Caroline A. Jones

  • Page from Artforum 7, no. 1  (September 1968). Jack Burnham, “Systems Esthetics.” Pictured: Dan Flavin, Pink and Gold, 1967. 
 Click here for Jack Burnham, “Systems Esthetics,” September 1968

    Caroline A. Jones on Jack Burnham’s “Systems Esthetics”

    A BRIEF METEOR, Jack Burnham blazed forth in September 1968 declaring “Systems Esthetics” to be the preeminent mode of contemporary artmaking. How could this sculpture teacher from the Midwest have gotten it so right? In the ensuing decades, what Burnham called “systems” came to define some of the most significant cultural developments of our time, even if this genealogy has been obscured. Undeclared as such, systems thinking now suffuses the art world as we know it. Consider: The work of such different artists as Olafur Eliasson, Andrea Fraser, Damien Hirst, Seth Price, and Tino Sehgal, as well

  • representations of oil spills

    HAVE WE ALREADY FORGOTTEN? On April 20, 2010, a high-pressure methane bubble shot up through the drilling pipe of Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil rig operated on behalf of British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico. The gas exploded and killed eleven workers; the giant rig was still burning two days later when it sank, and over the course of the next eighty-four days the ruptured mile-down well released approximately 206 million gallons of oil, constituting the largest petrochemical “spill” in history. Images played a unique role in the crisis, accompanying it at every turn but also failing, by

  • Marina Abramović, Seven Easy Pieces, 2005. Performance view, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, November 11, 2005. Abramović performing Valie Export’s Action Pants: Genital Panic, 1969/2001. Photo: Kathryn Carr.


    The audience is like a dog. They can feel immediately that you are afraid, that you are insecure, that you’re not in the right state of mind—and they just leave. . . .
    —Marina Abramović

    I think the twenty-first century will hopefully be more guided by “how” questions—how am I a product or how am I related to these people here? . . . And what is the ethics implied by this?
    —Tino Sehgal

    IN 1973, VITO ACCONCI CROONED about his desperate need for an audience. For Theme Song, the artist taped himself singing banal pop entreaties into a video camera, in close-up and prone on the floor, acknowledging

  • Henk Peeters (far left), Günther Uecker, Heinz Mack, unidentified, Monika and Alfred Schmela (right), Düsseldorf, 1960.

    Caroline A. Jones

    ONLY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY have the cargo cults of modernity given us handmade objects that mimic so intently the processes of industrial manufacture. Even more surprising are the rare instances in which those objects accurately predict the unfolding of a modernity whose future has been otherwise wrested from their makers’ hands. At times, that accuracy is exhilarating in its conceptual force; at other moments, the match between the modernist past and a commodified future is merely formal, and the art collapses into kitsch. Sperone Westwater’s show on Zero last winter in New York (organized

  • Tod E. Gangler, Seattle, 1983.

    “Speed Limits”

    In a show that holds up the CCA’s usual intelligent standards, Stanford Italianist Jeffrey T. Schnapp presents his angle on the centenary of Futurism by examining the legacy of its most fervent dream.

    In a show that holds up the CCA’s usual intelligent standards, Stanford Italianist Jeffrey T. Schnapp presents his angle on the centenary of Futurism by examining the legacy of its most fervent dream. We can expect not only streamlining and hygienic bodies but also—among the show’s 240 works including videos, photographs, posters, and collages—ruminations on city and country, information architectures, “24 frames a second,” and chemical stimulants. Explicit in Schnapp’s framing of the exhibition—and in the multiauthored catalogue-cum-reader that accompanies the

  • Anish Kapoor

    WHO KNEW THAT MINIMALISM would have such generative power for those once seen as beyond its borders? It is as if all the women and “others” once presumed not to get it, got it—and got more of it than the founding fathers (Stella, Flavin, Judd) ever dreamed. This “it” was the abject body, as the art historian Michael Fried made explicit a decade ago when rereading his own previous take on Minimal art (or “literalism,” as he termed it):

    [L]iteralism theatricalized the body, put it endlessly on stage, made it uncanny or opaque to itself, hollowed it out, deadened its expressiveness, denied its

  • “The Cinema Effect: Illusion, Reality, and the Moving Image”

    In the age of digital convergence, film is increasingly becoming a touchstone for new media and video art—no longer as antipode to these media (themselves divergent), but as constructed archetype for all moving images. Whereas earlier surveys have posited film as metaphor or have emphasized sampling and mimicry, the Hirshhorn’s two-part endeavor focuses on cinema’s cognitive effects. The first installment (Feb. 14–May 11) explores the ways time-based media transport us to dreamlike states; the second (June 19–Sept.


    FEW ARTISTS have had Picasso’s arrogant confidence: “I do not seek. I find.” Far more typical of modernity was the desire to align one’s work with research: Constable’s cloud studies, Seurat’s Chevreul-inspired pointillism, Kandinsky’s work on synesthesia. Materialization could sometimes seem incidental—yet materialization was exactly what the artist could bring: a way to make research come alive as experience in the body of the viewer. Robert Irwin’s collaborations with scientists from Bell Labs began to mean something when he materialized those laboratory setups of the ganzfeld in public art

  • Abbie Hoffman is arrested while trying to interrupt a meeting of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Washington, DC, 1968. Photo: Bettmann/Corbis.

    David Joselit

    THE FIELD OF ART HISTORY registered a seismic shift in the late 1990s, when crops of grad students began to designate “video art” as a topic for their oral exams, or even to write their dissertations on the formerly bereft genre. The appeal of the subject was clearly driven by a new historical fact: Digital convergence was bringing about the end of magnetic-tape video art as such, even while projected digital video was becoming the ubiquitous medium of choice in the circuitry of global exhibitions. A similar transformation is taking place today within the broader landscape of communications

  • Globalism and the Venice Biennale

    FOR FOUR DAYS in December 2005, art-world luminaries, city officials, and academics gathered in Venice at the stunning Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, just off the Ponte dell’Accademia on the Grand Canal. Mission: to debate the future of large-scale international exhibitions in general (and, by implication, the Venice Biennale in particular). Art historian and critic Robert Storr, next curator of what Italians call, simply, la Biennale, had been charged by the institution’s leadership to organize the event, which he attempted to democratize by opening each session to discussion with the audience.

  • Rosemarie Trockel

    IN A TYPICALLY WRY, feminist twist on the trauma of a midcareer retrospective, Rosemarie Trockel named her current exhibition at the Ludwig Museum “Post-Menopause.” Or rather, so she renamed it: Advance publicity referred to the show simply as “Menopause” and so do the accompanying catalogue texts, suggesting an eleventh-hour switch as the book’s cover and exhibition poster went to press. Retrospectives, of course, merely exaggerate the post hoc condition of all exhibitions—a morbid state refused by Ed Ruscha, who had the words “I Don’t Want No Retro Spective” embossed on the catalogue of his



    A retrospective at the National Gallery of Art is the closest thing the American art world has to an imperial investiture, and Dan Flavin’s Washington, DC, survey was no exception. Emphatically attesting to Minimalism’s current aura, the East Wing’s squashed hexagons, triangles, and podlike vestibules were filled with his emanating objects, interiors taking on the lure of grottoes and sanctuaries (especially appealing when clusters of related works hummed and glowed together), while a modular green piece flashed from the lobby like Martian bling-bling onto Pennsylvania Avenue