Critics’ Picks

Art & Language, Paintings I, No. 7, 1966, archival inks printed on Hahnemühle paper mounted on wood, 30 x 59". From the series “Paintings I,” 1966.

Art & Language, Paintings I, No. 7, 1966, archival inks printed on Hahnemühle paper mounted on wood, 30 x 59". From the series “Paintings I,” 1966.

New York

Art & Language

Carolina Nitsch
101 Wooster Street
September 9–November 5, 2016

Fifty years separate the two series of work on view here by Art & Language, the fiercely Conceptualist collaborative that originated in 1966 and began to publish its namesake journal in 1969. Four works from “Paintings I,” 1966, a characteristically text-based series of ink on paper adhered to wood, span two walls of the diminutive gallery. Nearby is “These Scenes,” 2016, comprising five framed works that visually summon Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 monochrome Black Square. Like the 1960s works, “These Scenes” extends the spare aesthetic and rigorous intellectualism that formed Art & Language’s historic model of critique. This authorial structure—one of commanding textual provocations—appears consistent over half a century later. Can the same be said of today’s viewers?

“The situation now is more complex and expanded,” reads Paintings I, No. 7, 1966, in thickly printed ink. The quote is from Robert Morris’s seminal “Notes on Sculpture,” written that same year, in which the artist attempts to essentialize the genre through capacities of form and scale. One textual component of “These Scenes” also underscores a kind of discursive shift—printed opposite a black square, it marks institutional critique as the “sine qua non of institutional power, a negative condition that drives the search for autonomy.” Artistic freedom, something Malevich also stressed in his Suprematist manifesto of 1927, is referenced here repeatedly, like a harbinger of wisdom. It makes one wonder: Is redemption the sine qua non of critique? Scholars such as Jacques Rancière and Bruno Latour offer a bleaker view on the promise of enlightenment, assailing the position of critics (and necessarily that of the audience) as themselves belonging to the age-old structures of domination and subjection. For all these works’ emphases on epistemological shifts—their probing of critical assumptions—it’s striking how they uphold a rather familiar authoritative pedagogy.