Yve-Alain Bois

  • Yve-Alain Bois

    MY FIRST THOUGHT, when I got the news of Ellsworth Kelly’s death, was that the world had suddenly gone dimmer. I could no longer expect the gush of joy that always engulfed me when discovering his most recent works in Spencertown, New York. But while it is true that he is no longer here to surprise us with utterly new twists and turns in his practice—which became ever more playful as he grew older—I soon realized that I had been wrong to think that way. For the work remains, and it remains as a rock of optimism no matter how grim the world becomes around us. It is to this constant

  • LIGHT REPAIRS: A ROUNDTABLE ON THE RESTORATION OF MARK ROTHKO’S HARVARD MURALS

    WHEN IS A PAINTING not a painting anymore?
     
    In 1962, Mark Rothko created the Harvard Murals, a set of six monumental paintings, five of which were displayed in the penthouse dining room of the university’s Holyoke Center, a windowed perch with stunning views. Deeply and delicately hued expanses, the canvases ranged in color from searing orange-red to light pink to dark purple. But in the decade that followed, continual exposure to daylight drastically changed the works, fading them so that some areas lightened to near white while others turned a dull black. Languishing in storage for many years, the works were thought to be beyond repair. But recently, a team of conservators and scientists made a new and unprecedented attempt to restore the pictures—not with pigment or chemicals but with light: For each canvas, they devised a highly complex colored-light projection that, when shone on the work, returns it to its original coloration. What we see is what was meant to be seen, ostensibly. But what are the risks of such an approach? Does the use of light open the door to virtual reality, to smoke and mirrors, turning the paintings into something else altogether? Or does it constitute a brilliant way of making the paintings viewable again, without so much as touching a thread of canvas?
     
    Conservator CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO, who worked on the project; curators HARRY COOPER and JEFFREY WEISS; art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS; Artforum editor MICHELLE KUO; and artists LYNN HERSHMAN LEESON, DAVID REED, KEN OKIISHI, and R. H. QUAYTMAN peer into the void.

    CAROL MANCUSI-UNGARO: Rothko’s Harvard Murals were installed in 1964, but after suffering differential damage, they were put in storage in 1979. They were included in a few exhibitions, two at Harvard and one traveling exhibition, but basically they hadn’t been seen or studied for decades.

    The murals are one of only three commissions that Rothko made. Scholars studied the Seagram paintings, and they studied the Rothko Chapel, but they largely skipped the Harvard Murals because hardly anyone had seen them. Most only knew the story about their fading and being removed from view. The works

  • TAKEN LIBERTIES: CHARLIE HEBDO

    IT SEEMS BOTH LONG AGO and only yesterday. The terrible attack on the Parisian journal Charlie Hebdo took place in January, but it both followed and has been followed by many all-too-similar events: The violence around and against speech shows no signs of stopping. All the more reason, then, to parse the complexity of polemical words and images, of the forms of discourse that are the toughest, the most incisive and the most puerile, the funniest and the worst—at the forefront of which lies Charlie Hebdo’s extreme political and cultural satire. Because Charlie remains one of the knottiest and most misunderstood of outlets, Artforum asked renowned French art historian YVE-ALAIN BOIS to reflect on the publication’s unstinting critical eye—its relentless interrogation of any and all figures of authority, its singular advancement of comics as an artistic and literary genre, and its implacable challenge to the silencing and censure that ceaselessly threaten our freedom.

    THE THING I FOUND perhaps most absurd in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre was to see comments, particularly in the American press, presenting the journal as racist and Islamophobic. Charlie Hebdo, racist? Only people who had never even leafed through the publication, much less read it, could possibly have had such an idea, unless the journal had dramatically changed since the years of my youth. Indeed, it is rather for its militant, absolutely constant anti-racism that I remember Charlie best. One of the most notorious characters invented by the cartoonist Cabu (Jean Cabut) was the

  • THE BEST BOOKS OF 2012

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

    ANTON KAES

    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

  • CLOSE-UP: LEAP YEAR

    TEMPORAL GAPS in cultural transmission can be quite puzzling. For various reasons—the market’s perennial thirst for new figures, the glut of academic research on American postwar art, the recognition of concordant aesthetic concerns by a younger generation of practitioners—interest in European art from the 1950s and ’60s has grown over the course of the past decade on this side of the Atlantic. Until very recently, however, only a few French artists active in those years had received much attention here. (Yves Klein has long been an exception, as has Daniel Buren, though his remarkable

  • Ed Ruscha

    For the cover of the catalogue of his first retrospective, at SF MoMA in 1982, Ed Ruscha chose to reproduce a 1979 pastel that bore the inscription I DON’T WANT / NO RETRO / SPECTIVE. Obviously, no museum director took him at his word.

    For the cover of the catalogue of his first retrospective, at SF MoMA in 1982, Ed Ruscha chose to reproduce a 1979 pastel that bore the inscription I DON’T WANT / NO RETRO / SPECTIVE. Obviously, no museum director took him at his word. Ruscha’s latest career survey concentrates solely on painting, allowing viewers, easily mesmerized by the artist’s extraordinary inventiveness in a variety of media, to reflect on the particular flavor of his pictorial output. Ruscha’s work has evolved at great speed since his 2005 Venice triumph, and this show of nearly eighty canvases (

  • “Georges Seurat: The Drawings”

    I DO NOT QUITE KNOW what to make of the Museum of Modern Art’s renewed insistence, ever since it reopened, on revisiting the nineteenth century. Holding onto a security blanket as it dives further into the confusing medley of contemporary art? Preparing for the kind of bold move that Bill Rubin used to advocate in private, when he suggested that the museum’s jurisdiction begin with the advent of modernism and end with that of “postmodernism,” whatever that is? Justifying a posteriori the museum’s definitive recanting, in the early 1950s, of Alfred Barr’s initial precept that works necessarily

  • Max Bill

    That this retrospective—which features some eighty paintings and thirty-odd drawings and sculptures dating from the late 1920s to 1980—is organized by the Kunstmuseum's extraordinarily clear-sighted director Dieter Schwarz should in itself prompt us to give Bill a second look.

    Max Bill once reigned as the supreme heir of the prewar tradition of (European) geometric abstract art. In recent decades, however, his name has evoked nothing but the sclerosis of that tradition, and the predictable failure of his utopian dream to unite art and science. But his oeuvre deserves revisiting: Bill's work is more complex than the image it projects and his career richer than is generally assumed (he was not only a painter and sculptor, but also an architect and designer—and even a member of the Swiss Parliament!). His accidental input into the development of

  • Charles Pollock

    Visiting Charles Pollock’s exhibition at Jason McCoy, Inc. one felt strangely intimidated in the presence of works that seemed to return us to a not-so-distant past that now feels completely foreign. Or maybe it is the other way around: Maybe it is the works themselves that are in exile today. They seem to belong to an art world that had not yet been swept up in concepts like the “art star,” to a time when grandstanding and networking were not yet mandatory for the making of an artist’s career. But maybe the modesty of these works, their reserve, was the artist’s reluctant response to the first

  • ADDRESS UNKNOWN: THE SCULPTURE OF HENRI MATISSE

    WHAT IS IT ABOUT MATISSE the sculptor that he should be forever haunted by the specter of Matisse the painter? Matisse is, to my mind, one of the most important (and modern) sculptors of the first half of the past century. Yet he has never been thought so—in part, perhaps, because he was not exactly boastful about this side of his production. Accordingly, the two major American exhibitions that have during the past twenty-five years concerned themselves with his sculpture have not quite seemed content to let it stand on its own, instead framing it in relation to his work in two dimensions. This

  • PIECE MOVEMENT: MARK WALLINGER’S STATE BRITAIN

    “IS THIS FOR REAL?” The tone of the question was a mixture of disgust, sarcasm, and self-righteousness, but it was uttered just loud enough to betray some outright anxiety. It stopped me in my tracks. I had just passed the smartly dressed, bejeweled young woman who asked it and her tuxedoed beau as they made their way through Tate Britain’s grand Duveen Galleries to the opening of a dreadful exhibition of recent bronze sculptures by the Chapman brothers. Turning around, I could not see her face, but only that her hands were extended in front of her in a protective gesture. She might simply have

  • Yve-Alain Bois

    FRIENDS KNOW IT IS NOT MY HABIT to praise the installation of French museum shows, but this past January my reverse chauvinism was (temporarily) overturned, as Paris offered three superbly hung exhibitions, each very different in tone: “Dada,” whose overflowing and overstimulating presentation at the Centre Pompidou made its subsequent, much reduced American incarnations (at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York) look absurdly bland; “Ed Ruscha: Photographer” at the Jeu de Paume, a greatly expanded and far better version of a 2004 show at New

  • “Undercover Surrealism”

    FOR AN INVETERATE FAN of Georges Bataille’s groundbreaking journal Documents, visiting “Undercover Surrealism” was a bit like opening a pop-up album in which black-and-white images suddenly transform not only into three dimensions but also into color. Yet this little gem of an exhibition—curated by Dawn Ades, Simon Baker, and Fiona Bradley—could just as easily be appreciated by the uninitiated, for whom it provided a journey both quaint and fizzy into the late 1920s equivalent of a Mannerist cabinet of curiosities. The show greeted visitors with a potpourri that included an extraordinary

  • Robert Watts

    Of all the artists associated with the loose Fluxus movement, Robert Watts was perhaps the most “object oriented,” the one who took the most visible pleasure in using his considerable skills at traditional craft (wood carving, finish carpentry, chroming). This is also why his works are so often conceived as comments about art (much more so than those of his peers, even though they all shared the same meta-artistic impulse). The selection of thirty-four Watts works presented in the mini-retrospective “Robert Watts: Art on Art” at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects clearly emphasized this point.

  • Yve-Alain Bois

    FOR YEARS BEFORE I MET HIM, WILLIAM RUBIN loomed larger than life. And after I gradually got to know him, he loomed even larger still—but differently.

    When I came to America in 1983 from France—where twentieth-century art was still almost entirely absent from the curricula of art-history programs, where criticism was sheer belletristic babble, and where the Musée National d’Art Moderne had only five years earlier received from the powers that be the means to support a veritable acquisitions policy—Rubin seemed a giant. I had not seen any of his landmark exhibitions, except when they had appeared

  • “Undercover Surrealism: Picasso Miró, Masson, and the Vision of Georges Bataille”

    Georges Bataille’s enterprise of sabotaging the “frock coat” of reason and running its idealist underpinnings into the mud, which began with his editing of the journal Documents in 1929, is by now well known in cultural and literary studies. But Documents was, among other things, an art magazine, and though Bataille’s take on art has been examined by specialists, the alternative view he proposed not only of Surrealism but also of modernism in general has not yet fully registered. “Undercover Surrealism” uses these very ideas as its focus: Works

  • George Brecht

    THE MUSEUM LUDWIG in Cologne and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona recently put their American counterparts to shame by co-organizing the first major exhibition of George Brecht’s work in twenty-eight years (the previous show was also in Europe and, like the current one, was labeled a “heterospective” by the artist). From a purely nationalistic point of view, the lack of even one US venue at first seems rather odd, if not scandalous: After all, even though Brecht has been living in Cologne since 1971, he was born George MacDiarmid eighty years ago in New York, and he counts as one of

  • Yve-Alain Bois

    There is some disagreement among Robert Rauschenberg aficionados as to when exactly the great Combine episode began. Was it with the “Red Paintings” exhibited at the Egan Gallery in New York in December 1954? Or with the strictly contemporary construction Minutiae, not included in the Egan show for the simple reason that it was in use at the time as a stage prop by Merce Cunningham’s dance company? The remarkable exhibition “Robert Rauschenberg: Combines,” organized by Paul Schimmel of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,

  • the Russian Avant-garde

    OUR KNOWLEDGE OF Russian Constructivism has progressed in huge spurts separated by steady trickles of information. While the broad chronological scope of Camilla Gray’s inaugural study of 1962, The Great Russian Experiment in Art: Russian Art, 1863–1922, meant that the author could only barely touch on Constructivism, the book sparked the interest of artists, scholars, and curators alike. This enthusiasm intensified as the political upheavals of the late ’60s in Europe and the United States propelled the issue of the relationship between art and politics to the fore. Gray’s book was followed by

  • Cy Twombly

    The big surprise of Cy Twombly’s recent show at Gagosian Gallery was his newfound sense of scale. First, although the eight paintings in “Bacchus, Psilax, Mainomenos” are individual works, their perfect fit in the large, squarish gallery made them an environmental piece: If not executed precisely for the space, these horizontal tan canvases covered with swirling red loops were obviously created with it in mind. One sculpture (polychromed, oddly, in red and Granny Smith green) stood like a sentry in the corridor outside the main gallery, but once past the threshold, one was submerged in a sea of