Rosalind E. Krauss


    Eleven scholars, critics, writers, artists, and architects choose the year’s outstanding titles.


    Miriam Bratu Hansen completed Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (University of California Press) shortly before she died last year after a long illness. A summa of her life’s work, this magisterial book is a gift—and a must—for anyone interested in critical theory’s engagement with film, media, and mass culture; there is no other study like it. The book’s ultimately discarded working title, “The Other Frankfurt School,” pointed to


    IN A SHORT VIDEO made to accompany FILM, her 2011 piece for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London, Tacita Dean begins by describing the making of The Green Ray, 2001. The title alludes to the last flash of light from the setting sun—which is “just slower than the red or the yellow ray.” To capture this elusive aura, often witnessed by sailors, she watched the sunset off the west coast of Madagascar. Positioning her camera, loaded with its spool of celluloid, she began the exposure and waited. As the sun disappeared under the horizon, Dean “believed but was never sure” she saw a flash

  • William Kentridge’s Norton Lectures

    THE DRAFTSMAN SWIPES his stick of charcoal over his paper sheet, then doubles back for the next stroke, the heel of his hand passing over the initial line to smear it into a shadow behind the ridge of itself. The projection of a shadowy space behind the physical furrow of the contour leaves no doubt that drawing is illusion, even as the line sits atop the page as affirmation of its material presence, its reality. The lesson of the smeared line is that the artist cannot sharply distinguish his own material from its projection into a fictive space “underneath” its profile.

    The importance of such

  • Rosalind E. Krauss

    IN 1994, shortly after “Cy Twombly: A Retrospective” opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I had the honor of being conducted through the show by its curator, Kirk Varnedoe. Tracing the works’ progression from the painterly abstraction of the early ’50s to Twombly’s signature style of aggressive graffiti etched into grounds of cream-colored gesso, we came to the 1957 canvas titled Olympia, the name of its dedicatee prominently scrawled in black. Varnedoe told me he had hung the exhibition with Twombly at his side, and that the artist had pointed out to him the almost invisible verb

  • the best books of 2003


    Though photography was first believed to entail the death of painting, early photographs presented viewers with a dead world: Objects could be rendered with clarity only under the conditions of nature morte. Unlike paintings, which were able to depict the fact that, say, horses were in motion, the camera could capture animals only when immobile. Eadweard Muybridge’s achievement in 1872—thirty-three years after photography’s invention—was to bring the new medium abreast of painting by depicting the fact that a live horse was in motion. Muybridge had taken an important

  • Daniel Buren

    From the opening salvo of his mammoth exhibition “Le Musée qui n’existait pas” at the Centre Georges Pompidou—a giant square of red-and-white-striped canvas hung in the entry forum—one had the feeling that, unlike the Museum that hadn’t existed, this is the Daniel Buren that always was. Not only were the artist’s signature stripes everywhere to be seen, reflected by a seeming infinity of mirrors on walls and ceilings, but the “cabane éclatée” (exploded shack), Buren’s anti-architectural ploy, was the material support for the parodic museum. A labyrinthine network of shantylike cubicles, all

  • Alberto Giacometti

    For those who have never been to the Giacometti Foundations in either Zurich or Basel, the current retrospective at the Museum of Modem Art is filled with riches: Many of the plaster works never translated into wood or bronze, nor ever seen outside Switzerland because of their extreme fragility, are now assembled with the Modern’s walls. By insisting on these works, which are shown in force, the exhibition seems intent on righting the wrong done so consistently to Giacometti when scholars and critics extract the artist from the milieu of his contemporaries (such as Brancusi or André Breton) to

  • the Nasher Collection

    Touted as the greatest collection of twentieth-century sculpture in private hands, the Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, now playing at the uptown Guggenheim, has everything from masterpieces of the medium to “chocolate bunnies.” (For those out of the loop, chocolate bunny is an expression of contempt for a work that is not only cast posthumously but drawn from a sur-moulage, a mold taken from the outside of an existing, finished work rather than from a plaster matrix intended for the purpose. The Julio González Woman with a Mirror, handily cast in bronze by the artist’s estate in 1980 from

  • Whole in Two

    I like to repeat an image in another medium to observe the play between the two: the image and the medium.

    —Jasper Johns to Christian Geelhaar1

    I MUST HAVE READ IT on an airplane since that’s the only occasion I ever have to see Time magazine. I remember my indignation over what I viewed as Robert Hughes’ dismissal of Jasper Johns, his complaint that, though Johns had invented some “memorable iconic images,” still, “there have not been very many of these.” This seemed to have been what he took away from Johns’ retrospective in 1977: a repetitiveness that was merely fussy, as “lithography enabled


    The possibility of a new taxonomy for the art of this century, most especially an unruly one, carries with it a strong charge, a genuine kick. It’s doubly appealing when it promises to thrust aside a dominant, seemingly unquestionable presupposition and bring its repressed opposite into full view, not just as a theoretical hypothesis, but as an unsuspected historical reality for decades. Of all the art-historical insurgencies against the high ideals of Modernism, then, few seem so radical or so far-reaching in their ambition to turn the tables as the Centre Georges Pompidou’s summer 1996 exhibition “L’Informe: mode d’emploi” (The formless: instructions for use). Taking as its paradigm Georges Bataille’s enigmatic postulation of the informe—a term that admits of no definition, defies definitions as such, even denies essentially that things have “definition”—the show subverts the presumed sine qua non of art, the making of form, with a shift to an art predicated on form’s undoing. That some two hundred pieces of evidence should be laid out in a manner that squelches such habitual curatorial principles as style, period, oeuvre, and theme is a mere by-product of the informe’s declassifying power. The exhibition functions instead by way of the informe’s “instructions for use,” a set of “operations,” permeable and provisional, proposed to do violence as much to the precepts of Modernism as to form itself.
    The show’s cocurators are Rosalind Krauss, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University, and Yve-Alain Bois, Joseph Pulitzer Jr. Professor of Modern Art at Harvard. If their credentials are academic, their loosing of the informe on artistic practice, discernible in their work for a number of years, is decidedly not. From Passages in Modern Sculpture to The Optical Unconscious, from her contributions to Artforum in the ’60s and ’70s to the founding and stewardship of October, Krauss’ repudiation of Clement Greenberg’s formalist line has permitted her to observe the evolution of contemporary art, to nab it and tag it, with a Darwinian precision and intelligence. Her rereading of Modernism in its reciprocal relations with contemporary production, especially via the paradigm of “the photographic,” has made her contemporary art criticism’s principal force to contend with. Carrying commensurate European intellectual baggage of the post-Structuralist/October variety, Bois has been more closely associated with the austere regions of abstraction: Constructivism, Mondrian, Barnett Newman. Yet the vision of painting’s capacity to induce thinking expressed in his Painting as Model no doubt explains the resilience with which he has encountered Lucio Fontana’s expressionism, or with which he has passed from abstraction to the issue of noncom-position. Both Krauss and Bois have indicated that Bataille’s informe surfaced in their work at first because of its heuristic interest. With “L’informe: mode d’emploi,” it now designates a corpus, as well as a grid for reading it.

    LAUREN SEDOFSKY: You’ve chosen as the title of your show “L’Informe.” The word is untranslatable, indefinable, opaque. Is this a form of provocation?

    YVE-ALAIN BOIS: In a way it is. The word’s untranslatable, but you can find approximations: formless or formlessness. But it’s not a concept. Indeed, it’s an anticoncept. Were you to define it as a concept, it would be the concept of undermining concepts, of depriving them of their boundaries, their capacity to articulate the world. It’s provocative in the sense that we wanted to undo some categories, and we recognized the capacity of the informe


    ALTHOUGH I HAD MET GEORGES DIDI-HUBERMAN some years before and was already an admirer of The Invention of Hysteria, his book on the Salpêtrière photographs, I didn’t really get to know him or to have a sense of his extraordinary range until the fall of 1983, when we both participated in a photography symposium at the University of Liège. Lodged with a faculty family just off campus, the two of us found ourselves over the course of several days breakfasting and talking and laughing together in the wan sunlight of this fanatically neat house, before trudging off to the lectures, most of which

  • Cy’s Up

    WHO’S RIGHT? So who’s right, do you think? Roland Barthes, or all the others who’ve written about Cy Twombly—all those for whom the Latin is serious, to be taken at face value, consumed as erudition, as classical humanism somehow magically surviving amidst the barbarism of the late 20th century, a talismanic flower sprouting from a decaying Roman wall? Here that view is in its most sick-making, obsequious form, written by Twombly’s assiduous art-historical amanuensis, the Heiner Bastian who is compiling the catalogue raisonné of the paintings, the drawings, the sculptures, the prints. Bastian

  • Michel, Bataille, et Moi, and I

    IN 1927 MIRÓ MADE a picture of himself strolling at night in Paris, accompanied by Michel Leiris and Georges Bataille. Or, if “making a picture” is something of a misstatement of how they appear in this painting, he inscribed the following words on a loose, umber wash: “Musique,” in the upper left; “Seine” in the middle; and then, along the lower right—presumably at the spot where the riverbank would be—the three walkers: “Michel, Bataille, et moi.

    Yet if Miró thus indelibly inscribed the name of Bataille into his art, no writer on that art—up until the present exhibition at MoMA—has ever

  • Cindy Sherman’s Gravity: A Critical Fable

    FIRST THE STORY and then the moral. That the story itself concerns a specific act of art criticism attests to the fact that what I understand as the point of this exercise is neither the universally shared nor even the preponderantly held view of the matter.

    Earlier this year I agreed to contribute to a projected book on Cindy Sherman. Having spent some time with the work, I then reviewed the critical literature, which divides, roughly, into three groups. First there is the writing of the early and mid ’80s, when Sherman’s art was received in relation to the initial theorizing of post-Modernism.

  • Corcoran Biennial

    One way of thinking about the divide between documentary and fiction is that with fiction all questions raised by the work—the way behavior is motivated, the way a character’s language ultimately forms symbol systems, the aptness of place and time to the circuit of action—are resolvable only in terms of the work; the work itself generates tests for the relevance of the demands we might make on it. But the documentary situates itself within an entirely different and opposite mode of questioning: a recording of events that leads one outward towards ever widening circles of inquiry about the grounds

  • Brancusi and the Myth of Idea Form

    Thus filming is nothing other than apprehending the event as well as its sign, and apprehending it at the precise moment at which, gently in a scene from Lola, brutally in a scene by Fuller, cunningly in a Bunuel image, or logically in a sequence from Rossellini’s Voyage en Italie, the meaning is born freely from the sign which conditions and predestines it.

    —Jean-Luc Godard

    LOOKING AT BRANCUSI’S A MUSE is like looking at an object in fission, or an object split between two modes of being. It is like looking at water on two sides of the wall of a dam: on the one side the body of water seems stable

  • On Frontality

    IN 1964 KENNETH NOLAND PROPELLED the symmetrically ranged tiers of color in his chevron paintings off axis. And this departure from lateral symmetry was greeted with some excitement by the audience committed to his art and convinced of his growing importance as a major painter. The excitement was obviously generated by the paintings themselves; but it was linked as well to a rhythm of response that is extended by each new experience with ambitious painting. Before a group of works which mark a real departure from a previously established format, one faces more than a new look in a painter’s

  • Sol Lewitt

    Behind Sol Lewitt’s latest sculpture, 46 Three-Part Variations on 3 Different Kinds of Cubes, lurks the idea that even though the individual elements from which works of art are built are in themselves empty and meaningless, they are not irretrievably so. With enough vigilance and enough rigor one can render them meaningful by making them integers of a logical system—a system whose own lucidity will permeate the lifeless skin of otherwise dead forms, filling them with meaning. Faced with the sculptural poverty of LeWitt’s work, one tends to think of 19th-century academic painting, where it was

  • James Brooks

    The surfaces of the paintings by James Brooks, at the Martha Jackson Gallery, the product of the past two years, carry the imprint of Pop color and technique like an infection which has dried their skin and hardened it into rigid inexpressiveness. Colors like blue verging on aqua, flesh tan, acid green and black predominate, and Brooks’s paint-handling—which isolates shapes by filling in dark grounds around areas of lighter color—makes the figures and grounds seem not so much the result of drawn or stroked paint as the slightly unsynchronized deposit of color in a silk-screen lithographic stencil

  • Soulages

    The viscous cuisine of Soulages’ old work has given way in the new to thinner washes of oil that invoke the muse of stain painting in a particularly gratuitous gesture towards being up to date. Nothing else has changed. In his current show, we are still given the same representations of gothic architecture with the same shafts of inspirational white light piercing the gloom of the same interior spaces. The wish to defeat drawing (with its inevitable reference to three dimensional masses in conventional illusionistic space) that was present at the birth of stain painting is absent from Soulages’