David Joselit

  • View of “Tom Burr,” 2023, Bortolami, New York. From left: Floor Model (adolescent), 2022; Opening Sequence (blue), 2023. Photo: Guang Xu.


    WITH THE PASSAGE of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law restricting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, and with the recent wave of acutely transphobic legislation throughout the United States, one would be justified in concluding that a vocal subset of American politicians is busy constructing a new closet for LGBTQ+ citizens. How is this possible, given the advances in rights and public acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships in recent decades? How can gay marriage be the law of the land while speaking about sexual orientation is criminalized in schools? Recourse to

  • John Haberle, Imitation, 1887, oil on canvas, 10 × 14".


    NO TENDENCY in painting has inspired as much experimentation among succeeding generations of modernist artists as Cubism. In the face of this legacy, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Cubism and the Trompe l’Oeil Tradition” seeks to divert that future-oriented momentum by bending its trajectory backward—toward trompe l’oeil painting, a minor Western tradition that was practiced between the mid-seventeenth and nineteenth centuries and later devolved into a form of decoration. This curatorial thesis, launched with slim historical evidence but delivered in a seductive spectacle of gorgeous

  • View of “Atis Rezistans (Resistance Artists): Ghetto Biennale,” 2022, St. Kunigundis Church, Kassel. From Documenta 15. Photo: Frank Sperling.


    THROUGHOUT THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, modern and contemporary art in the West sought either to cheat history or to travesty it. To cheat history is to outrun it in gestures aimed at utopian schemes (as envisioned by Suprematism or the artists of De Stijl) or dystopian destruction (as in Futurism or some variants of Dada). Among modernist avant-gardes, history offered a necessary dialectical framework for its own supersession—this is why the rhetoric of revolution remains so appealing and ubiquitous in accounts of modern art. Paradoxically, this legacy has been codified or canonized (and certainly

  • BEST SHOWS OF 2021

    THE TITLE “ILLIBERAL ARTS” is meant to stop you in your tracks—and it does. First, it puns on the “liberal arts,” those humanistic disciplines that are regularly described as experiencing a crisis, both within academia and beyond. Curators Anselm Franke and Kerstin Stakemeier embrace this crisis, and for good reason. Following Black radical thinkers ranging from C. L. R. James to Sylvia Wynter, they recognize that historically, the definition of the human (and consequently the content and conduct of the humanities) has excluded the experience of most people who don’t conform to white, European,

  • Still from Andrea Geyer’s Comrades of Time (Elsa), 2010–11, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 39 seconds. One of seven HD videos from the installation Comrades of Time, 2010–11.


    TO MAP THE SHIFTING COORDINATES OF IDENTITY—and difference—in culture today, critic and art historian HUEY COPELAND moderates a roundtable with artist EMILY ROYSDON; film theorist KARA KEELING; Artforum’s editor, MICHELLE KUO; and some of the foremost thinkers on globalism, postcolonialism, and art: scholars DIPESH CHAKRABARTY, DAVID JOSELIT, and KOBENA MERCER.

    HUEY COPELAND: Is identity politics back? Did it ever truly go away? In either case, what does the term mean now and how do we think about the ways in which new understandings of identity are arising?

    One thing that characterizes this particular moment, I think, is the critical mass of artists and writers and critics and curators and viewers in and beyond the art world who are coming from positions that had previously been excluded, oppressed, or unacknowledged. But there is also, more broadly, a much greater awareness that’s been brought about by multiculturalism and identity politics, in all

  • View of “International Pop,” 2015, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. Foreground: Marisol, Dinner Date, 1963. Background, from left: Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #35, 1963; Ushio Shinohara, Drink More, 1964; Jasper Johns, Flags, 1965; Paul Thek, Meat Piece with Warhol Brillo Box, 1965. Photo: Gene Pittman.

    “International Pop” and “The World Goes Pop”

    POP “WAS THE BIRTH OF THE NOW”: So claim curators Darsie Alexander and Bartholomew Ryan in the catalogue for their sprawling and ambitious show “International Pop” at the Walker Art Center, thus positioning the movement as a progenitor of our so-called post-Internet condition. Indeed, the curators write, Pop artists “were modeling behaviors that then seemed radical, but now are second nature: the image world as an extension of the self, the individual curating information via status feed, the rise of social media that is one of the most profound changes of our time.”

    What is striking about this

  • William Pope.L, Eating the Wall Street Journal (street version), 1991. Performance view, New York, summer 1991.


    BY NOW, IT'S A TRUISM to say that there are more images than ever before, a digital flood of pictures that shows no signs of slowing. But what about all the images that are blocked, elided, or destroyed? What about the resurgence of a kind of iconoclasm—the annihilation of the image? Such an assault on the visual was apparent when stark video footage of Eric Garner being arrested and put in a choke hold in Staten Island, New York, seemingly made no difference in the case against the police who killed him; and it was all too clear when, just before this issue went to press, the artists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo in Paris were the victims of horrifying violence.
    Here, art historian DAVID JOSELIT takes up the case of Garner and its challenge to the very concept of visual evidence or representation—and its denial of images and objects as evidence of fact. Joselit considers the possibility of critical and artistic practices that may counter such failures of representation, instead staging a refusal of representation—a refusal perhaps nowhere more potent than in the performances of WILLIAM POPE.L, whether the artist is literally ingesting and expelling information, in Eating the Wall Street Journal, 1991–2000, or, in Foraging (Asphyxia Version), 1993–95/2008, covering his head with a white plastic bag that he clutches tightly below his chin. Is this act of self-erasure a gesture of annihilation, as the word asphyxia suggests, or is it a strategic subtraction of the body from a sphere in which that body cannot be represented anyway—cannot be visible or evident, or is subject to censure and repression?

    THE FAILURE IN DECEMBER 2014 of a Staten Island grand jury to indict the policeman who choked Eric Garner, an African American man accused of selling loose cigarettes on the street, delivered another kind of indictment: an indictment of post-Conceptual art. If the excruciating video showing Garner seized and relentlessly piled on by the police could not convince a jury, how can forms of aesthetic critique based on research and visual evidence be any more effective with a general public? While the life-and-death exigencies of American race politics should not be glibly equated with art’s more

  • Karin Higa. Photo: Russell Ferguson.
    passages January 24, 2014

    Karin Higa (1966–2013)

    CRITICISM AND SCHOLARSHIP that makes a difference grows out of palpable conviction—a belief that the stakes of an art practice go beyond professionalism, expertise, and mastery of a subfield. Karin Higa’s exhibitions and essays possessed that special quality. In part this is because her path-breaking curatorial projects like “The View from Within: Japanese American Art from the Internment Camps, 1942-1945,” 1992, bore links to her own heritage as a Japanese American. But such biographical connections aren’t sufficient to explain the special intensity Higa had as a leader in the field of contemporary

  • Thomas Eggerer, Rodeo, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 79".


    IN THOMAS EGGERER’S RECENT PAINTINGS, figures enter thickets of agitated brushstrokes and zones of candy color, impossible landscapes of painterly marks. These figures appear in two distinct ways: as cutouts, dislocated from the canvas by a narrow, encircling border of contrasting color; and as pentimenti, palimpsests of drawn and redrawn human contours emerging out of (or falling back into) fields of paint. But cutouts and pentimenti could not be more different. They represent two opposing poles in the possible relation between a figure and a ground. The first strategy suggests alienation, as

  • View of “Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde,” 2012–13, Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Thomas Griesel


    WHAT IS THE PROPER UNIT of measurement in exhibiting the history of a global art world? Is it the individual artist, shuttling between her place of origin and various metropolitan centers while participating in exhibitions throughout the world? Or are movements better building blocks? After all, mobility is built into the very term movement. Tendencies such as Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, and Fluxus, to name only a few modern examples, encompassed networks even as they affirmatively called those networks into being by putting philosophical positions and corollary aesthetic formats into wide

  • Hyo Sook Sung’s “Learning Council” workshop, Hanjin Heavy Industries labor union office, Busan, South Korea, September 5, 2012.

    the 2012 Busan Biennale

    WHAT KIND OF EXHIBITION might reestablish art’s capacity to engage in, even generate, a genuine public sphere? This is asking a lot, of course: Assembling artworks that thematize various forms of injustice does not necessarily meet the challenge (and exhibitions that do often simply preach to the converted), nor does the arch form of “participation,” wherein experiences are preplanned for compliant viewers, and which characterizes the worst of relational aesthetics. In fact, one of the biennial format’s most nefarious effects (whether intended or not) is to simulate social benefits—such as

  • Gregory Battcock at the release party for Andy Warhol’s The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B & Back Again), New York, September 10, 1975. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images.


    IN APRIL 1970, Gregory Battcock appeared in his underwear on the cover of Arts Magazine, the publication he would briefly lead as editor some three years later. Like “Andy Warhol’s Travel Piece,” the three-page spread it announces, the cover’s design, credited to Warhol, looks unfinished. Battcock is pictured in a Polaroid photo, its black jacket still attached, which has fallen at an informal angle on the gridded layout form used for the magazine’s pasteup. In the midst of this arch disarray, the critic—a notoriously handsome, sexually voracious bon vivant who was particularly fond of