Yve-Alain Bois

  • “La peinture apres l’abstraction”

    Sometimes a silly idea can lead to a fascinating exhibition even as the silliness still shows through. When I first heard about “La peinture après l’abstraction,” documenting work done in Paris between 1955 and 1975 by five artists as unlike as Simon Hantaï, Jean Degottex, Martin Barré, Raymond Hains, and Jacques de la Villeglé, I thought the project utterly crackpot. I still think so; Degottex’s inclusion shows how little thought went into the mix. But the beauty is that Degottex’s oeuvre inadvertently serves as a repoussoir: The contrast his work provides helps demonstrate what the four others

  • on catalogues raisonnés

    I’VE ALWAYS FETISHIZED the “complete works” editions of my favorite writers and daydreamed about the prospect of reading any one of them from A to Z (which of course I’ve never done). I loathe anthologies and the arrogance of the editor who chooses for the reader what is worthy of interest. Nothing fuels my fantasy more than the illusion of having in front of me a lifework whole, with all its moments of grace and oddity there to be unearthed (even if the exhaustiveness can only be temporary, as the appearance of countless “revised and expanded” editions of books warns us, and with the criteria


    THOUGH THE JAPANESE GROUP Gutaï has received some exposure in the US in recent years, most notably in the 1994 “Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky” exhibition (at the SoHo Guggenheim, New York, and SF MOMA) and 1998’s “Out of Actions” (which opened at MOCA, Los Angeles, before traveling abroad), the extraordinary activities of these artists during the ’50s and early ’60s remains largely unknown in this country. No exhibition devoted solely to the group’s efforts seems to have followed the Martha Jackson Gallery show in 1958. Europe at least has been better served, with a 1990


    As final preparations were underway for “Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry,” which opens this month at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas, art historian LINDA NOCHLIN met with the exhibition’s curator, YVE-ALAIN BOIS, and talked with him about his revisionist approach to the relationship between these two central modernist figures. By turns parodic, agonistic, even elegiac, the conversation Bois details unfolds as a series of nuanced moves and countermoves within the artworks themselves. Often seen as antipodal forces, the two artists emerge as necessary partners and foils, twin protagonists engaged in a mutually enabling dialogue that helped shape the narrative of modern painting.

    As the end of the twentieth century approaches, those grand old lions Picasso and Matisse, once seen as polar opposites within the narrative of modernist innovation, seem more and more like congenial creative companions. Perhaps it is today’s art-video, object, or installation oriented-that makes the two look sympathetically old-masterish, mythic remnants of a pre-abstract, painting-and-sculpture-centered tradition inherited from the nineteenth century. In short, Picasso and Matisse today seem more similar than either of them is to Robert Gober, or Janine Antoni, or Mona Hatoum, or for that

  • Lygia Clark

    I know of no other artist whose oeuvre a curator could find more difficult to present than that of Lygia Clark (1920–88). Though the Brazilian artist was acclaimed in her own country, she remained marginal in the art world all her life. Her works after 1965 (which she labeled “propositions”) were never meant to be offered for sale; nor were they made to be “shown.” They consist of nothing else but the use by others, according to certain rules determined by the artist, of various easily replicated props—such as a pebble and a plastic bag filled with one’s own warm breath and tied with a

  • “Les Années Supports/Surfaces”

    Despite its domination of the French art world in the ’70s (when it quickly replaced Nouveau Réalisme as an official institutional “avant-garde”), the production of Supports/Surfaces has never been able to stir up much interest outside France, and even at home it has largely fallen into oblivion. A reassessment of Supports/ Surfaces today requires a selection of the best work and a clear presentation of the context in which the group emerged, achieved its hegemonic position, and then disintegrated. In “Les années Supports/Surfaces dans les collections du Centre Georges Pompidou,” a selection of

  • Jackson Pollock

    On April 30, 1961, The New York Times Magazine published five letters to the editor regarding an article by Clement Greenberg that had appeared in its pages two weeks earlier, entitled (against the author’s will) “The Jackson Pollock Market Soars.” Among the illustrations for his piece, Greenberg had used an early Pollock drawing after one of Michelangelo’s Ignudi in the Sistine Chapel, which two of the writers thought was a cheap trick. Indeed, even though this particular drawing was not discussed, the text—an attack against the stereotype of Pollock as an artiste maudit—made its function

  • Richard Serra

    “Masterpieces come late.” I was stunned to hear this pronouncement, last spring, in the course of a phenomenal lecture by T. J. Clark on de Kooning’s 1958 Suburb in Havana. Let’s bypass my puzzlement at the word “masterpiece” from an art historian whose past work would seem to preclude the use of such an ill-defined notion. The tempo of the lecture was fast, and at the time I could make only one hasty association: that was with Matisse, and with my unlikely preference, in his whole oeuvre, for the 1947–48 interiors, among his last canvases.

    This association helped me grasp what I take to be the

  • “Moves”

    I am not a great fan of the fad for guestcurated exhibitions culled from a museum’s collections. How vain is the notion of the curator-as-artist that they convey! There are exceptions, of course: the “Artist’s Choice” series at MoMA, for example, was unexpectedly lacking in pretense while providing valuable information about the way artists thought.

    But what if it is the very form of the exhibition, the exhibition as form, that is at stake rather than the subjectivity of the curator? The first guest-curated show to have been conceived in such reflective, typically Modernist terms was “Raid the

  • Early Lead

    FOR YEARS I SAID to students and friends that Jasper Johns was an American Braque (though I did not realize how true that was; the final confirmation came with John Golding’s recent show of Braque’s late work and David Sylvester’s account of it). I always added that he was a Braque without a Picasso by his side. But, that was before Walter Hopps’ breathtaking exhibition six years ago of Rauschenberg’s early pieces. I was late in coming to Rauschenberg’s work, but since Hopps’ show I’ve been convinced that, in the relationship between the two artists, a relationship about which there has been so

  • Kelly's Coup

    Standing in front of Ellsworth Kelly’s recently painted canvas, Red Curves, 1995, (among the latest works included in the Guggenheim retrospective), with its inimitable irregular shape resulting from the offset encounter of two most regular contours (two arcs), one cannot but wonder how it could feel so fresh, so oblivious to doubt, so joyful even, given the number of monochrome shaped panels the artist has produced, from the ’50s on. Each time it’s the same tease (just enough complexity for the simplicity to emerge as an unexpected gift, just enough simplicity for the force of the effect to


    The possibility of a new taxonomy for the art of this century, most especially an unruly one, carries with it a strong charge, a genuine kick. It’s doubly appealing when it promises to thrust aside a dominant, seemingly unquestionable presupposition and bring its repressed opposite into full view, not just as a theoretical hypothesis, but as an unsuspected historical reality for decades. Of all the art-historical insurgencies against the high ideals of Modernism, then, few seem so radical or so far-reaching in their ambition to turn the tables as the Centre Georges Pompidou’s summer 1996 exhibition “L’Informe: mode d’emploi” (The formless: instructions for use). Taking as its paradigm Georges Bataille’s enigmatic postulation of the informe—a term that admits of no definition, defies definitions as such, even denies essentially that things have “definition”—the show subverts the presumed sine qua non of art, the making of form, with a shift to an art predicated on form’s undoing. That some two hundred pieces of evidence should be laid out in a manner that squelches such habitual curatorial principles as style, period, oeuvre, and theme is a mere by-product of the informe’s declassifying power. The exhibition functions instead by way of the informe’s “instructions for use,” a set of “operations,” permeable and provisional, proposed to do violence as much to the precepts of Modernism as to form itself.
    The show’s cocurators are Rosalind Krauss, Meyer Schapiro Professor of Art History at Columbia University, and Yve-Alain Bois, Joseph Pulitzer Jr. Professor of Modern Art at Harvard. If their credentials are academic, their loosing of the informe on artistic practice, discernible in their work for a number of years, is decidedly not. From Passages in Modern Sculpture to The Optical Unconscious, from her contributions to Artforum in the ’60s and ’70s to the founding and stewardship of October, Krauss’ repudiation of Clement Greenberg’s formalist line has permitted her to observe the evolution of contemporary art, to nab it and tag it, with a Darwinian precision and intelligence. Her rereading of Modernism in its reciprocal relations with contemporary production, especially via the paradigm of “the photographic,” has made her contemporary art criticism’s principal force to contend with. Carrying commensurate European intellectual baggage of the post-Structuralist/October variety, Bois has been more closely associated with the austere regions of abstraction: Constructivism, Mondrian, Barnett Newman. Yet the vision of painting’s capacity to induce thinking expressed in his Painting as Model no doubt explains the resilience with which he has encountered Lucio Fontana’s expressionism, or with which he has passed from abstraction to the issue of noncom-position. Both Krauss and Bois have indicated that Bataille’s informe surfaced in their work at first because of its heuristic interest. With “L’informe: mode d’emploi,” it now designates a corpus, as well as a grid for reading it.

    LAUREN SEDOFSKY: You’ve chosen as the title of your show “L’Informe.” The word is untranslatable, indefinable, opaque. Is this a form of provocation?

    YVE-ALAIN BOIS: In a way it is. The word’s untranslatable, but you can find approximations: formless or formlessness. But it’s not a concept. Indeed, it’s an anticoncept. Were you to define it as a concept, it would be the concept of undermining concepts, of depriving them of their boundaries, their capacity to articulate the world. It’s provocative in the sense that we wanted to undo some categories, and we recognized the capacity of the informe

  • Focus: “Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline”

    Why is it that one comes out of “Abstraction in the Twentieth Century: Total Risk, Freedom, Discipline” with the somewhat depressed feeling of having nothing to say, nothing in particular? Perhaps the answer lies in the program of the show, that is, in the meager hint of such a program offered by Mark Rosenthal, its curator, in the introduction to the lengthy accompanying catalogue: “My aim is to present the kind of overview of this century of abstraction that an art historian living a hundred years from now might write—that is, to imagine having the increased perspective and objectivity that

  • The Matisse System

    One of the most striking things in any big retrospective of Henri Matisse is how diverse his art is and yet, within this diversity, how a fundamental core unifies more than half his production and the important half at that. Indeed, it is probably universally admitted by now that whatever the charms of the so-called “Nice period,” of 1917–30, the great Matisse is that of the years 1905–17 and then 1931 to his death; and I don’t think anyone would deny that the 1911 Atelier rouge (Red studio) has more in common with the 1948 Intérieur rouge (Red interior), for example, than either work has with