form of complete syllogisms and conscious inferences. Rather, it takes the form of powerful condensed images which are heavily laden with readymade meanings and foregone conclusions – “the brain of Einstein is the very embodiment of intelligence”.

Indeed, so powerful are such images that, for Barthes, we do not think them so much as they think us. It requires great awareness and continuous effort for us ‘subjects’ (the technical term for the location of human consciousness within a larger culture apparatus or structure) not to function as a mere passive objects of such generalized sign systems.

In this appealing and luminous collection of essays, Roland Barthes examines the mundane and exposes hidden texts, causing the reader to look afresh at the famous landmark and symbol of Paris, and also at the Tour de France, the visit to Paris of Billy Graham, the flooding of the Seine—and other shared events and aspects of everyday experience.

Failure In SLC – A Success!

Posted: April 16, 2019 in Uncategorized