New York

Rainer Ganahl

Max Protetch

Since 1995, in his “S/L (seminars/lectures)” series, Rainer Ganahl has been producing what are essentially portrait photographs of intellectuals. Far from the contemplative tradition associated with a photographer like Gisèle Freund or the free-floating head shots found on contributors pages in magazines from Vogue to Artforum, Ganahl’s snapshot aesthetic positions intellectual activity as a form of labor. The figures are depicted in the context of their semipublic work: leading a seminar, giving a lecture, attending a conference. For each subject, Ganahl then usually selects two photographs: one of the intellectual and another of her or his audience.

As seen in his recent show, the accumulated archive of photographs is not without visual incident, even humorous juxtapositions: Witness the fabulous image of Linda Nochlin bravely holding forth beneath an immense projection of the already immense penis in Robert Mapplethorpe’s Man in Polyester Suit. More subtle was the wit displayed in Ganahl’s photographs of Rosalind Krauss giving a lecture on Marcel Broodthaers to Columbia undergraduates. In a darkened auditorium, Krauss becomes a featureless, effaced presence, visible only as a shadow gesticulating with her index figure against the projected image of a Broodthaers installation: the foremost theorist of the indexical nature of the photograph as herself a living index. Intellectuals, especially art historians, often work in the dark (it is one of the pleasures of our trade); thus many of Ganahl’s documents were photographs of projected slides, images of images, art about art. In their concomitant reflexivity, the photos confirm that academic space has become as much a frame for contemporary art—for its production and reception—as the museum or gallery. Today artists teach in the academy as a model of collaborative practice (e.g., Doug Ashford) or use the academic environment as a structure and site for work (e.g., Christian Philipp Müller’s recently completed university project, The Campus as a Work of Art, 1996–98).

Perhaps it is more accurate to regard Ganahl’s photographs as less the objective record of intellectual labor than the residue of a precise artistic performance. Ganahl claims the series raises important questions about the “relationship between intellectuals and the spectacle industry,” about the reshaping of educational priorities in the face of a new transnational capitalist economy (such as the rise of a cadre of intellectual “stars”). But with these images, one inescapably confronts his own unexamined “theory tourism,” as he shuttles, endlessly, from NYU to Cal Arts, Columbia to the Pompidou. Rather than document educational problems, his photographic flânerie becomes a problem in itself, and Ganahl’s position in the series risks the chilling passivity displayed by such precursors as Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, in a similar marriage of the photographic archive to the (in)activity of the flâneur. To bring a camera into a classroom tells you almost nothing about what happens within that classroom (this is why the “Krauss joke” falls flat: the qualitative richness of the index as a pedagogical idea replaced by the one-dimensionality of the index-as-an-image). The “S/L” series thus rubs against the grain of Ganahl’s other exemplary performances, such as his documentation of his own unflappable education in the language of each country in which he exhibits. Then too there are the reading seminars he has directed, a book of academic essays on cultural exchange he has recently edited, and his philosophical writings on educational transformations. Models of cultural counterpractices and resistance, these actions are interventions. The photographs seem like capitulations.

George Baker