Yve-Alain Bois


    “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

  • the best books of the year

    Twelve scholars, critics, and artists choose the year's outstanding titles.


    A book like Alastair Wright’s Matisse and the Subject of Modernism (Princeton University Press) is enough to rekindle my faith in the future of art history as a discipline. (Here I could also mention two other such rare pearls from 2005: Maria Gough’s The Artist as Producer: Russian Constructivism in Revolution [University of California Press] and Christina Kiaer’s Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism [MIT Press]). The first amazing trait of Wright’s book is that it manages

  • Marina Apollonio, Dinamica Circolare (Circular Dynamics), 1966/82, metal and varnish, 40 3/8" diameter. From “The Kinetic Eye.”

    “The Kinetic Eye: Optical and Kinetic Art, 1950–1975”

    The great public success of MoMA’s 1965 exhibition “The Responsive Eye” turned out to be a first-class burial for kinetic art, which did not survive the populist celebration of its optical tricks. Five years ago Guy Brett reopened the dossier (in “Force Fields,” for London’s Hayward Gallery and the Museu d’Arte Contemporani de Barcelona), reminding us that there is far more to kineticism than mere gadgetry. “The Kinetic Eye” intends to reexamine Op’s illusionist trend, while also paying tribute to kineticism’s physical and acoustic stimuli. Some sixty