COLUMNS

  • Face Value

    Isabelle Graw, Three Cases of Value Reflection: Ponge, Whitten, Banksy. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2021. 64 pages.

    ISABELLE GRAW’S oft-cited 2009 book, High Price, which explores art’s economy of fame and prestige as the prototype for creative labor under capitalism, was published just after the collapse of a speculative bubble in the market for contemporary art. Now, roughly a decade later, Three Cases of Value Reflection: Ponge, Whitten, Banksy arrives contemporaneously with a series of meteoric high-dollar sales of NFTs (“nonfungible tokens”), a class of digital nonobjects that seems to reduce

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  • Matrix Revolutions

    N.H. Pritchard, The Matrix. New York, New York: Primary Information and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021. 113 pages.

    THE MATRIX is one of the most radical—and most important—books of poetry of the 1960s. It’s also one of the most mysterious. A new facsimile reissue of N. H. Pritchard’s first collection—along with DABA press’s republication of his only other book, EECCHHOOEESS (1971)—provides an opportunity to re-examine an extraordinary and extraordinarily neglected poet whose work continues to evade capture. Born in New York and of West Indian descent, Norman Henry Pritchard II considered attending

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  • Automatic Writing

    Deep Scroll, edited by Anne de Vries. Eindhoven, the Netherlands: Onomatopee, 2020. 380 pages.

    DEEP SCROLL is a book for this precise mediated moment. It’s a chaotic journey in which the reader walks a tightrope between the real and the simulated, in which the old is repackaged as the new and we are driven to furious speculation over a multitude of speakers’ intents and ideologies. Artist Anne de Vries offers a mad pastiche of dense theory layered atop digital collages of his installation work from the past two decades. He sourced classic writings by Hannah Arendt, Alain Badiou, Manuel DeLanda,

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  • Occult Classic

    The Tarot of Leonora Carrington, by Susan Aberth and Tere Arcq with an introduction by Gabriel Weisz Carrington. Lopen, UK: Fulgur Press, 2020. 120 pages.

    THE VOICE OF ART EDUCATOR Jackie Armstrong emanates from my MacBook, guiding me through the vaulted chamber of Leonora Carrington’s painting And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur, 1953, acquired by New York’s Museum of Modern Art in advance of their 2019 expansion. The track is part of the museum’s Covid-era playlist “Artful Practices for Well-Being,” a series of audio tours that forgo didactic synopsis in favor of visualization and

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  • Chaos Magic

    Extra Ordinary: Magic, Mystery, and Imagination in American Realism, edited by Jeffrey Richmond-Moll and Philip Eliasoph. Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia. 2021.

    THE SLIPPERINESS characterizing many literary and art-critical terms is in particular evidence around the oxymoronic genre of “magic realism.” While its narrowest definition—the inclusion of the fantastical within an otherwise realistic setting—can be useful when applied to specific examples of fiction or art, the label is often employed in ways so elastic as to render it meaningless. Extra Ordinary: Magic, Mystery, and

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  • Mutual Understanding

    Disasters and Social Reproduction: Crisis Response Between the State and Community, by Peer Illner. London: Pluto Press, 2020. 208 pages. 

    Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During this Crisis (and the Next), by Dean Spade. New York and London: Verso, 2020. 128 pages. 

    IN ONE OF photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White’s most iconic Depression-era images, a seamless, whitewashed vision of the good life is undercut by a segregated breadline. Tightly composed, the picture almost stages a return of the repressed, as material casualties of “the American Way” buttress—but also contravene—the billboard’s

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  • Style Counsel

    The Hidden Mod in Modern Art: London, 1957–1969, by Thomas Crow. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2020. 200 pages.

    THOMAS CROW’S NEW VOLUME, The Hidden Mod in Modern Art: London, 1957–1969, is a meticulous account of the imbrications between artmaking and stylemaking in postwar London, flanked by a jeremiad against what its author perceives as received ideas in contemporary art history. Indeed, Crow’s street-level method—we are treated to a litany of place names, hairstyles, and vivid descriptions of magazines—is part and parcel of his complaint: If art is to be meaningful, Crow seems to insist,

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  • After Party

    IN FALL 2020, artist Matt Keegan produced an artist book called 1996, a compendium of ephemera, essays, and interviews circling around the year in question, which Keegan sees as a tipping point for the American left—the moment its capitulation to neoliberalism was complete. It also happens to be the first birth year for Gen Z, whose members have recently begun populating Keegan’s art-school classes. In trying to come to grips with shifts in American electoral politics, ensure that key histories are passed on to posterity, and chart changes in queer identity, the book provides a nonfatalistic,

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  • All Systems Go

    IN THE FIRST MONTHS OF QUARANTINE, my apartment became my personal ecosystem. The idiosyncrasies of daily life in isolation—the peculiar sleep hours, the midnight meals on the fire escape, the evening Scrabble ritual—felt entirely specific. And yet, with over half of the world’s population instructed to quarantine as well, these intimate idiosyncrasies were twinned with a totally novel feeling-in-common. When we are asked to “flatten the curve” or wear masks outdoors, we are asked to see ourselves as both individuals with agency and a collective whose influence is only made en masse. We are

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  • Morgan Bassichis's The Odd Years

    The Odd Years (Wendy’s Subway), by Morgan Bassichis, is among my favorite books of the year. Is it poetry, comedy, a book of to-do lists? Yes! It is also a historically important artist’s book that I place in a lineage with Ed Ruscha’s A Few Palm Trees (1971), Lawrence Weiner’s Works (1977), Martha Rosler’s Service: A Trilogy on Colonization (1978), and Glenn Ligon’s A People on the Cover (2015), as well as canonical pieces of Conceptual art such as Lee Lozano’s language pieces and Hanne Darboven’s calendars, marked with her distinctive spirals. The Odd Years is a collection of weekly to-do

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  • Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics

    At the outset of lockdown, some friends and I revived an old reading group we once had when we all lived in Los Angeles, holding weekly meetings over Zoom. Achille Mbembe’s Necropolitics (Duke) was our anchor text. The book further defines and mobilizes the neologism of its title, the Cameroonian philosopher’s signature term from his famous 2003 essay of the same name. Mbembe writes that “becoming a subject . . . supposes upholding the work of death,” that politics and sovereignty are linked more to a “right to kill” than to the preservation of life. The language of freedom, democracy, and

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  • Svetlana Alpers’s Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch

    The first 143 pages of Walker Evans: Starting from Scratch (Princeton), Svetlana Alpers’s new book, are given over to full-page reproductions of Evans’s photographs. No preface, set of acknowledgments, or copyright page precedes or interrupts the pictures. Even captions have been swept off the page. (They appear in list form after the plates.) Alpers asks us, quite literally, to look before we read. Her book’s layout mirrors that of American Photographs (1938) and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), but it also embodies her commitment to the primacy of photographic looking and making.

    Alpers’s

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