COLUMNS

  • “Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia?”

    IN ONE OF THE MANY VITRINES of books and ephemera installed at Oslo’s Office for Contemporary Art Norway during the recent exhibition “Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia?” was a magazine open to Susan Sontag’s essay “Against Interpretation.” The text—which famously closes with the argument that “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art”—had been selected as sample reading from a 1964 copy of the Evergreen Review, the American journal famous not only for its illustrious contributors (from Jorge Luis Borges to Malcolm X), but also for its confrontational frankness regarding matters

    Read more
  • “Universal Archive”

    THE OLD DREAM OF DOCUMENTARY—namely, that its socially enabled and technologically fortified realism would change the world—has been out of reach for some time now. In place of such a starry-eyed promise, pledged in Progressive-era photojournalistic muckraking and exposés, for example, and in most any run-of-the-mill image of machines from the 1920s and of workers from the ’30s, or in the humanistic gush of the camera-toting one-worlders of the ’40s and the UN crusaders of the ’50s, documentary has lately been given an alternative function, one equally freighted with longing and equally tied to

    Read more
  • George Segal

    I WAS TWICE A MODEL for the sculptor George Segal. In 1978, I posed as a man standing next to a hot dog stand. In 1991, I was a down-and-outer in a moody Depression breadline. Both were firsthand experiences of George’s literal shaping of bodies: Much more so than other artists characterized under the rubric of Pop, George was always deeply interested in human physicality (as evidenced in the current traveling survey of his work). But his literalism went far beyond mere description. Hot Dog Stand conveys detachment, noncommunication, and anonymity; Depression Bread Line projects the isolation

    Read more
  • Jorge Pardo’s exhibition design at LACMA

    IN THE AFTERMATH of the 1521 conquest of central Mexico, a Spanish Franciscan working in New Spain asked his Aztec informants about a place they called Oztotl, which in their language translates as “cave.” The friar’s sources replied that Oztotl was a place where “our mothers, our fathers have gone; they have gone to rest in the water, in the cave, the place of no openings, the place of no smoke hole, the place of the dead.” The Aztecs believed that upon death they would be swallowed up by the earth, which was envisioned as a giant amphibian floating in an all-encompassing ocean. Through cavernous

    Read more
  • “Black Is, Black Ain’t”

    AS EVER IN CHICAGO, there is no dearth of tragedy where racial politics are concerned: ongoing revelations about city hall’s involvement in covering up police torture of black suspects; a recent 18 percent increase in the homicide rate that disproportionately affects black youth; and the threat of further black disenfranchisement for the sake of the 2016 Olympic bid. For the past several months, however, conversations about race in the Black Metropolis, as elsewhere in the United States, have turned to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. He too is a marked man, at once targeted for

    Read more
  • Service Aesthetics

    THE ATTITUDES AND TECHNIQUES of artists have clearly buckled and changed many times over the past century, as industrialism became postindustrialism and first-world enterprise shifted from goods to services while manual production was shunted to outlying zones of cheap labor. The significance of these shifts is a central focus of Helen Molesworth’s 2003 essay “Work Ethic,” in which she describes how artists—in their working ethos, methods, and social legitimacy in relation to other workers—are strapped to the twin engines of the economy and the technologies that drive it. Art historian

    Read more
  • the Rococo

    AROUND 1720, the French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau painted a signboard for his dealer’s shop that depicted an idealized view of the gallery on Paris’s Pont Notre-Dame. Downplaying its commercial status, Watteau portrayed the shop as a setting for elite sociability, while heralding the new aesthetics of the Rococo, then known as le style moderne. At the signboard’s right, a trio of elegant customers ignore the old-master paintings on the walls and politely converse with a gallery assistant about a gilded table mirror and other objets d’art. Behind them, two visitors, one a man and the other a

    Read more
  • J. M. W. Turner

    IN RECENT DECADES, the occasion of a major Turner exhibition has invariably elicited outpourings of admiring, even marveling commentary on the artist’s work, and the response to the current traveling retrospective—soon to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—has thus far proved no exception.* But beyond the consensus that Turner must be ranked among the greats of post-Renaissance European art (regardless of what criteria such an estimation might be based on), no one seems to know quite what to do with his immense, intractable body of work, so seemingly incommensurable

    Read more
  • Deborah Solomon speaks with Peter Schjeldahl

    To mark the publication of Peter Schjeldahl’s new volume, Let’s See: Writings on Art from the New Yorker (Thames & Hudson, 2008), author Deborah Solomon spoke with the New York–based art critic—recipient of the 2008 Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing—about the task of writing about art in different times and places.

    DEBORAH SOLOMON: Your new book is, in fact, your fourth collection of criticism, and you have been reviewing contemporary art with only minor interruptions since 1965—probably longer than anyone else in this country. What is it like being among the most durably revered of

    Read more
  • artistic labor

    BEFORE AN ARTWORK can be exhibited, before it represents or refuses to represent anything, before it can be dealt, sold, or collected, there come research and planning, gathering tools, purchasing materials, and even alerting networks. Whether the outcome is an object, document, gesture, or performance, it is, obviously, the result of labor. When Nicolas Bourriaud describes an artwork as “a dot on a line,” it is this indivisibility of labor and result that he seeks to capture. But it is not the “line” that museums and collectors covet—it is the “dot,” perhaps most appropriately envisioned

    Read more
  • Christoph Büchel and Mass MoCA

    AT FIRST, IT LOOKED LIKE a terrific match. Swiss installation artist Christoph Büchel and Joseph Thompson, director of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, had planned great things for Mass MoCA’s vast Building 5, one of the world’s largest exhibition spaces for contemporary art. Büchel had conceived an artwork whose physical scale was in keeping with its imposing subject—loosely speaking, ideological warfare. Thompson was to deliver the tons (approximately 150) of material necessary to realize Büchel’s vision, which included an entire disused cinema, a dive bar, a two-story Cape

    Read more
  • Julian Schnabel’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

    EVEN BEFORE CITIZEN KANE (1941), Orson Welles was already experimenting with using film techniques to heighten audience awareness of the special relationship between the teller and the tale that is fundamental to movies. In a little-known precursor to that film titled Too Much Johnson (1938), Welles made inventive use of a handheld camera to expose the phenomenological conundrum at the heart of moviemaking: How do you make an audience aware of the artificiality of cinematic reality and still keep them emotionally connected to the story? In the great leap that was Citizen Kane, Welles explored

    Read more