COLUMNS

  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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

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  • the Generali Foundation

    AT A SEPTEMBER 2007 press conference announcing the merger of the Generali Foundation and the Bawag Foundation, representatives of the two Vienna art institutions stood smiling beneath the neon script of Cerith Wyn Evans’s 2003 sculpture Scenes from a Marriage—apparently unaware that the piece alludes to Ingmar Bergman’s oppressive portrait of a union in crisis. This particular art-world betrothal should perhaps not have been a surprise, since the corporations that respectively own and fund the foundations had themselves merged earlier in the year, when financial-services conglomerate

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  • Arte Povera

    FORTY YEARS AGO this month, the critic and curator Germano Celant thrust arte povera upon the international scene. Amid tumultuous demonstrations at Italian universities that, like many other movements circa 1968, were aimed at institutional structures that preserved the stratifications of class, the twenty-seven-year-old Celant asserted that Italian artists were confronting their own social and cultural patrimony. Using the utopian rhetoric typical of twentieth-century avant-gardes, he wrote of a desire to escape the bounds of a social system that rewards conformity and limits experience, and

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  • “Invisible Colors”

    IN HIS SHORT ESSAY “The Storyteller,” written in 1936, Walter Benjamin reflects on the impoverishment of soldiers returning from World War I, observing that they have “grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience.” At the root of this impoverishment, he says, is Chokerlebnis: the reduction of experience to naked information, wherein media (“every glance at a newspaper”) has the power to shock. Today we might quickly grasp Benjamin’s meaning by recalling, for example, the Vietnam War image of the young man with a pistol to his head, which reduced our experience of that conflict

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  • Identity Aesthetics

    CAN ELEGANCE COEXIST WITH CRITIQUE? Aesthetics with politics? Material and formal intensiveness with sociocultural inquiry? My own answer would be a resounding “Yes.” But much contemporary art seems to answer “No.” Indeed, some recent shows appear to be wedded to the idea that intensive aesthetic labor undermines political intent—especially in work by minorities. The Brooklyn Museum’s recent exhibition “Global Feminisms,” for example, foregrounded contemporary work by women artists of all colors, ethnicities, and nationalities that emphasizes the reductive, the dystopian, the aesthetically

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  • The “WACK!” catalogue

    A TECHNICOLOR SEA of bare-breasted women spills across the cover for the catalogue to “WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution,” an international survey of women’s art from 1965 to 1980 on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles through July 16. Designed by Lorraine Wild, the dust jacket reproduces a large detail from a Vietnam-era photocollage by Martha Rosler titled Body Beautiful, or Beauty Knows No Pain: Hot House, or Harem, 1966–72. More than any single work in the exhibition, more perhaps than the exhibition itself, the WACK! cover has become a site of interpretive conflict

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