PRINT April 2003


“Theory”: Nothing recalls the fractious discursive climate of the 1980s better than that single, imperfect word. In part two of “Writing the '80s,” we return to three strands of the discourse that marked the decade. Here, THOMAS CROW assesses the Pyrrhic victory of social art history in the '80s as a generation of artists turned the academic notion of “subversive critique” on its head.

AT THE ONSET OF THE 1980s, I HAD AN EXPERIENCE AS A teacher that presaged—or so I came to see in retrospect—much of what would happen as a consequence of “the new art history” over the course of the decade, particularly as that untidy intellectual pursuit came to play a part in the contemporary practice of art.

I had spent a term instructing an undergraduate class in the latest analytical frameworks for interpreting modern-life painting in later-nineteenth-century Paris. Thanks to the then-recent work of Robert

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