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Molly Nesbit’s The Pragmatism in the History of Art

Gordon Matta-Clark’s telegram to Vassar College, reproduced in his artist’s statement for the exhibition “26 × 26” at the Vassar College Art Gallery, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1971.

IN THEIR COMMON SENSE (2000), Molly Nesbit interpreted Cubist lines as “an embrace of the language of industry.” Art was steered into that embrace, she argued, by the French sculptor and arts administrator Eugène Guillaume and minister of fine arts Antonin Proust, who introduced rationalized methods of drawing into the nation’s school curriculum in 1881. Art, when it adopted the technical line, a graphic system “equated with truth” and no longer grounded in ordinary vision, “fell outside itself and produced its own inversion, rupture.” “Art history,” Nesbit continued, “speaks of this rupture as abstraction. But perhaps it is not art history’s business.” She was suggesting that art history—a mode of writing designed to produce continuities—is incapable of grasping Cubism. She was also suggesting that art history may be unable to break its ties to classical aesthetics and

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