Benjamin H. D. Buchloh

  • Lawrence Weiner, late 1980s.

    LAWRENCE WEINER (1942–2021)

    There is no tabula rasa. We are like sailors who must rebuild their ship on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials. Where a beam is taken away, a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support.
    —Otto Neurath

    FEATURING HIS SELF MADE SAILOR’S HAT until his last days, Lawrence Weiner never tired of reminding us that WE ARE SHIPS AT SEA NOT DUCKS ON A POND, apparently sharing Otto Neurath’s moral imperative. The necessity of citing Weiner verbatim in the very first sentence (and in nearly every

  • Joachim Olender, La collection qui n’existait pas (The Collection That Doesn’t Exist), 2014, HD video, color, sound, 93 minutes. Herman Daled.

    Herman Daled (1930–2020)

    TO CHALLENGE THE CONVENTIONS and criteria of the collectible object (painterly pretenses, skills, singularity, rarity, commodity status, and exchange value, among others) was one of Conceptualism’s most radical aims, enacted by linguistic, discursive, institutional, and political critiques formulated between 1968 and 1978. To financially support and collect those practices was one of the sublimely paradoxical achievements of Herman Daled and his wife, Nicole Daled-Verstraeten. Only Gertrude and Leo Stein and Walter and Louise Arensberg could be considered as predecessors in a lineage of

  • Luciano Perna, April 22 2020 6:46 pm Schlumbergera, 2020, ink-jet print, 17 × 22".


    A rigorous morality results from complicity in the knowledge of evil, which is the basis of intense communication.

    —Georges Bataille

    NOT REALLY A SURPRISE that my discovery of Luciano Perna’s work—a digital chance encounter—occurred under the conditions of Covid confinement. Every other isolated day, just in time, I came across one of Perna’s Facebook postings, mostly images of plants and sundry stranded objects, at least momentarily arresting the maelstrom of self-pitying lamentos and self-promoting mementos, the ceaseless acts of autopropaganda that so-called social media now impose more than

  • Pierre Huyghe, After ALife Ahead, 2017, concrete ice-rink floor, sand, clay, phreatic water, bacteria, algae, bees, chimera peacocks, aquarium, black switchable glass, textile cone, incubator, human cancer cells, genetic algorithm, augmented-reality program, automated ceiling structure, rain, ammoniac, logic game. Installation view. From Skulptur Projekte Münster. Photo: Ola Rindal.


    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

  • Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gas Tanks, 1983–1992 (detail), 2005, fifteen gelatin silver prints, overall 68 1/4 × 94 1/4".

    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),

  • Isaac Julien in collaboration with Mark Nash, Das Kapital Oratorio, 2015. Performance view, Arena, Central Pavilion, Venice, May 8. Photo: Andrea Avezzù.

    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

  • Noël Burch and Allan Sekula, The Forgotten Space, 2010, digital video, color and black-and-white, sound, 110 minutes. Photo: Doc Eye Films.

    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

  • Dieter Roth, Solo Szenen (Solo Scenes), 1997–98, 131 video monitors, media players, shelving. Installation view, Arsenale, Venice, 2013. From “The Encyclopedic Palace.” Photo: Kate Lacey. © Dieter Roth Estate.

    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, no title, 1973. Installation view, Galleria Franco Toselli, Milan. Photo: Giorgio Colombo.

    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

  • Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Magenta), 1994–2006, high chromium stainless steel with transparent colored coating. Installation view, Château de Versailles, France, 2008–2009.


    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

  • Variation IV: 8/16 from Gerhard Richter’s artist’s book Patterns (Heni Publishing and Walther König, 2011).


    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