Benjamin H. D. Buchloh


    ALL SCULPTURE in the present seems to have acquired the condition of the book, to paraphrase Walter Pater: the status of total obsolescence, bordering on disappearance. Yet the features that both sculpture and the book once shared have now, on their loss, become all the more prominent: Made with material supports derived from natural resources (paper, wood, stone, metal), they communicated in very specific languages to specific audiences in national, if not regional, idioms—aspiring to occupy prominent places in what was once called the public sphere. To exacerbate the chasm that separates

  • Hilla Becher

    WITH THE PASSING of Hilla Becher (née Hilla Wobeser in Potsdam, 1934), a major figure of German postwar visual culture has left the stage, following her lifelong collaborator and partner, Bernd Becher, who passed away in 2007.

    If their individual contributions to the joint oeuvre have by now become inextricably fused, it was Hilla, in fact, who steered Bernd to the field of photography. Hilla had been trained first as a photographer in Potsdam, while Bernd had studied typographic design and painting in Stuttgart, before both enrolled at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf (he in 1957, she in 1958),

  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

    THE EMBATTLED FORTRESS and the sinking ship: These are the two predominant metaphors used to describe Europe’s current situation—a predicament defined by the crisis of the Continent’s former, or just possibly still operative, aspirations for political and economic union. What better place to confront the universal conditions of fracture and crisis that gave rise to these metaphors than Venice, where millions of global tourists are carefully shielded from the reality of the thousands of Middle Eastern refugees and African migrants washing up onto Italy’s shores daily, dead or alive. When

  • Allan Sekula

    A TRUE UNDERSTANDING of the tragic early loss of Allan Sekula may emerge only slowly in American culture, but it will steadily expand beyond the relatively limited circles in which his work has until now been recognized. He will be celebrated as an artist, first of all, and as a photographer and one of the most important critics, historians, and theoreticians of photography of the final decades of the twentieth century. (His 1986 essay “The Body and the Archive” is on par with Siegfried Kracauer’s foundational “Die Photographie,” which, although written nearly sixty years earlier in a profoundly

  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

    WHEN THE GERMAN PSYCHIATRIST Hans Prinzhorn published his Bildnerei der Geisteskranken, or Artistry of the Mentally Ill, in 1922, the ethics of his project were undoubtedly progressive: In light of Freud’s new theories, he sought to communicate to a broader public that the private articulations in painting, drawing, and writing of innumerable psychic disorders—from mere neuroses to dementia—merited far more attention and recognition than they had previously been granted. But Prinzhorn was hardly proposing a new aesthetic, certainly not one akin to that of the Surrealists, who three

  • Michael Asher


    MICHAEL ASHER seems to have been the only American artist in the second half of the twentieth century (with Marcel Broodthaers being his European counterpart) for whom the challenge of producing art in late capitalist society remained a perpetually irresolvable contradiction, if not a provocation. For the others, even the most advanced and complex among them, often friends of both Michael and Marcel, any number of an infinite variety of compromises had been latent from the start, or else their work would eventually become sufficiently distilled to maneuver the fundamentally


    FROM THE PERSPECTIVE of the hegemonic reality principle­ that has defined modernity—i.e., the subject position we have traditionally identified as bourgeois—all forms and practices of artistic and political contestation, transgression, and critique appeared at least initially as suspicious, if not deviant or outright antagonistic to that model of subjectivity.

    This dialectic of a fully internalized reality principle and a seemingly compulsive desire for a different order, even disorder, was in fact one of the constitutive conditions of modernity and avant-garde culture from the 1860s


    The widely acclaimed Tate Modern traveling retrospective “Gerhard Richter: Panorama” arrives at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin on February 12, three days after the venerable German painter celebrates his eightieth birthday. To mark the occasion, art historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh reflects on abstraction, decoration, and the aleatory in relation to Richter’s latest bodies of work.


    Even the very first of the supposedly first abstract paintings Gerhard Richter made in 1966, Ten Colors, was not a truly abstract painting, since it still copied a color chart, a swatch similar to those displayed

  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

    IN THE CATALOUGE to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris’s 1991 Piero Manzoni retrospective, Nancy Spector wrote about “a temporary blindness” of American institutions with regard to the Italian genius of the postwar period. That blindness seems to have been only partially remedied now. The first American retrospective of Manzoni’s work, curated by Germano Celant, the godfather of postwar Italian art in general and of Arte Povera in particular, did not take place in a museum but in Larry Gagosian’s Chelsea gallery (January 24–March 21, 2009), a locale that has lately taken on the various


    EXACTLY SIXTY YEARS AFTER the founding of the West German Federal Republic and the East German Democratic Republic, and exactly twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the Western world rejoiced in mass schadenfreude at the collapse of the Communist German state (and the Communist system at large), “Art of Two Germanys/Cold War Cultures,” a major exhibition organized by Stephanie Barron and Eckhart Gillen at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, provided an occasion to reconsider the postwar history of the two belated and beleaguered democracies on various German soils. (The title

  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

    ALMOST FORTY YEARS AFTER Statements (1968), Lawrence Weiner’s first and foundational book, was published by Seth Siegelaub and sold for $1.95, the Whitney’s Donna De Salvo and Ann Goldstein at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles convinced their respective directors and trustees to offer the first major museum retrospective in the United States devoted to the paragon of Conceptual art. Both overdue and timely, the exhibition “As Far as the Eye Can See” gave us cause not only to reflect on the historically limited primacy of vision but also to look back at the moment of 1968 once more


    IT IS NOT KNOWN whether Guy Debord ever commented on the activities of Daniel Buren and his companions Olivier Mosset, Michel Parmentier, and Niele Toroni when, working collectively in 1966 and 1967 under their surnames only, they staged the most radical critique of the neo-avant-garde on the road to spectacularization.* Had he done so, he would no doubt have been the first to observe in relation to their practice something he had recognized ten years earlier in his damning commentary on the work of Yves Klein—that, under the totalizing conditions of capitalist consumption, spectacle and

  • Cy Twombly

    Cy Twombly, Sol LeWitt, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Yves Klein, and Arman all entered the world in 1928—an annus mirabilis for art history. Of these artists, only Twombly celebrated his eightieth birthday this year.

    Cy Twombly, Sol LeWitt, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Yves Klein, and Arman all entered the world in 1928—an annus mirabilis for art history. Of these artists, only Twombly celebrated his eightieth birthday this year. With around a hundred works, the Tate's retrospective, organized by Nicholas Serota, should make plain that the triangle of Twombly, Johns, and Rauschenberg has always been equilateral; recognition of such status was long withheld in America, until the exceptional exhibition organized by the late Kirk Varnedoe for New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1994. It

  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

    UNDER PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES, it could only be expected that serious professional artists, progressive or conservative, would become increasingly desperate to find alternative institutional and discursive spaces to shelter their work from the violent impact of three forces that have dramatically altered every facet and fraction of artistic practice in the past ten years: digital electronic technology, the globalization of capital, and the monolithic power of an industrialized art market that aspires to a fast and final merger with the music and fashion industries. A market that seems to have

  • Cy Twombly

    IT SHOULD NOT surprise us that the first major monographic study of the work of Cy Twombly would come to us from France: After all, Twombly’s reputation was established earlier and more exuberantly in Europe than in the United States (for example, Pierre Restany wrote on the artist as early as 1961). We will never know whether the reason for the fine American disregard was Twombly’s decision to leave the US for the shores of Italy in 1957 or whether it was his provocative synthesis of poetic learning and painterly desublimation that irritated an American audience habituated by the early ’60s to


    With the unveiling of major new bodies of work at the 2004 Carnegie International in Pittsburgh and at her gallery in New York this year, ISA GENZKEN stretched the limits of an already-diverse oeuvre and, indeed, the very boundaries of sculpture today. To gain perspective on her innovations and influence, past and present, Artforum offers a two-part focus. First, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, author of a seminal 1992 essay on Genzken’s work, traces the shifts in the artist’s production since she first arrived on the scene in ’70s Germany. Then, for the latest installment of “In Conversation,” collaborator

  • The Curse of Empire

    INSTEAD OF TAKING “ALWAYS A LITTLE FURTHER” AS THE TITLE for one section of the 51st Venice Biennale (a phrase as inane as it is abstract in its blind progressivism), this year’s organizers would have done better to adopt Samuel Beckett’s monosyllabic monologue “I can’t go on, I’ll go on” as a voice-over for the grand exhibition’s display of contemporary art in 2005.

    Under the conditions of globalization, the founding contradictions of the Biennale—on the one hand, the propagandistic interests of the nation-state; on the other, the critical projects of the avant-garde—have clearly shifted from


    My exhibition is not about hope, or about creating points of stabilization; it is about showing my disgust with the dominant discourse and showing my contempt for the fascination with power.
    —Thomas Hirschhorn

    It has proved difficult to imagine what sculpture could be at the beginning of the new century. Indeed, the concept and category appear strained in the expanded field of Thomas Hirschhorn’s displays, ephemeral and unstable constructions of cardboard and foil. The artist insists on the term “display” to distinguish his work explicitly from a putative tradition or genre of “installation”—the contemporary doxa of sculptural production and the target of his taxonomic gesture. Hirschhorn’s terminology seems to be critical regardless of whether “installation” is derived from a practice that was once

  • Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

    THIS YEAR'S VENICE BIENNALE WAS IN MANY WAYS A SHOWDOWN between new electronic technologies (in particular that of digital-video projections) and the media of painting and sculpture, with the latter on the defensive, if not in manifest retreat, from their traditional stronghold in this most venerable of biennials. Spectators frequently found themselves standing in line to enter claustrophobic spaces, halfway between movie house, darkened living room, and Skinner box. Here, the called-for response is neither individual contemplation nor simultaneous collective reception. Exhibition value—the