Yve-Alain Bois

  • Manuel Borja-Villel, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2021.


    I DO NOT THINK I CAN CONCEAL my immense admiration for Manuel Borja-Villel (or Manolo, as his friends and collaborators call him), and, in truth, I do not think that I should. So there: I have long considered Borja-Villel the best curator-director of any museum of modern and contemporary art that I know of, by a long shot. The man is indefatigable: During his fifteen years directing Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofía (from January 2008 to January 2023), he personally curated, shepherded, or hosted (and edited) 207 exhibitions. And of course it is not the quantity of shows that matters but their stunning


    EVEN THOUGH I wrote several essays on Robert Ryman’s art, I hardly knew him. I did meet him a few times, but on each occasion he was rather reserved—extracting information or comments from him was like pulling teeth. My guess is that he was shy, even though other writers have been able to conduct remarkably rich interviews with him over the years: Obviously, I did not have what it takes. No matter, for he did not have to speak in order to make a statement. Eloquent silence.

    My first encounter with him is a case in point. It was during the installation of his retrospective at the Centre Pompidou

  • Yve-Alain Bois

    To fully honor the legacy of Ellsworth Kelly, whose centennial falls on Wednesday, is not only to remember his singular and deceptively clear-cut contributions to art, but to remain open to life’s vibrant, infinite particularities. After all, Kelly saw his elating colors and shapes as residing “forever in the present,” as Yve-Alain Bois reminds us in a tribute to the late artist published in Artforum’s January 2016 issue. Bois, a leading scholar of Kelly’s work as well as his dear friend, nominates him as “the last happy modernist,” his art a “rock of optimism no matter how grim the world becomes

  • View of “Mark Rothko’s Harvard Murals,” 2014–15, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA. From left: Panel One (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Two (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962; Panel Three (Harvard Mural Triptych), 1962. As seen with colored digital projection. Photo: Kate Lacey. © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.


    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

  • Cover of Charlie Hebdo, September 3, 1973. Jean-Marc Reiser.


    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


    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

  • Martin Barré, Greenwich, 1957, oil on canvas, 47 1/4 x 78 3/4".


    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, Oof, 1962/1963, oil on canvas, 71 1/2 x 67".

    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, Ein Schwarz zu Acht Weiss (One Black to Eight White), 1956, oil on canvas, 39 3/8 x 39 3/8". Photo: Theres Bütler.

    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


    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