Thomas Crow


    JOHN BALDESSARI was renowned as a teacher. His example restored to that title the honor it merits in the annals of art. Even after his era-defining tenure at the California Institute of the Arts, he never ceased to offer lessons both to his viewers and to himself. 

    He stood out from his celebrated contemporaries for having achieved his deserved stature after many years in provincial obscurity, supporting a young family on the teaching jobs that came to hand near his San Diego home: high school, community college, and adult extension classes, and one summer stint at a rural camp working with


    Andy Warhol’s works, persona, and entourage never lose their currency. Every new cohort discovers the style and sensibility of the Factory as if they had been minted yesterday. That phenomenon makes the major retrospective at the Whitney this fall as much a ritualized return as a recapitulation of the receding past. But history will be present in abundance, a wealth of new knowledge and ideas having accumulated since the last such exercise. Whitney deputy director and senior curator Donna De Salvo’s own landmark exhibition of

  • “Outliers and American Vanguard Art”

    “OUTLIERS AND AMERICAN VANGUARD ART” has long been in preparation by Lynne Cooke, former deputy director and chief curator of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, who assumed the post of senior curator for special projects in modern art at the NGA during the run-up to the show. Her research has been far-reaching, and the exhibition aims to resolve some of the ambiguities that have bedeviled a category that still bears no agreed-upon name.

    Cooke’s title settles for “outliers,” but the exhibition’s advance publicity runs the lexical gamut from “folk” to “self-taught” to “outsider”

  • “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts”

    Twenty-five years have passed since the last Nauman retrospective traversed the Western world like a rock icon on a months-long tour. This time around, the two organizing hosts—the Schaulager in Basel and the Museum of Modern Art in New York—will give a new generation the chance to see more than a half century of overwhelmingly influential work in nearly every conceivable medium. Former MoMA associate director Kathy Halbreich, who co-organized the 1993–95 caravan, leads the curatorial team in the

  • “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959–1971”

    IN THE PRESENT-DAY REALM OF ART, confusion proliferates between public and private, between profit and nonprofit. Commercial galleries mount loan shows that would distinguish any museum, while museums mortgage themselves in the service of privately amassed collections, and collectors rebrand their possessions as museum holdings. Entangled interests make for endless ethical quandaries. But the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, has mounted an indispensable exhibition that celebrates a collector and commercial gallery, yet revives disinterested probity as an example for our current moment.

  • Robert Rauschenberg

    When this Tate retrospective opens, it will have been nearly two decades since the last such effort: the sprawling megashow mounted by the Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1997. Ushered in by Walter Hopps’s extraordinary exhibition focused on Rauschenberg’s earliest career, at the institution’s downtown branch, the 1990s effected an enduring place for the artist among the greats of the later twentieth century. Subsequent projects, such as the Metropolitan’s exhaustive presentation of the Combines, have ramified the artist’s interpretative exhibition

  • Frank Stella

    A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBITION presupposes an identifiable individual as the author of its contents. The philosopher Mark Johnston, however, cautions that we may place too much weight on this commonsense apperception where the issue of selfhood in any profound sense is concerned: “We do not find much evidence that in tracking objects and persons through time we are actually deploying knowledge of sufficient conditions for cross-time identity.” What permits us to assume on the basis of intermittent exposure to any physical person, he asks, that there is in fact a continuing self that coherently links

  • “Conceptual Art In Britain: 1964–1979”

    There was a time during the 1970s when a number of American artists sought to align themselves with the distinctly British variant of Conceptual art. These were the days of Art & Language in New York, a congregation that ballooned to several dozen members before dissolving in some acrimony—after which British Conceptualism dropped into something of a memory hole, even in the home country. “Conceptual Art in Britain” will provide an opportunity to relive this moment with hundreds of archival documents and seventy-odd works by


    WHAT COULD BE MORE ICONIC than Michael and Bubbles, or Cicciolina’s white garter, or that raptor-like stainless-steel bunny and that engorged balloon dog? In reality, everything and nothing: The creator of these entities never simply adopts the generic symbols of our time but produces ciphers and substances that seem perpetually new and forever foreign, despite the hyperbolic fame they may acquire. Perhaps the most influential—and controversial—artist of our time, JEFF KOONS makes things that stay strange.
    On the occasion of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s major survey of his work, the first that Koons has enjoyed in his adopted hometown, Artforum asked art historian and critic THOMAS CROW to assess the exhibition’s synoptic view, while six artists, each from a generation after Koons’s, reflect on his outsize impact—an effect that is strikingly polemical and everywhere felt but difficult to pin down.

    IN ITS FINAL MONTHS on Madison Avenue, the Whitney Museum of American Art has signed off with two exhibitions of distinctly contrasting character. For the last Biennial in the Marcel Breuer edifice, the museum dispersed and outsourced its organization to three curators, each of whom mounted a crowded show on one of three floors. Reviewing the exhibition in these pages, Helen Molesworth found that this multiplication of personnel seemed to reduce rather than augment the curatorial acumen in evidence: Where, she wondered, have all the sight lines gone?

    No such doubts attend the succeeding show,

  • Jeff Koons

    NO MUSEUM BUILDING, in spite of many recent efforts by ambitious architects, matches in iconic status Marcel Breuer’s sculptural Whitney Museum of American Art on Madison Avenue. For its final summer before moving to much-expanded quarters downtown, the museum will both honor its long tenure in a remarkable home and showcase one of those rare artists whose body of work is up to the job of filling the entire structure. The exhibition “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective”—organized by Whitney curator and unrivaled Koons scholar Scott Rothkopf—will do just that.

    Koons has arguably succeeded in

  • Thomas Crow

    THE 2013 VENICE BIENNALE set the scene for two capital lessons in the history of art. In order of historical time, the first took place at the Palazzo Ducale, amid the usual hordes visiting the chambers of state, in an exhibition devoted to Édouard Manet. The show itself (“Manet: Return to Venice”) may have been no landmark, but it made real the most often repeated slide comparison in the teaching of art history: Side by side, in unprecedented juxtaposition, were Manet’s Olympia from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and Titian’s Venus of Urbino from the Uffizi in Florence.

    This was a meeting that the

  • Thomas Crow

    THIS PAST WINTER, the Hunter College art program mounted “Notations: The Cage Effect Today” in its Times Square Gallery on far-west Forty-First Street. For an exhibition in honor of a composer who chose Silence as the title of his collected writings, the cacophony of traffic rumbling and screeching in the lee of the Port Authority Bus Terminal seemed both contradictory and entirely apposite. The visitor, rattled by the abrasive sonic events on the exterior, gladly surrendered to the relative peace of the gallery’s grotto-like spaces, into which the racket outside entered as the sort of randomized

  • Thomas Crow on Philip Leider’s “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

    A SNAPSHOT taken of Artforum in 1965 would have yielded a split and contradictory image. In the recollection of New Yorker Mel Bochner, the upstart Los Angeles publication had undergone a palpable shift in tone over its short period of existence: “They were no longer, by that point, about younger California artists,” he recalls thinking. “It was more about the ‘scene.’ I remember one feature, Dennis Hopper photographs, of Jasper Johns, Henry Geldzahler and Andy Warhol. They were almost like fashion magazine photos.”¹ While the style of the piece and the identity of the photographer may have

  • Cindy Sherman

    IN THE ANGLO-AMERICAN museum world, this past winter might well have been called the season of the portrait. That theme announced itself in London, at the National Gallery’s incomparable Leonardo exhibition, in which the gathering of portrait subjects scattered from Paris to Krakow upstaged even the epochal pairing of the Louvre’s Virgin of the Rocks with its London replica. A month later in New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened “The Renaissance Portrait from Donatello to Bellini,” an assembly of fifteenth-century images that brought to an extraordinary semblance of life its cast of


    To better survey the manifold sites of postwar art in Los Angeles, Artforum invited art historians THOMAS CROW and ANDREW PERCHUK, curators MAURICE TUCHMAN and ALI SUBOTNICK, and gallerist HELENE WINER to join in conversation with artists JOHN BALDESSARI, HARRY GAMBOA JR., and LIZ LARNER—a group whose experiences span five decades and some of the most vibrant, vital scenes in the city. Critic and scholar RICHARD MEYER and Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO moderate.

    Michelle Kuo: We all know the myth: “The Cool School,” coined by Philip Leider himself in these pages [Summer 1964]. Leider was speaking of a “new distance,” a remove, which he saw manifested in the adamantine surfaces of the work of the Ferus Gallery artists and which came to stand for LA culture as a whole. But how might we attend to art in LA now, without reducing it to the same clichés about regional or even outsider production that persist, rather astonishingly, in many exhibitions, in much of the literature, and certainly in the market?

    How might we attend to the relationship—if any—between

  • Thomas Crow

    A COLOR PHOTOGRAPH by Hans Namuth from around 1964 shows Mark Rothko alone in his Amagansett summer studio seated in an Adirondack chair, facing away from the camera. His regard is fixed on a painting in smoldering russet hues that leans against another smaller canvas turned toward the wall; to his right, suspended by two cords from a roof beam, hangs a canvas of similar size but painted in dark pigments approaching black. No other work is visible.

    That image will be newly familiar to some thousands of theatergoers who attended performances of Red, the two-character play by John Logan that began


    Only a handful of modern thinkers have had so profound an impact on our understanding of the world as Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose revelatory application of linguistic theory to the field of anthropology—in tracts such as The Elementary Structures of Kinship (1949), Tristes Tropiques (1955), and The Raw and the Cooked (1964)—gave birth to a structuralist model that forever transformed the studies of art history and literature, psychology and sociology. In the opening decades of the twenty-first century, his rethinking of global cultures and circuits of exchange has never been more relevant. When Lévi-Strauss died this past October, at the age of one hundred, we asked art historian THOMAS CROW, anthropologist MICHAEL TAUSSIG, and cultural theorist SYLVÈRE LOTRINGER to consider his life and legacy. Taussig’s contribution appears below. For Crow and Lotringer’s considerations, pick up the April issue of Artforum.

    MY MOST DISTINCT MEMORIES of Claude Lévi-Strauss and the structuralist earthquake he introduced in the United States shortly before I first arrived here as a lecturer in 1971 are these:

    A youngish man from the art school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in my regular café, engrossed day after day in a book called Structuralism (by Jean Piaget, as I later learned). Not much of a memory, you say, but the intensity of that young man’s concentration sticks in my mind, emblematic of the extraordinarily exciting, almost religious passion then sweeping the University of Michigan campus. No one really knew or

  • Charles Harrison

    CHARLES HARRISON may be the most important writer on modern art whom a good many readers of this magazine will never have encountered. As an accolade, that is indeed far too qualified: Harrison was one of a small handful of writers by whose standard the best art writing of our time will be judged. His death on August 6 at age sixty-seven, after a struggle with cancer, cut short a life of profound engagements with both art history and the contemporary practice of art.

    The shape of his commitments and career diverged from the patterns of his few peers in ways that may account for the limited currency

  • Thomas Crow

    “VENICE IS THE OSCARS,” says Tirdad Zolghadr, curator of the United Arab Emirates pavilion in this year’s Venice Biennale, in one video component of his installation. Or, rather, he said it some months ago at a press conference announcing the pavilion, the transcript of which was recorded by British and American actors and then lip-synched by two others portraying Zolghadr and the UAE-pavilion commissioner, Lamees Hamdan. Visitors to the opening experienced this in real time as part of a performance by Freiburg, Germany’s Jackson Pollock Bar, a troupe that specialize in ventriloquized restagings

  • diary July 24, 2009

    Hopps, Skips, and Jumps

    New York

    A WARM, HIGH-SUMMER EVENING IN THE CITY found a good proportion of New York’s first-tier museum directors and curators present at the Guggenheim to hear a conversation with peripatetic Swiss curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, currently codirector of the Serpentine Gallery in London. Lisa Phillips, Glenn Lowry, and Thelma Golden were among those paying this compliment to their visiting colleague. (One important local director, who arrived without a ticket, was turned away from the sold-out event.) They and the quietly attentive crowd were rewarded with a rapid-fire but softly spoken seminar by Obrist,