Yve-Alain Bois

  • 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

  • the best books of the year

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

    YVE-ALAIN BOIS

    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

  • “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

  • Yves Klein

    It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why the Yves Klein exhibition curated by Olivier Berggruen and Ingrid Pfeiffer at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt made a stronger impression on me than the two retrospectives of the artist I had seen before. Both those shows—the first in 1969 at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs and the second in 1983 at the Centre Pompidou—had what I would call a mortuary atmosphere that was nowhere to be found in Frankfurt. This ambiance was in some ways justified in the first instance (an obituary of sorts, held just seven years after the artist’s death) and thus was not so

  • THE NEW MoMA

    SINCE ITS FOUNDING IN 1929, The Museum of Modern Art in New York has been a beacon of modernism, acting as a singular advocate and home for some of the most significant works of art made over the last 125 years. Although scores of museums devoted to modern and contemporary art have sprung up around the world, for many of us MoMA will always be the Museum of Modern Art, indisputably worthy of the definite article preceding its name. But with this preeminence comes a heightened level of scrutiny, and one of MoMA’s most important functions—along with the presentation of its incomparable collection

  • the best books of the year

    WHAT BOOKS STOOD OUT IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS? ARTFORUM ASKED A HANDFUL OF HISTORIANS, CRITICS, AND ARTISTS TO NAME THE TITLE (AND, IN SOME CASES, TITLES) THEY MOST REMEMBERED FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR.

    Arthur C. Danto

    The title of Joseph Leo Koerner’s extraordinary study The Reformation of the Image (University of Chicago Press) refers to the way Martin Luther “reformed” religious pictures to make them consistent with the Second Commandment, thus protecting them against the wave of iconoclasm that swept Protestant churches in the early sixteenth century. Luther’s remedy consisted in treating images

  • Specific Objections: Three Exhibitions

    I AM NOT SURE DONALD JUDD WOULD HAVE LAUGHED—HIS CLOSE CIRCLE might know better, but he never struck me in deed or word as having much of a sense of humor. Yet John Waters’s poster Visit Marfa, 2003, like all his other satirical endeavors, is pitch-perfect in its irreverent and bittersweet take on what could only have been the sculptor’s worst nightmare: Minimalism as mass tourism and entertainment.

    “Take the Whole Family to Marfa, Texas,” exhorts the broadside, beneath a Li’l Abner–style middle-class family, grinning like they’ve just won a vacation to Disney World. A bubble on the poster

  • Fred Sandback

    IN 1986 FRED SANDBACK concluded one of his rare written statements with the words: “Perhaps indeed, I have nomadicized my existence.” He was speaking about his unexpected disaffection for the museum dedicated to his work in Winchendon, Massachusetts, which he had opened five years earlier with the financial help of the Dia Art Foundation. The idea of the museum had been “quirky,” he readily admitted, but his work, not “easily acquired or preserved,” had gradually become invisible. “I did feel that the work ought to exist somewhere in a reasonably dense and permanent grouping, outside of the ‘

  • Tony Smith

    One pleasant surprise of Tony Smith’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (five years ago already!) was the group of paintings known as the “Louisenberg” series, dating from 1953–55, together with a related set begun at the same time but completed earlier and left untitled. (For brevity’s sake I’ll christen this group “Robotnik,” after a popular Tetris-like computer game called Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine.) Reviewing the MoMA exhibition in these pages, I voiced my regret that Smith had not pursued this vein further, and I privately hoped that there might be more work of the kind. The

  • THE MOURNING AFTER: A ROUNDTABLE

    Few funerals have been as indecorous as the one held for painting in the early ’80s. Was the deceased truly dead, and, if so, in whose name could the death certificate be signed? Or was this a burial without a corpse, another instance of the ritual interments that seemed to recur throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as Arthur C. Danto suggests in his keynote statement? Artforum convened the roundtable that follows to offer our own reexamination of the Death of Painting debate and its legacy throughout the decade. In the April issue, a second group led by Robert Storr considers the afterlife of painting in the ’80s and beyond.

    In recalling a period of severe depression he underwent in the “melancholy winter of 1826–27,” John Stuart Mill wrote, in a famous passage of his autobiography, that he had been “seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations.” Sooner or later, all the possibilities would have been used up, and music would be over with. There was no sense in Mill that this had already taken place, but the thought that it could or would deepened his distress. No composer of Mill’s time had, for instance, presented monotone works—a single note sustained for a substantial interval—nor

  • the best books of the year

    Linda Nochlin

    Two books very different in approach and subject matter stand out this year: Richard Meyer’s Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford University Press) and Georges Didi-Huberman’s L’Image survivante: Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg (Editions de Minuit). Meyer deftly combines a close reading of individual works and intelligent social and political synthesis. Outlaw Representation not only sheds light on such important figures as Paul Cadmus, Andy Warhol, and Robert Mapplethorpe but demonstrates the remarkable

  • HERE TO THERE AND BACK: BARNETT NEWMAN IN RETROSPECT

    As the Philadelphia Museum of Art's retrospective “Barnett Newman” goes on view this month, art historian and Artforum contributing editor Yve-Alain Bois examines the legacy of an artist whose oeuvre he considers the most difficult of the last century.

    As the first US retrospective of Barnett Newman’s work in thirty years goes on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, let us hope that this vastly underappreciated artist will at last get his due. By this I mean not only that he will be recognized, along with Pollock, as one of the two most important painters of the postwar period, but that his

  • Robert Ryman

    For more than forty years, Robert Ryman has been exploring what could be called the historical institution of the practice of painting, putting all its material coordinates (support, signature, date, canvas edges, vertical orientation, attachment to the wall, lighting, etc.) into aesthetic motion. He has done so patiently, relentlessly—one is even tempted to say exhaustively, yet Ryman never fails to uncover some neglected aspect of the medium. Coorganized by the Haus der Kunst, Munich, where it is on view through March 18, the artist’s first retrospective since 1992-94 will include one

  • “Force Fields: Phases of the Kinetic”

    Kinetic art suffered the unhappy fate of a flash in the pan. Drawing crowds and saturating the art market for a brief moment in the mid-’60s (at least in Europe), it faded from sight as rapidly as it had burst on the scene. Behind the quick demise was the confusion with Op art in the mind of the public, fueled by exhibitions such as “The Responsive Eye” (MoMA 1965). Because kinetic art was (wrongly) perceived as an art based almost entirely on easy optical tricks, it would soon be trashed as utter kitsch, on a par with such risible by-products as the Courrèges dress and the lava lamp. The kiss

  • Challenging Art: Artforum 1962–1974

    “THERE'S NO LEGACY from art magazines. I don't think art criticism is much of an endeavor in that sense. It's not lasting. Nobody reads Ruskin . . . . I don't think Artforum has any legacy, and I don't think art criticism has any legacy. Although Ruskin did write one good sentence. He said, 'Everything Velázquez does can be considered as absolutely right.'”

    These sulky words conclude 450 pages of commentary excerpted from interviews with key Artforum insiders, as well as other critics and historians, conducted and edited by Amy Newman in Challenging Art: Artforum 1962–1974. Uttered by Philip

  • CHARACTER STUDY: SOPHIE CALLE

    Sophie Calle’s work has appeared in a range of media and formats, from a major French daily to a Manhattan telephone booth. As “The True Stories of Sophie Calle” goes on view in Kassel and the artist’s book Double Game appears, contributing editor Yve-Alain Bois examines Calle’s seamless transitions between fiction and reality.

    LONG A CULT FIGURE IN FRANCE, Sophie Calle is admired in several disparate circles, each of which has a partial grasp of some aspect of her work —one thinks perhaps of Laurie Anderson by way of comparison. For her earliest projects, she sidestepped the rarified precincts of the art world in favor of the mass media —how many Conceptual artists can claim that their first book was a bestseller? Or can compete with her invasion, over the course of an entire month, of half a page in a widely read French daily? Calle has always felt more confident outside the museum and gallery ghetto. Though she has

  • SUM AND THE PARTS: SOL LEWITT IN RETROSPECT

    “SOL LEWITT: A RETROSPECTIVE,” THE FIRST FULL-SCALE U.S. SURVEY OF THE ARTIST’S WORK SINCE HIS 1978 MIDCAREER MILESTONE, GOES ON VIEW THIS MONTH AT THE SAN FRANCISCO MUSEUM OF MODERN ART. ANTICIPATING THE OPPORTUNITY TO VIEW THE LAST TWO DECADES OF LEWITT’S DIVERSE OUTPUT ALONGSIDE HIS EARLIER PRODUCTION, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR YVE-ALAIN BOIS ASKS HOW THE INCREASINGLY CONTRADICTORY SECOND ACT WILL SQUARE WITH THE FIRST.

    IT’S BEEN A WHILE SINCE WE’VE BEEN ABLE TO SEE SOL LEWITT WHOLE. His last full retrospective in this country was in 1978, at the Museum of Modern Art. Sure, he’s been around: In my home area of Boston alone, we’ve had an excellent survey of his wall drawings from 1968 on (at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover in 1993), and shortly afterward the touring retrospective of his drawings on paper, beginning with his 1958 student sketches after Piero della Francesca and Velázquez, made a stop at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. And in New York, just as one was beginning to wonder if LeWitt

  • Cy Twombly: The Sculpture

    This first-ever retrospective of Cy Twombly’s sculpture, organized by Katharina Schmidt, comprises about sixty-five works, more than a third of the corpus. From earliest work to latest, there is little stylistic change: Always small and frontal, the sculptures are made of assembled found objects and are generally anchored to a conspicuous pedestal. Those cast in bronze are painted white, imparting a kind of milky patina evoking infancy. It is perhaps this discreet allusion to a time of origins that has led scholars into an iconographic booby trap where they have kept busy uncovering countless

  • Kasimir Malevich: The Late Work

    The figurative paintings realized by Malevich after his 1927 Berlin retrospective have long puzzled art historians. Many are unconvincingly antedated remakes in the various styles (Impressionism, “primitivism,” Cubism, Futurism, etc.) the artist passed en route to his 1915 breakthrough; others are hybrids, blending the language of Renaissance portraiture with a kind of Art Deco version of Suprematism. The deliberately out-of-sync character is usually explained away by the oppressive political context, but this rationalization is too simple; they are far from comfortable in the Stalinist canon.

  • BEST OF THE ’90s: BOOKS

    Homi K. Bhabha: The times are out of joint, perhaps never more so than when we are seduced by that decade-end desire to say, One last time, what was the great work of the ’90s? The ’90s began in the late late ’80s with the big bang of The Satanic Verses, and the decade dribbles on with small arms sniping around an elephant-dung madonna. In between times, we realize how powerful is the appeal to religious orthodoxy; how insecure our sense of the secular; how fragile any idea of global cultural understanding; how the politics of art rarely lies in the artifice itself, but all around it, in the