PRINT December 2021



Photo: Brian J. Green.

A silver lining of the Right’s cynical attempts to turn “critical race theory” into a rhetorical bogeyman is the renewed attention it has brought to the term’s origin: a movement led by legal scholars such as Patricia Williams, Kendall Thomas, and Kimberlé Crenshaw that examines the ways in which structural racism perpetuates itself within, through, and despite the “color-blind” principles of constitutional law. This year, CRT’s spirit of inquiry found a new medium in Jessica Vaughn’s canny, incisive artist’s book Depreciating Assets (Printed Matter). Simultaneously a history of federal policy, an architectural treatise, and a work of autofiction, the book shuffles together xeroxed pages of reports issued by the United States Government Accountability Office, black-and-white photographs of carpet tiles and stacked mail crates, and an idiosyncratic curriculum vitae that details the exact number of conference tables, filing cabinets, and shelving units at each of Vaughn’s past day jobs. (The heterogeneity of the volume’s contents is offset by the bureaucratic consistency of its overall design, which adheres to guidelines for paper stock and typefaces established by the US Government Publishing Office.) Through these accumulated materials, Vaughn illustrates the shared logic of open-plan work spaces and corporate “diversity management” programs crafted to circumvent antidiscrimination laws. “A more flexible, modular, malleable and abstract use of the term ‘diversity’ became the norm,” she writes. Vaughn’s analysis is rooted in her personal experience of administrative employment, yet she also trains an eye on her studio practice. The book’s assessment of modular furniture’s one-size-fits-all elision of difference may be read as a veiled critique of Minimalism, much like the tongue-in-cheek commentary on tract housing in Dan Graham’s genre-defining magazine piece Homes for America, 1966–67. Graham, however, never paused to ask whether the New Jersey suburbs he documented with such deadpan flair were made possible by redlining.

Colby Chamberlain teaches art history at Columbia University and the Cooper Union. His first book, a monograph on the Fluxus artist George Maciunas, is forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press.