Max Kozloff

  • Max Kozloff on his “The Multimillion Dollar Art Boondoggle”

    WOE TO THE CRITIC who lets fly with absolutes! I occasionally did that, decades ago, alarmed that some then-current artistic tendencies might lead to repellent outcomes. A specialist in worry, I was capable of turning lamentation into kvetching, vitriol, and rant. Such was the case with “The Multimillion Dollar Art Boondoggle,” a piece I wrote for these pages in October 1971.

    In the event you don’t remember or never heard of an essay published forty-one years ago, let me say it was in protest of an exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, a show that presented the results of an

  • James Ensor

    AMONG THE FOUNDERS of modern Western art, James Ensor created work that stands out as an indictment of bourgeois society—to a point of scathing derision. While many advanced artists kept their distance from the subject of the tawdry capitalist present, he took it on. This was in the Belgian seaside resort of Ostend, in the 1880s, where Ensor painted in a studio above his family’s curiosity shop. There—still in his twenties—he developed an insolence of pictorial statement comparable to his anarchist sympathies in politics. Figures of authority were his special bêtes noires, while


    It is not enough to be exceptionally mad, licentious, and fanatical in order to win a great reputation; it is still necessary to arrive on the scene at the right time.


    Paparazzi are notoriously ruthless characters who trade in visual exposure and derision. In the photographs taken by Weegee for the New York tabloids of ca. 1935-45, those paparazzo effects of sensationalism and impudence are crossed with laughter, which destabilizes everything. Though his methods are often expeditious in themselves, they are so charged by conflicting drives as to produce strikingly incongruous

  • “Sunshine & Noir: Art In L.A. 1960–1997”

    Los Angeles artists enjoy the unique yet dubious privilege of living in the lap of mass culture. But if they feel proprietary toward the mythmaking machine of movies and television, their closeness has also encouraged a psychological remove from it. Though they often allude to frenzies on the screen, their central concern is with pop dramas of the mind. As a vehicle for our collective fantasies that give a less than social pleasure, the movie is to them as inevitable a theme as nature is to “landscapists.”

    Such an overview is offered by “Sunshine & Noir,” a deliberately potluck exhibition of Los


    IT WAS PROBABLY SOMETIME in 1963 that the founder of a struggling, funny-shaped, and at that point very new art magazine out of San Francisco came across the writing of a young critic in Art International whom he obviously decided he admired. That, at any rate, was the year John Irwin invited Kozloff to contribute to Artforum from New York. Though barely aware of the journal at the time (“I was in France on a Fulbright—I think a magazine with an odd format devoted to art had appeared before I left”), Max was delighted to do so. Decades passed, and publishers and editors came and went (Max himself serving as executive editor for a few years); today, Max Kozloff is surely the only writer regularly publishing in Artforum who would recognize John Irwin if he passed him on the street.
    Veritable tsunamis have broken and receded in art and art criticism since 1963, and Max has watched them wash in, and then out, with a certain curmudgeonly glee. Meanwhile he has stuck fiercely to the standards enforced by his own intelligence, by the rigorous care with which it is his habit to inspect the visual images that engage him, and by the searching way he combs his own responses to them. Max would probably frown at the idea that those responses should be grounded in any particular theoretical camp, and I think he feels this has put him out of step with a lot of the thinking that has been applied to art and photography during his lifetime. I also don’t think he minds. Call it the camp of Max: ferociously learned, voluminously wide-ranging, humanistic, tender at heart, but not at all forgiving of anything sensed as doctrinaire or narrow-minded. So far this camp has only one critic, and given Max’s views on simulations and simulacrums in art, I doubt he would tolerate cloning. Editorially if not scientifically speaking, this is a pity.
    Simultaneously elegant and stubborn, Max’s writing has appeared in most of the art and photo magazines I can think of and others besides, and he has published a civilized shelf—full of books (one of which, Lone Visions, Crowded Frames, has just been reissued by the University of New Mexico Press). But I first met him when he allowed me (at first rather begrudgingly, as I remember) to edit his articles for Artforum, and his conversation was one of the perks of employment there, so the magazine you are reading is the experience we share. A poltergeist that has haunted this publication for eons has been the mysteriously persistent impression that its text is impenetrable—technical, obscurantist, cabalistic. People seemed to enjoy floating that notion by me when I worked at the magazine, but if I challenged them on it, which I naturally tended to do, they would sometimes try to duck by pinning the blame on Artforum’s earlier history—at which point I usually found myself thinking, Now I know they’re bluffing: That was when Max was here! The essay I am honored to introduce shows how this critic’s writing has always worked: a challenging, closely argued statement, it has both breadth and style.
    David Frankel


    Twenty-one years ago, after having switched my field from art criticism to writing on photography, I started to make photographs as well, and in earnest. It afforded a surprised insight into the process from “behind” a medium I had previously regarded only from the front. But there was no reason that this new intimacy should require the sacrifice of a previous distance. I was beguiled by picture-making and attached to writing about the art of others. Why not—like a few colleagues—be responsible for both? Back then, one who let it be known that he simultaneously practiced an art and

  • “In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present”

    Photography brings us news of appearances, always; of events, often; and of personal approaches, sometimes. When considering “In/sight: African Photographers, 1940 to the Present,” at the Guggenheim, I was greeted by a spectrum of familiar genres with unexpected points of view. Instead of having to look from the “outside” at African subjects, a viewer was given perspectives from within their diverse cultures—and such interior horizons offered news to a Western public. Though some of its exhibitors have been shown in France and England, “In/sight” broke ground here, offering practically all its


    WHATEVER ELSE IT GAINED in the years following World War II, by the ’50s New York had lost some of its vitality and innocence. In the photographic record, the physical look of the city changed little, but its mood was much altered. Though the city’s retail buzz and signage were jazzier, its spirit was sadder. There remained little trace of the excited leveling and strut that had galvanized the city in the ’40s. Looking back at vintage shots of wartime New York, one got the impression that everyone then, of whatever origin, was engaged in a huge enterprise that united them in expansive defense

  • Gilles Peress’ Cajamarca, Peru, 1991

    IT HAS ALL, maybe more than I would want, from a photograph of this world. André Breton spoke of the beauty of the “convulsive,” a quality he didn’t necessarily associate with photographs, though the Surrealists liked them. Somewhere there exists a Surrealist map of the world, and Peru figures on it as a place alarmingly swollen in comparison with its neighbors, a Peru of the mind as well as the earth, and the site of this convulsive image.

    I first came upon it a few months ago, in a color Xerox made from a slide, one of about 20 such pictures shown to me by the photographer, Gilles Peress. He


    THOUGH WE USE, HANDLE, AND observe objects of every sort, with the widest range of feelings, they seem placid when set beside the channeled dread we have of corpses. The chief reason we can look at most inorganic objects without horror is that they never lived. That’s an odd way to consider things, I know, but human death puts it in mind. The pathos sometimes evoked by objects when abandoned or ruined stems from the mortality of those who lived with them, and is always associated with past lives. These objects act upon the mind as surrogate bodies, possibly charged with memories, but nothing to


    GONE ARE THE DAYS when artists in third world countries were helpless to define themselves except by their distance from the artistic center. For the center has lost faith in its centrality, and no longer knows how to lord it over a torrent of diverse inputs, as it once did through the graded culture of Modernism. That imperious belief system, based on a supposed transnational canon of forms, has been humbled—done in by both the runaway success of the ultra-American mass media, soaked up over the world, and the incoming waves of cultures from the colonized margins.

    Significantly, the outward


    But why are people so interested in ruins, unless there is a need to destroy an aesthetic order which has been dominant heretofore. Erotic energy aims at exciting cold violence. So long as this passion exists, ruins will exist all around you.

    —Arata Isozaki, 1988

    OF ALL THE WORDS we have to describe the thing: mob, throng, mass, horde, or swarm, each with its own inflections, the most social is the term “crowd.” After it decisively manifested itself as a revolutionary force, 200 years ago, the crowd in enlarged mercantile cities tended to be perceived as a phenomenon of spectacle. That


    THE LATEST, PERHAPS THE LAST of them, are still being erected grindingly in our cities. Despite their historical pedigree and kinship with old towers of every sort, particularly the grandfather of them all, the imagined Tower of Babel, we look upon the skyscrapers as our own: as the preeminent form Americans have contributed to building. Even decades ago, a place could hardly rate itself a city without them, and their symbolic cargo. Whether European or rural American, first-time visitors to the early skyscraper clusters in Chicago and New York were struck by an urban verticality that seemed to


    Surprised by his pictures of animals, you can almost gather how Peter Hujar, a curiously neglected but also legendary photographer, who died in 1987, would portray people, and that he would have a memorable feeling for them. His dogs, horses, goats are individuated and affecting characters. They have sniffed in his presence. Some of them pause while others seem almost to display themselves. John Berger has written, “No animal confirms man, either positively or negatively. . . . But always its lack of common language, its silence, guarantees its distance, its distinctness, its exclusion, from


    The friends who met here and embraced are gone, Each to his own mistake.

    —W. H. Auden

    TOWARD THE END of our 20th century, in a bleak public atmosphere of unremitting entertainment, many visual artists see themselves as locked in unequal combat with the smiling media. During its modern past, art has had to slip out from the grasp of decayed and repressive structures. It has pried open the grip of the salon or the academy, and of other, more recent state-sponsored cultural controls that have uncertainly continued to the present day, loosening in such traditional sites as Russia but tightening here.


    TOWARD THE END OF OUR CENTURY Walker Evans’ Images, Though Long Canonized, Jumpstart Our Moral Imagination. In Many Of Its Liabilities his America has not changed fundamentally, for all that the look of it has altered since the publication of his American Photographs by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1938, slightly over 50 years ago.1 Nothing dates a photograph more specifically, aside from the lettering that it may frame, than the cars that it depicts. Evans’ are inevitably of their bygone period. But we are still a chauvinist society, still a violent and a wasteful one, and still


    HAW ANYONE DWELT ON the peculiar thing about kissing? Here’s an intimate human act carried out between two partners whose lips are certainly puckered but whose eyes are also closed. The dictionaries fail to notice this detail, as if it were trivial, and inessential to the main action. However, at the moment they approach to kiss each other, in respect, greeting, departure, love, or comfort—those familiar social gestures—our fellow beings ritually blind themselves. As their mouths touch, rendering them speechless, they restrict their sensory input, becoming vulnerable to each other in all but


    Charity is always help that is offered too late, just as revolution is help offered too soon.

    –John Krich, Music in Every Room

    THERE WAS VERY LITTLE, in fact nothing material, that Mendel Grossman could have done to help his fellow Jews in the Lodz ghetto. Powerless, and at great risk from the Nazis, he chose to photograph the extremity of his people. Those few of his negatives and prints that have survived stand as an appeal to a future he was not to know. In serving to recall past events, photographs with this urgency also admonish us. It is as if we were being told that historical hardships


    EDGAR DEGAS ONCE CHAFED James McNeill Whistler, who wore a cape and sported a monocle, by saying, “My dear friend, you dress as if you had no talent.” Cecil Beaton adopted a similar pose during a career that enabled him to photograph Lillie Langtry in the beginning and Mick Jagger at the end. Unquestionably an artist of special refinement, he posed almost fatally as one who was ”artistic.” The pose has kept his name alive as a character who played various hothouse scenes in Mayfair, Hollywood, and among the Manhattan and Palm Springs hoi polloi of the Depression ’30s. The summer’s immense Beaton

  • Umberto Eco

    Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality trans. William Weaver (San Diego, New York, and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 307 pages.

    CONCERNED WITH REINCARNATIONS, SECOND GUESSES, unreasonable facsimiles, aftereffects, and mimicries, Umberto Eco is appropriately named. This professional distinguisher of signs from their signifieds readily admits that he practices semiotics, but the practice shouldn’t frighten anyone and he would still do it “if it were called something else” In this collection of essays he originally wrote for an Italian newspaper and magazine public, Eco gets involved with