Boris Groys


    ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE was a declared objective of many modern art movements. But few of them were endowed with the divinatory powers necessary to achieve this goal. Sots art, conversely, never tried to be futuristic—and yet contemporary Russia looks a lot like a Sots art installation. Orthodox priests consecrate a new long-range missile (actually an upgraded Soviet model, decorated with a red star) on national television; Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed body lies exposed not far from Armani and Gucci boutiques. The visual world of the Soviet past is amalgamated with that of Western consumer brands,

  • Boris Groys

    1. “The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde, 1915–1932” (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1992) Even before the Revolution, the artists of the Russian avant-garde dreamed of giving the new century an at once entirely new and unified aesthetic form, analogous to the styles that marked the Gothic, Renaissance, or Baroque periods. In this case, however, the new style had to be a matter not just of historical development but of conscious, systematic planning. After the Revolution the dream seemed to be within reach, at least in Russia, but ultimately neither the political powers nor the

  • Douglas Gordon

    The seven installations filling the seven spaces at the Kunstverein Hannover all look elegant and up-to-date in a tasteful, unpretentious way. At first glance, in fact, that’s the only thing they seem to have in common. The works were all executed differently (sometimes there’s a film, sometimes an object, sometimes a photo series, sometimes wall text), and the thematics seem no less diverse. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the “exhibition” turned out in fact to be a group show. But of course the visitor knows from the start that this is a show featuring work by a single artist, Douglas Gordon,

  • Boris Groys

    1 The Funeral of Diana The beautiful princess has traditionally played the role of mediator between life and death, fortune and defeat, power and the people. Either she was sacrificed to the dragon, or saved by the hero, or banished to the underworld, or awarded as the ultimate prize. At times she displayed compassion, at others vanity and cruelty—dealt out with the same mercurial hand as human fate. It’s no exaggeration to regard all of modern civilization as an attempt to replace the myth of the beautiful princess with something else—whether it’s communism, democracy, or an avant-garde. At


    When Boris Groys decided at the beginning of the ’80s to emigrate from the former Soviet Union to Germany, he was considered a suspicious character in his old home and an unknown in his new. Today, fifteen years later, he is still considered a suspicious character—though for different reasons. The reactions that followed in the wake of Groys’ first book to be published in German, his 1988 Gesamtkunstwerk Stalin—Die gespaltene Kultur des Sowjetunion (translated in 1994 by Princeton University Press as The Total Art of Stalinism: Avant-Garde, Aesthetic Dictatorship and Beyond), were explosive. In elaborations of breathtaking insight, Groys exposed the connection between Soviet policy under Stalin and the projects of the artistic avant-garde—an argument not necessarily designed to win the favor of those critics who were accustomed to painting a more elevated image of the art of the avant-garde. In his inspiring 1995 book Die Erfindung Russlands (The invention of Russia), he opened the eyes of his Western audience to the position of Russia within the geopolitics of ideas. Groys’ readers would discover how Russian culture since the nineteenth century has functioned as the West’s unconscious, as it were.
    In Germany and Western Europe, Groys is one of the few unmistakably independent voices in contemporary cultural criticism. Between the time of his emigration and the present there are five or six incisive books and a hundred or more scattered essays, interviews, radio broadcasts, and lectures at galleries, museums, and universities concerning the foundations and phenomena of contemporary art—a body of work that, considered as a whole, offers nothing short of a new take on the philosophy of culture and art. In his theory of the avant-garde, Groys comes closest to the critical impulses of French poststructuralism, toward which he has otherwise always kept a sympathetic distance. A shared attentiveness to the material bearer of the encounters between Being and Meaning links him to Jacques Derrida, and he shares with Jean Baudrillard and Slavoj Žižek a well-developed instinct for the symptomatic significance of mass culture. Both these tendencies are pronounced in his most exciting book to date, Über das Neue. Versuch einer Kulturoekonomie (On the new. Essay on cultural economy, 1992). Many features in Groys’ spiritual makeup as well as biographical circumstances recall those of his countryman Alexandre Kojève, who, with his lectures in Paris on Hegel’s Phenomenology, decisively affected the intellectual development of his host country more than six decades ago. With Mephistophelean humor and genuine philosophical discipline, Groys has given free play to the theoretical concerns of the Western world. The days when his writings were an insider’s tip are over. They already belong to the essential library of all that our age has to say about itself.
    —Peter Sloterdijk

    FOR A LONG TIME NOW, the art critic has seemed a legitimate representative of the art world. Like the artist, curator, gallery owner, and collector, when an art critic shows up at an opening or some other art-world event, nobody wonders, What’s he doing here? That something should be written about art is taken as self-evident. When works of art aren’t provided with a text—in an accompanying pamphlet, catalogue, art magazine, or elsewhere—they seem to have been delivered into the world unprotected, lost and unclad. Images without text are embarrassing, like a naked person in a public space. At

  • Boris Groys


    Current curatorial practice pays less and less attention to national boundaries, fixated as it is on an international art scene governed by its own laws, criteria, and hierarchies. For that very reason it’s interesting to see what happens when the traditional task of presenting the art of a given country is carried out today. Curator Harald Szeemann’s “AUSTRIA IM ROSENNETZ” (Austria in a net of roses), at Vienna’s Museum für Angewandte Kunst, is exemplary. Works by internationally known Austrian artists—from Egon Schiele and Alfred Kubin to Arnulf Rainer, the Viennese Actionists,

  • Boris Groys


    RAYMOND PETTIBON’s show at the Bern Kunsthalle was the best confirmation that one can put together work that doesn’t completely give itself up, or away, on first glance, as is unfortunately too often the case with art today. Hung closely together on the walls, the hundreds of drawings, reminiscent of cartoons in their blend of word and text, demand to be read from one picture to the next in pursuit of hidden contexts, stories, and meanings, but the viewer’s quest—the experience of more and more of them—is never frustrating, because each drawing is individually self-contained and


    MARTIN HONERT WORKS SLOWLY—he has produced fewer works than one expects from an artist his age. Unwilling to compete with the speed and communicative demands of the modern media, he makes works that seem to stand alone—“decontextualized” and uncommunicative. Together, these works don’t so much constitute a closed context as suggest a kind of semantic emptiness. One suspects relationships among Honert’s three-dimensional images, perhaps shared meanings, but they are never explicitly produced.

    Visiting Honert in his studio in Düsseldorf, I wanted to ask: what are the reasons behind Honert’s slow


    IT WAS IN THE MID ’70s, shortly after I moved from Leningrad to Moscow, that I met Ilya Kabakov and first saw his work. In those days Kabakov belonged to the “unofficial” Moscow art scene, and the work of “unofficial” artists could only be viewed by people who knew them personally and were invited to their studios. Back in Leningrad, I had already written about Western Conceptual art in an article about Jorge Luis Borges for an underground magazine; a number of Moscow artists had read and liked this essay, and it gained me entrée to their studios.

    Much of what I saw impressed me deeply, but it