David Sylvester

  • The art that inspired them in 2000

    Those of us who live and breathe contemporary art will hold to the idea that art does change, if not the world, then the way we live in it. But our “world” can be more insular than we care to admit. So to open our look back at 2000, we asked twenty-one “outsiders” we admire—from novelist J.G. Ballard to musician John Zorn—to tell us about the art that inspired them this year.

    Dave Eggers (novelist)
    About a year ago, I saw Marcel Dzama’s stuff in zingmagazine and fell madly in love. Then his show at David Zwirner just killed me. A hundred or so drawings (bears with handguns, whale-men

  • Carl Andre

    Since it is the mark of a truly great racehorse, or tennis player, to be able to win on any sort of surface, perhaps it’s the mark of a truly great artist to be able to prevail in any sort of space. If it is, Carl Andre has given proof of greatness in three recent exhibitions, at the Paula Cooper Gallery late last year, the Ace Gallery last spring, and the Musée Cantini in Marseilles this past summer—the first venue lofty and light and brand-new, the second a complex of catacombs, built in concrete but timeless, the third a beautifully proportioned and daylit period townhouse.

    Andre was one of

  • David Sylvester


    L’INFORME: MODE D’EMPLOI” (The formless: a user’s manual), at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, was one of the best theme exhibitions I have ever seen, one of the few that couldn’t have been done as a book or a film. The show’s intellectual interest was guaranteed, given that its curators were Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois, but what made it great was the visual spectacle—the freedom and audacity, as well as precision and quality, in the selection and placement of the works. In four sections loosely organized around Georges Bataille’s notion of “the formless”— “horizontality,”

  • Son of Cézanne

    THE TRANSPARENCY AND DELICACY of the Analytical Cubist style were largely used by its founders to transform solid, compact, often rather massive objects: clusters of houses; chunky trees; sturdy tables bearing bulky instruments or containers; single human figures shown head-and-shoulders or truncated to half- or three-quarters-length, so that they are firmly grounded. That is to say, though late Cézanne was the source of their style, Braque and Picasso evaded many of late Cézanne’s key motifs: stretches of land or water or sky; long tapering branches of trees; full-length figures; groups of

  • David Sylvester


    I saw so many remarkable exhibitions that I feel I must give prizes in three categories: dead artist, living artist, and theme show. In the first the winner is the MONDRIAN exhibition, which I saw at The Hague. This may be the best exhibition of 20th-century work not only of the year but also of the decade. I said my piece about it in these pages in October.

    For the living-artist category I choose GILBERT & GEORGE’s “The Naked Shit Pictures.” The South London Gallery became a chapel with two tiers of Renaissance frescoes in which the settings for the groupings of nude figures were



    Make It New
    Bruce Nauman retrospective, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles: Bad news from the studio, but real news nevertheless. Twenty-five years of pieces, each of which seems to have arisen out of a condition of sudden panic—out of the terror of not knowing, of having forgotten, willfully, day after day, what art is and what an artist might do—of having forgotten, even, what an artist is. A fountain? A source of mystic truths? A cruel instructor? A tortured clown? We get one brutal, last-ditch guess after another, and the whole practice of “artmaking” is reinvented, again


    USUALLY THE WORKS that are going to matter most to one, like the people who are going to matter most, start doing so as one first sets eyes on them. The work I’ve chosen to write about is a piece I managed to live with for many years without seeing anything very special in it, and this despite the fact that it’s by a painter whose art I normally respond to so immediately that when I’m in museums I use it like a drug. I would not, though, have bothered to go on living with this particular example had it not been for the circumstances in which I acquired it.

    It is a lithograph from an edition of

  • Walter Sickert

    THE TRAGIC FLAW in English painting is compromise, unwillingness to be committed to a point of view, a desire to have the best of two or more worlds (especially, in our time, a present and a past world). Wilson Steer tried a compromise between Impressionism, Constable and Gainsborough, Matthew Smith a compromise between Fauvism, Delacroix and the Venetians, Sutherland a compromise between Palmer and Picasso. It can have the most honorable causes—like excess of humility or excess of imagination. But it’s always a drag on development, because it prevents that carrying of one idea to an extreme