COLUMNS

  • advertising doubt

    NO ONE’S CERTAIN HOW many new advertising or media columns have started up this year (four writers I know have been asked to pen them for different publications), but it’s already clear that 1998 will be remembered as the year we got wise. We the people are acting on our inalienable right to gather in coffee shops where murmurs of Dan Rather’s bias may be heard, to rate the Super Bowl commercials, to visit Websites where the big city page-ones are slightingly compared, to read of the advance or retreat of favorite pundits, to be addressed as a knowing insider, to go into the interpretation

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  • business lit

    THE PRESS KIT THAT CAME WITH my copy of Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace (Viking, 1998) describes the book as “originally self-published and already a business cult-classic.” That such a thing exists should surprise no one: so far has business writing evolved in the last thirty years, so many subgenres has it spun off, that the notion of a cult classic is today but one of the many ways in which this former publishing industry niche now constitutes a fairly complete parallel literary universe. There are management prayer books,

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  • Michel Foucault’s aesthetics

    WHAT EXACTLY IS MEANT by Michel Foucault’s “aesthetics”? The ideas of sex and power we now associate with the philosopher and historian seem to exist in an entirely different register from what he found in the arts. And yet in a certain way this paradox in our relation to his thought is already present in his own work, his own aesthetics.

    The recent publication of Volume Two of Foucault’s collected writings confronts us with just such questions. Much of his writings about the arts are contained in essays, reviews, interviews, lectures—a whole body of journalism that accompanied his work as

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  • Tibor Kalman

    TIBOR KALMAN IS A GRAPHIC DESIGNER, a crafter of corporate logos, a producer of presentation materials, a maker of menus and restaurant posters. But Tibor Kalman is so much more than that.

    According to most of those who judge such things (with whom I concur, by the way), he is accomplished, even brilliant at what he does. He may even be the greatest graphic designer of his generation. Certainly his output of the last twenty years, just collected in the three-and-a-half-pound book Perverse Optimist (Princeton Architectural Press), sparkles with witty solutions to the problems typical of corporate

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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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