David Joselit

  • Jackson Pollock, The She-Wolf, 1943, oil, gouache, and plaster on canvas, 41 7/8 x 67. © Pollock-Krasner Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    SIGNAL PROCESSING: ABSTRACTION THEN AND NOW

    I. CONVERTIBLE SIGNS

    Jackson Pollock’s The She-Wolf, 1943, was the first painting one saw on entering “Abstract Expressionist New York” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York this past winter. As a compendium of signs, this canvas was an apt introduction—practically a manifesto—for a movement dedicated to producing signs that function as distinctive artistic “trademarks” and yet are open to multiple and sometimes infinite optical trajectories. In The She-Wolf, the layers of signification that Pollock would synthesize in his mature style remain distinct. A diagrammatic red arrow that

  • Hans Haacke’s “Weather, or Not”

    THE NAME HANS HAACKE has become synonymous with institutional critique. And with good reason—Haacke pioneered a singularly acute practice in which the economic and political conditions of art’s marketing and display function as an aesthetic medium. In this regard, his MoMA Poll of 1970 is exemplary: The artist asked museum visitors whether “the fact that Governor Rockefeller has not denounced President Nixon’s Indochina policy [would] be a reason for you not voting for him in November.” The question was far from innocent, given the Rockefeller family’s prominent role as founders and patrons of

  • David Joselit

    COMPUTERS ARE WIDELY CREDITED with transforming architecture: Digital tools have changed even the most basic day-to-day design practice, largely replacing the rigors of the drawing board with the screen’s more flexible capacities for spatial projection, and leading to an explosion of delirious abstract structures by such celebrity architects as Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Rem Koolhaas. But while these stand-alone sculptural monuments are exciting, they seem to contradict the fundamental conditions of the digital era, which is characterized by networked systems of distribution based not on

  • the politics of images

    I CAN THINK OF NO BETTER definition of celebrity than a widely circulating image derived from but not identical to a person—in short, an avatar. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama was criticized as just such an image. A notorious television ad likened him to celebrity-without-a-cause Paris Hilton and everyone, it seems, called him a rock star. In spite of the Republicans’ own strategy of wrapping their candidates in the guise of sainted POW and avenging hockey mom, the 2008 election pitted illusory, image-based “celebrity” against the “real” policies attributed to John McCain (and let’s

  • Michael Smith, Down in the Rec Room, 1979/1981. Performance view, Castelli Graphics, New York, 1980.

    “Mike’s World” and “Air Kissing”

    ANDY WARHOL went to a lot of parties. In Andy Warhol’s Party Book, posthumously published in 1988, he gives a good explanation why: “Sex and parties are the two things that you still have to actually be there for—things that involve you and other people.” This assertion occurred to me while visiting “Mike’s World: Michael Smith & Joshua White (and other collaborators),” a retrospective that was recently on view at the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas (and travels to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, in April). During the late 1970s and early ’80s, Michael Smith—an

  • Richard Serra

    RICHARD SERRA HAS BEEN HEADLINED in recent years by both the New York Times and the New Yorker as a “Man of Steel,” and indeed, like Superman, he seems to be everything to everyone. The most eminent art historians have brilliantly analyzed his art; he enjoys major commercial success; his work is in demand at museums worldwide; and his thrilling, architecturally scaled curvilinear sculptures have at least for the past decade been enormously popular among general audiences. Few contemporary artists have succeeded so well on so many fronts. Why Serra? The Museum of Modern Art’s “Richard Serra

  • images and sovereignty

    IN ORGANIZING “Manet and the Execution of Maximilian” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a recent exhibition that united all five representations by Édouard Manet of the notorious demise of Napoleon III’s puppet emperor of Mexico, curator John Elderfield intended an explicit if muted political gesture. As he writes in his catalogue introduction, “Some readers will wonder whether it is purely accidental that an exhibition and publication appearing in 2006 are devoted to works that depict the baleful consequences of a military intervention and regime change. It is not.” What was accidental

  • Jenny Holzer and “Consider This . . .”

    IF INFORMATION is supposed to be “public” property, Jenny Holzer’s redaction paintings, on view last spring at the Cheim & Read gallery in New York, offer a spectacle of its foreclosure. These works reproduce documents related to the persecution of war in Iraq—ranging from government memos to the sworn statements of soldiers—that are just as shocking for their copious deletion of names, phrases, and passages as they are for recounting atrocities in the bland idiom of bureaucratic forms. It is not surprising that a government that arrogates the right to review “private” streams of

  • Matthew Barney

    LIKE SO MANY ASPECTS of Matthew Barney’s practice, the title of “Drawing Restraint”—a series of works in several media that have occupied the artist since 1987—may be read in contradictory ways. Because the earliest of these works, included in a comprehensive retrospective this past summer at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, involved physical procedures (often redolent of the gymnasium or the rock-climbing wall) impeding the artist’s efforts at mark making, the title is generally understood to denote “restraints placed on drawing.” But drawing restraint also signifies the delineation, or

  • Thomas Hirschhorn

    GLOBALIZATION TYPICALLY CONNOTES the free circulation of capital and information across geographical boundaries. Thomas Hirschhorn knows better. His vision of globalization drags information through the mud: Images are humiliated, subject to cheap Xerox reproduction, rough mounting on cardboard, and ostensibly haphazard composition. This representational idiom rebuts the happy world of network connectivity envisioned by Microsoft or Google with a pestilential mess in which pictures engulf the viewer like sludge. Hirschhorn is a fan of Gilles Deleuze, but unlike many of the philosopher’s academic

  • Tacita Dean, Teignmouth Electron, Cayman Brac, 1999, color photograph, 35 x 26 3/4".

    Navigating the New Terrain: Art, Avatars, and the Contemporary Mediascape

    It’s the electric whisper bleeding from earphones in subway cars, and it’s the disarming experience of believing for a minute that the well-dressed guy talking to himself on the street is crazy—until you see his headset. Or it’s the zombie dance, visible through the glass enclosure of a video arcade, of two adolescent boys whose virtual adventure is being conducted through their actual movements on a platform in front of a screen. These are the symptoms of a new spatial order: a space in which the virtual and the physical are absolutely coextensive, allowing a person to travel in one direction

  • Clockwise from top left: World Trade Center burning after terrorist attack, New York, September 11, 2001. Photo: AP Photo/Patrick Sison. Paul Pfeiffer, John 3:16, 2000, still from a color video, approx. 2 minutes 7 seconds. Sidney Lumet, Network, 1976, still from a color film in 35mm, 121 minutes. Howard Beale (Peter Finch) and Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway). Thomas Eggerer, The Wisdom of Concrete, 2004, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 79".

    David Joselit on art and terror

    IN 1968 HENRI LEFEBVRE, former fellow traveler of the Situationists and occasional muse to the students of the May uprisings in Paris, wrote in Everyday Life in the Modern World, “A pure (formal) space defines the world of terror. If the proposition is reversed it preserves its meaning: terror defines a pure formal space, its own, the space of power and its powers.” Reading these lines in 2005 is both inspiring and confusing. How should we take up Lefebvre’s oxymoronic conjunction of terror and form in a post–9/11 world? My first answer is perverse and possibly distasteful: a simple affirmation