Andrew Ross

  • Saadiyat Island

    THE CONVERGENCE of cultural capital on the lone and level sands of Abu Dhabi’s Saadiyat Island—where sumptuous outposts of the Guggenheim and the Louvre, as well as a new institution, the Zayed National Museum, are being built near a New York University branch campus—may seem sui generis, but in fact it has several precursors. It is tempting to trace this museum cluster’s line of descent back to Berlin’s Museumsinsel. After all, the Prussian planners and architects who developed that Spree River island were aiming to create a grand ensemble of institutions that would burnish the status


    I don’t recall that the vogue lasted for more than a few years, but one of the things many of us did in the 1980s was to put a music sample on our answering machines. The most socially confident simply replaced their entire voice message with a snatch of sound that summed up their mood for that day or week. Callers could interpret the morsel as they saw fit. It was a virtuoso way of customizing a new technology that offered an impersonal, and often awkward, resolution to a communication problem. Before it was widely accepted, the answering machine—like call waiting some years later—was considered an uncivil medium. Callers felt belittled or put off by their blunt encounters with mechanized greetings. Putting your own voice on the outgoing message, even if it was witty or self-mocking, seemed only to reinforce the breach of decorum. The music sample was a less complicit endorsement of the technology, and it gave callers something to savor. Genre-wise, it belonged to the baroque lineage of personalized stationery, and it presaged the widespread use of quotations in our e-mail signature files.

    It would be careless to overlook the relevance of the answering-machine sample to its moment in time. We were living through the salad days of music sampling, before a legal chill descended on this warm and lustrous craft. Sampling was, arguably, the most representative aesthetic of a decade that wanted to put everything in quotation marks. It gave a vernacular spin to highbrow tactics like appropriation, collage, and creative copying, which had played starring roles in the debates about postmodernism. In the art world, these tactics had often been used for what was called institutional critique.

  • Andrew Ross on “Black Romantic”

    WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME a major art museum issued an open call for submissions to an upcoming show? Um . . . never? While open calls are the staple of a thousand regional and community art centers, the metro curator lives or dies by her own deft instincts about where to look, how to prefer, and what to embrace. So when one of the art world’s most sophisticated curators circulates an announcement that begins “Attention Artists!” and goes on to solicit work in the figurative genre of “romanticism,” irony hounds are likely to salivate at the prospect of another juicy morsel of conceptualism coming

  • Reading 9-11-01

    IN THE DAYS immediately following the terrorist attacks of September 11, titles that promised answers in the face of the disaster threatened to keep retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch's straight-talking memoir out of the top slot on best-seller lists. Studies of the Taliban movement, Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, and the ill-fated twin towers themselves predictably climbed the charts, but according to the New York Times, king of the hill was Nostradamus: At the online bookshop, three editions of the prophesies of the sixteenth-century mystic, into whose

  • Art for All?

    AT THE DAWN of the postwar Labour government, its policy architect, Aneurin Bevan, depicted Britain as “an island of coal surrounded by a sea of fish.” It was a memorable image of the nation's natural assets, and it captured his own party's midcentury appetite for nationalizing them. Fifty years later, film honcho David Puttnam offered an update: Britain had become “an island of creativity surrounded by a sea of understanding.” Not a winning phrase, for sure, but Puttnam's characterization was an equally faithful reflection of the temper of the New Labour government he would shortly join as an

  • the “Sensation” sensation

    WHAT DOES ARTFORUM think of the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s turn at “Sensation,” Charles Saatchi’s well-traveled collection of young British art? The question is probably moot, for when New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to evict the museum and cancelled the city’s $7.2 million subsidy, discussion of aesthetic or intellectual worth receded in the face of principle. While awaiting a ruling on the BMA’s injunction request, Andrew Ross sat down with NYU law professor and First Amendment specialist Amy Adler to help navigate the questions raised by this latest assault in the culture wars.


  • Disneytown

    “THEMING” HAS BEEN a feature of urban design and planning for some time now: private and public properties alike are being gussied up like Disney sets, as if tailored from some grand wardrobe of stage effects, so that the new built environments of America’s developing neo-urban spaces smack of “variations on a theme park,” as Michael Sorkin put it. This phenomenon—what it actually feels like and where it is leading—has been discussed and theorized more than it has been documented on the ground. At the very least, we can say it must be different from living in a real theme park, as Uncle Walt

  • the Great Wired Way

    REMEMBER ALL THE GIDDY talk about the “information superhighway”? Well it never got built. At least not the way Time Warner, Microsoft, and AT&T imagined it. As recently as two years ago, the media Goliaths were spinning blue-sky fantasies about delivering 500 cable channels and personalized services to your home, while collecting access tolls for the individual use of vast corporate entertainment libraries. The fantasies are still kicking around, technologically hitched to those WebTV “dumb delivery” boxes now in stores, which will link home entertainment to the Internet, and reinforced by the

  • the Racial Mix

    SINCE IT’S ELECTION TIME, the men of the moment are expected to make a foray or two into the music arena. Who knows what’s going on in Bob Dole’s acoustic skull when he is dragged into some Branson, Missouri, auditorium to lend an ear to Glenn Campbell cranking out “Wichita Lineman”? Or when his speechwriter makes him fulminate sourly against films he has never seen and hip-hop records he has never heard, and wouldn’t recognize if they were blasted in his ear? For white lifers like Dole, any perceived weakness for popular music, especially black music, makes them seem like race traitors. Their

  • Return of Rasta

    AFTER THE DEATHS of Haile Selassie and Bob Marley and the subsequent “repeal” of roots reggae in the Reaganomic Jamaica of the ’80s, Rastafarianism receded from the world stage. Today it is thriving again in the international music market, commanding respect in roughneck dance-halls from Montego Bay to Toronto. Moreover, the “roots and culture” revival of the last eighteen months seems to be more than a passing trend, more than the belated recognition, in a slow cycle, of the performers and communities who kept the Rasta faith through the lean years. Historians have long acknowledged the profound

  • Return of the Sweatshop

    PEOPLE WHO SNEER at fashion have learned, over the years, to avoid judgments that are overtly denigratory to women and gay men. The field of calumny has diminished considerably as a result. The most durable argument against expensive fashions maintains that they’re not what real people wear, and therefore can be excluded from the class of socially relevant phenomena. But even if we ignore the patronizing quality of this assumption about what real people do, there are fewer and fewer moral grounds these days for identifying with their clothing as a matter of social conscience. I’m referring to

  • Shiny Clothes

    THIS WINTER WE’LL FIND out whether the shiny fabrics of the spring and summer are going to make it on the streets as cold-weather wear or revert to a life as traffic-safety vests. Now that the original raver futurecult has filtered its way through the fetish cycle of the after-hours gliterrati to emerge in suburbia’s light of day, it’s safe to say that the synthetic look has all but conquered the weekend glamour market of every other bridge-and-tunnel clubber. Proven in the heat of the dance-floor battle against sweat, iridescent techno clothing now faces the test of other temperature extremes

  • the Highland Vogue

    SCOTS WINCE AT the prospect of Hollywood descending on the Highlands. The cultural alarm system kicks in. Hope and reason flee in advance of bad tartanry, ultraphony accents, and gooey caricatures of Gaelcult, itself the longest-running caricature of national identity in a field of world-class competitors. So when we heard tales about the starring role of ethnicity-jokester Ted Danson in a film called Loch Ness, and about the umpteenth remake of Rob Roy, the “Highland rogue,” and when Mel Gibson described Braveheart’s 13th-century freedom-fighter William Wallace as “a really straight-ahead dude,”

  • the State of the Union

    IN THE U.S. THIS YEAR, news of the end of the cold war finally sank in. How do we know? Because the only thing not currently being dismantled by Congress is the arsenal of democracy. In fact the defense budget is going gangbusters; military Keynesianism, the most stable consumer market known to mankind, is still very much in the saddle. Everywhere you look, America’s free-world triumphalism has brought down nothing but tough love and its cruel winds of austerity. Washington’s new soldiers of the cross have put us all on notice that poverty is once again the wages of sin and sloth, and that

  • the Rap Channel

    IT’S EASY TO FORGET the consternation that MTV once caused among the faithful. Not just the end of music “as we knew it, ” MTV was proof that the suits had finally found a way to convert the disloyal yearnings of youth into market obedience. Even if music video did not come to replace records altogether, it would be an indispensable industry tool, and the pleasure of sounds would surely surrender to the power of images in the struggle for sales. The fans, it was predicted, would become less important than TV advertisers or programmers. The video would not simply be an ad for the record , but

  • Rappers' Redux

    HIP-HOP’S RELENTLESS modernity is currently in doubt. It’s not that the fierce competition to reinvent rap year by year has weakened any—viz. the recent emergence of Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, and Jeru the Damaja as claimants to the East Coast title of leaders of the Now School. But the art of representing true hip-hop is no longer the only game in town. A wave of reminiscing has flooded the house with Old School memorabilia, and back-in-the-day yearnings are the flavor of the moment.

    The most visible symptoms of this backward-looking mood are the reunion of crews like the Treacherous Three and the


    WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE NEA witch hunt of the late ’80s and early ’90s, no art event in years has garnered the kind of attention the U.S. media devoted to Komar & Melamid’s ongoing project “The People’s Choice.” Like their new work “Washington Lives!,” announced in this issue of Artforum, the project attempts to redefine the artist/client relationship, disabling the respective cults of artistic freedom and art-in-the-service-of-the-people in the cause of a larger debate capable of carrying over into public life. Coincidentally—by “the people’s choice”—the project also recalls a long line of

  • the World Cup

    AS EXPECTED, THE AMERICANS rose below the occasion of the World Cup. For most of this year blasé sports columnists had exhausted our patience with explanations of the country’s immunity to soccer. As in two world wars, the Yanks had had to be wooed and coaxed into the fray, protesting all the while that American pluralism had evolved primarily to discard the antique baggage of tribalism borne along by institutions like the World Cup. American public consciousness had echoed with it-can’t-happen-here memories of prior foreign threats—fascism, socialism—associated with displays of mass participation

  • Weather Report

    Unlike Deee-Lite, I have never dreamt that I was falling through a hole in the ozone layer, though I often wonder whether the appearance of equally large holes in our daily environmental consciousness should be attributed more to the dreamwork of psychosocial fantasy than to any shortage of public information. As I was visiting a cousin of mine in Sydney in December, he announced that he and his wife would not be serving up turkey for Xmas dinner this year because turkey makes you fart, and they did not want to add to the hole in the ozone layer (which, at that time of the year in Sydney, is

  • Tribalism in Effect

    FOR A WHILE NOW, the dopest versions of homeboy style have included items of clothing featuring their original price tags. This is nothing if not a fiercely logical move in the street-style wars, and its meaning belongs to common sense more than to any individual act of bravado, even though we can’t help imagining that someone, somewhere, was the first to do it. There are no iron laws of fashion, but it is equally misleading to perpetuate the theory of individual taste-makers, whether it applies to singularly inspired fashion victims or to haute designers, who have been ransacking street style