Jean Fisher

  • John Baldessari

    Of the work that falls under the rubric of “conceptualism,” John Baldessari’s has been among the most consistent and exemplary in terms of the attitudes that structured art during the late ’60s and ’70s. For this reason, a present view of his work allows us to reflect upon both the contribution that conceptualism has made to an understanding of art and our relationship to it, and something of its ultimate limitations.

    Among the most characteristic qualities of Baldessari’s work has been its “chasteness” and “humanism.” Making no claims to be other than what they present, and cognizant of the

  • Barbara Kruger

    The application of a “semiotic” analysis to the relationship between word and photographic image was intrinsic to the vocabulary of much American and European art of the ’70s. While some artists, like John Baldessari, played off the codes of the media to create a “slippage” of the image’s meaning, others, like Hans Haacke or Victor Burgin, drew on the practices of orthodox photography, advertising, and the bureaucratic agencies. The work brought to the surface the manipulative power of these usages of representation; it remained for feminist discourse to draw the construction of subjectivity in

  • Robert Longo

    While Barbara Kruger’s reference to the corporate image is filtered through an ironic wit and occasional poetic insight, it is disappointing to see that no such mitigating qualities can be claimed for Robert Longo’s work; it is the corporate image, the contemporary equivalent of late-Victorian civic sculpture in its naive eclecticism, sentimental melodrama, and grandiose materiality. Indeed, the work’s subject matter is ultimately so inconsequential that it becomes primarily “about” materiality and objectness, not in the Modernist terms of their intrinsic qualities but in those of their insistent


    The dreamer does not know that he is dreaming . . .

    —Christian Metz1

    TO WHAT MAY WE ATTRIBUTE our fascination for the image, a pleasure whose object is not the image itself but something of the order of phantasm, whose home is that realm of the inscrutable: the unconscious? It is amongst the perversities of the Alfred Hitchcock film that it allows us a glimpse of that which is not readily visible, as a shadow passing across a veil. Of all the director’s films it is Vertigo (1958), obsessive, subterranean, and fabulous, which is constructed around this psychic fascination; it is this tension of

  • Carnival Knowledge, “The Second Coming”

    Despite its seeming exoticism, pornography as a genre is distinguished by repetitiveness, by a limited range of characterization and narrative, and by a deadly seriousness. Since it is geared to prescribed expectations, it cannot describe what is outside the motor that thrusts toward sexual arousal. That in the Western tradition it privileges male phantasy over female is as important an issue, for what it reveals of the historical suppression, or even disavowal, of women’s phantasy life, as the more common debate on pornography’s reification and “violation” of the female body. “Could there be

  • Club 90

    Much of the argument against visual pornography centers on the presumption that it panders to the onlooker’s desire to objectify, to “possess” or “know” the object of vision, a form of ravishment which casts the woman, who has no way of parrying the look or of presenting her own desires, in the role of victim. This demanding gaze is not of course restricted to pornography, being intrinsic to our relation to photographic representation whatever the subject, but when the look aims specifically for sexual gratification, it exposes the Western ambivalence to the separation of sex from a socially

  • Sherrie Levine

    Our experience of most artworks is through reproductions—transparencies, photographs, magazine or book illustrations—and to an extent we unconsciously accept them as equivalent to the original. But what is the “truth” of an image? What constitutes the difference in psychological investment between an original artwork and that of its reproduced image—and what precisely does the latter reproduce? While Sherrie Levine’s is not the only work which invites us to consider these issues through the annexation of preexisting images, it is among the most austere, beginning with her presentation of

  • Gretchen Bender

    If Levine’s work reflects on the melancholy residues of the past, Gretchen Bender’s suggests a detached and dispassionate glance which bears no allegiance to cultural memory. The images she annexes include those of contemporary artists which form the cultural currency of the immediate present; they are so of-the-moment as to incorporate, in the small Untitled, 1983, the poster that accompanied Keith Haring’s show concurrent with her own.

    In this installation there was no painstaking craft, no framing or fetishization of the object. The images were produced by photomechanical or electronic

  • “Wild Style,” Written, Produced, And Directed By Charlie Ahearn

    As a tourist attraction the South Bronx has little going for it. Visitors to this poorly served, largely Hispanic and black community are likely to be sociologists or vote-seeking politicians with an entourage of bodyguards and TV cameras. In Wild Style, however, the media (in the shape of a rather self-conscious Patti Astor) comes to the South Bronx to report on some youthful phenomena, news of which is making waves in a WASP art world always on the lookout for new sensations. Wild Style is a celebration of the vitality that generated graffiti art, rap, and break dancing within an ethnic

  • Mac Adams

    Narrativity has been an element central to Mac Adams’ work since the photographic “Mysteries,” 1972–80. In these (usually) composite images Adams constructed mise-en-scènes based on typical crime fiction genres; objects “innocent” or without meaning in themselves, through their contexts, became clues or signs loaded with a sinister significance. A particular configuration of such signs—a disorderly bathroom, for instance—could be narrated as the afterimage of a criminal or violent act. The work spoke about the nature of interpretation, or, more specifically, about our desire to organize the

  • The Bad Sister

    Laura Mulvey’s and Peter Wollen’s film The Bad Sister, 1983, is a fantasy thriller based on a novel by Emma Tennant which was, in turn, a reworking of a 19th-century Gothic tale. Tennant switched the genders of the major protagonists, resulting in a narrative that came down in favor of the Devil/Vampire rather than God, contrary to the conventions of the original. In the film, Jane is the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy landowner. Along with her mother, she is disowned and expelled from his estates. She subsequently makes a new life in London, but becomes obsessed with memories of childhood,

  • Born In Flames

    Born in Flames is a feminist film which examines the cultural place of women from a sociopolitical rather than overtly psychoanalytical perspective. The action takes place in New York of the future, ten years after a socialist revolution. Although promises of women’s social equality have been made, they have not been realized. The mise-en-scène does not present a futuristic world of sci-fi fantasy (an implausible fiction), but one which is all too bleakly like the present—a lack of difference which is not wholly successful, since we must constantly be told, rather than be shown, that it is future