Arthur C. Danto

  • The best books of 2000

    Linda Nochlin

    Molly Nesbit’s Their Common Sense (Black Dog Press) isn’t exactly an art book—it’s not exactly a book even, in the usual sense. But in the unusual sense, Nesbit’s tome is a marvelous document, swinging briskly between the teaching of mechanical drawing in French schools and the arcanery of Duchamp & Co. It begins in very big print with Antonin Proust’s proposal that all French schoolchildren learn to draw and ends with a memorable still from Pabst’s Joyless Streets. In between? Children’s drawings (not the cute, creative ones, but disciplined, drafting lesson productions), some

  • Arthur C. Danto


    1 “Making Choices” (Museum of Modern Art, New York) A show of shows in two senses: It consisted of twenty-five separate exhibitions, some of which belonged in an inventory of the high points of 2000 in their own right; and it was an epochal show, putting in question the entire concept of modern art. Strikingly, none of the exhibitions was devoted to modernism as such, save perhaps Robert Storr’s “Modern Art despite Modernism.” But even there it merely skulked as the ghost of what we must call the Greenbergian paradigm, as Storr included modern works to which Greenberg would not

  • the New Vienna School

    THE SO-CALLED VIENNA CIRCLE, which flourished in the years before the Second World War, was an informal association of philosophers and scientists dedicated to the overthrow and eradication of metaphysics, regarded by them as nonsense, portentously disguised. Nonsense was understood as whatever could not be verified empirically. This was the notorious verifiability criterion of meaning, which, they believed, the natural sciences exemplified to perfection. Final solutions, of course, were much in the air in '30s Vienna, and such was the ferocity of the Vienna Circle, whose texts bristled with

  • John Ruskin

    THE VICTORIAN MEN AND WOMEN portrayed in the novels of Anthony Trollope seem surprisingly like us, far more so than literary creatures from only a century earlier (Tom Jones, say, or Clarissa Harlowe). Their feelings and motives are sufficiently like ours that we feel we understand them as well as we understand one another. Something like this is true of the Victorian art world as well, in which we find ourselves immediately at home, while it requires a leap of historical imagination to see an artist’s life at the time of Hogarth or Reynolds from inside. This is because we owe to the Victorians


    Homi K. Bhabha: The times are out of joint, perhaps never more so than when we are seduced by that decade-end desire to say, One last time, what was the great work of the ’90s? The ’90s began in the late late ’80s with the big bang of The Satanic Verses, and the decade dribbles on with small arms sniping around an elephant-dung madonna. In between times, we realize how powerful is the appeal to religious orthodoxy; how insecure our sense of the secular; how fragile any idea of global cultural understanding; how the politics of art rarely lies in the artifice itself, but all around it, in the


    Every theory of painting is a metaphysics.

    The artist and dealer Nicholas Wilder once mentioned to David Reed that paintings by John McLaughlin were often moved by their owners into their bedrooms, as if the works somehow seduced them into more intimate relations. For Reed, his mentor’s anecdote was a revelation: A “bedroom painter” was what he had always aspired to be. At the very least this reveals that, though an abstractionist, he was not a formalist, since, however formally impressive his paintings, they are meant to beckon viewers to an almost erotic colloquy, as with Mary

  • “Andy Warhol: Drawings, 1942-87”

    A recording angel, charged to inscribe everything that happens as it happens, would produce a complete but unsatisfactory account of things, unless it somehow managed to include all that did not happen. As Sherlock Holmes demonstrated, nothing was more important than the fact that the dog did not bark. The significance of nonevents extends to narrative exhibitions of artwork as well, which is confirmed every time a curator pointedly explains, as if providing a missing link, why a work crucial to the visual narrative of an artist or a movement is not on view. But suppose there are genuine gaps

  • “An Unrestricted View of the Mediterranean”

    A number of exhibitions this summer in Switzerland gave visitors the sense that the country’s image has become a source of civic obsession. The city of Zurich has sponsored an “action” in which some 800 plastic cows—lifelike, life-size, and bearing madcap designs—have been distributed throughout the city. They were enlisted to create an image of Zurich as “teeming with fantasy, joyful, and many-sided,” to quote the flyer announcing the event. An exhibition at the Swiss National Museum is titled “Inventing Switzerland, 1848–1998.” Its advertisements declare that “The Switzerland of the future

  • Clement Greenberg

    SHORTLY BEFORE READING Florence Rubenfeld’s life of Clement Greenberg, I speculated about it with an art writer who had broken away from Greenberg’s circle. “I still say that Greenberg was the greatest critic of the century,” he stated. “But he was an absolute #@!!” The “greatest x of the century” is an entirely Greenbergian magnification: part of what it meant to be a critic, in his practice, consisted in bestowing gold stars and participating in arguments more often than not ending in fisticuffs, concerning who—Jackson or Bill—was the top living painter. For several decades Greenberg held

  • “American Realities”

    Imagine a meagerly endowed center for curatorial studies, with a collection of ten works of art. Let them, for simplicity, be paintings, since we can easily think of these arrayed in a row. The center’s aspiring curators are to construct exhibitions using all ten works. How many such exhibitions can be formed? The daunting number of combinations is 3,628,800. Mounting one exhibition per day, it would take nearly a millennium to exhaust the combinatorial possibilities. If a single painting were added to that collection, the number of combinations would rise to nearly forty million.

    We might object

  • Arthur C. Danto

    1 Ellsworth Kelly (Guggenheim Museum, New York): Stepping from the final spiral into the museum’s topmost gallery was like walking into an aviary of brilliant birds. The paintings, liberated from the austere constraints of the notorious ramp, sported with one another in nonlinear dispositions up and down the high walls. All at once a dimension of Kelly’s oeuvre opened up—a lightness, a frolic—undetectable when the paintings are seen one at a time or shown lockstep along gallery walls. One felt that there is almost no point to encountering one Kelly alone: in a flock of at least half a dozen,