COLUMNS

  • whiteness studies

    IT’S REMARKABLE HOW MUCH we express our political lives in the language of color—conservatives with blue, radicals with red, queers with pink, liberals with lilac; Indian Congress Party patriots de rigueur in white, African Nationalists in black, red, and green, avant-garde apparatchiks, unfortunately like fascists, in black. The lesson of this political palette may indeed go beyond flags and festoons. In the visual display of colors lie those “shades of opinion” that modern democratic societies see as their saving grace. But there is something even more significant about the association of

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  • Robert Smithson

    IN HIS “SITE/NON-SITE” projects of the late ’60s and early ’70s, Robert Smithson mapped the ravages and beauties of the twentieth-century landscape. His chosen sites were poisoned lakes, rubbish dumps, and construction zones, by-products of industrial capitalism. Intervening and scavenging in these wastelands, he carried back from them evocative fragments—stones, salt crystals, tar samples—which, in the gallery, became non-sites, abstract reminders of the absent site’s meaning. “My view of art,” Smithson wrote in 1969, “springs from a dialectical position that deals with whether something exists

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  • paparazzi

    I LOVE PAPARAZZI. Perhaps I should qualify that statement. I know none personally. I’ve never been accosted by one. I’ve never stood on the blitzkrieg flash’s receiving end. (However, at press events, I’ve been bumped against, jostled, and pushed aside by jutting telephoto lenses.) I assume—wrongly?—that most paparazzi are pushy men, and I don’t like to be pushed around; nonetheless, I love paparazzi. They resemble (in a cheerfully debased form that nevertheless remains true to the high original) a kind of perverse artist I’ve long held dear—the artist who doesn’t merely represent a desire,

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  • George W. S. Trow and Daniel Harris

    THERE IS AN APPLIANCE in every living room that makes people stupid. This was a widely known fact before George W. S. Trow’s essay, “Within the Context of No Context” appeared in The New Yorker in 1980 (and in book form soon after), but Trow’s impressionistic meditation on the world of television, and the world of television’s effect on mass culture, fingered the beguiling awfulness of the medium, and the medium’s message, with arresting precision—arresting not least because the essay’s form mimicked the fractured pastiche that was, in 1980, only beginning to be called “postmodernism,” a condition

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  • Backlash and Betrayal

    IT USED TO BE THAT feminism was a total woman thang. Outside of the nice white girls who filled women’s-studies classes because they wanted to learn to be bad, everyone was content to think of us as just a bunch of bra-burning pussy-loving antimale morons who were never gonna have any impact on the rest of the world so no one really had to give a damn. In other words, back in the day when feminist politics had a serious radical edge it was not a movement that everyone was dying to join, but neither was it a movement that everyone wanted to trash. At the peak of the contemporary feminist movement,

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  • Daniel Paul Schreber’s Century

    PSSST—JUST READ this and don’t take your eyes off the page. The art Mafia was created by exactly the same person who started the Federal Reserve System—Andrew Mellon. Doesn’t this tell you something? Once they were able to debase the gold dollar and replace it with “paper” they also created the Washington museum scene with modern art bought from the Communists—a paper replacement for the “golden” art of our America. Remember: you read it in Artforum.

    Dearest reader: I must admit I come to this column with strong bias. I have become convinced that, if the ’70s was the age of narcissism, we now

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  • Moving Men

    AS A MS IN SEARCH of her neglected anima, I closed my eyes to dream. A figure seemed to approach: lacy, flowing, yet stern. A voice as old as the ages called to me, the voice of Kali, Aphrodite, Demeter. My wounded spirit thirsted for the dour yet dulcet tones of the Great Mother, the Hairy Magdalene. She spoke:

    “It would be futile for Miss Manners to pretend to know nothing of the wicked joy of correcting others. There is that pleasant bubble in the throat, a suppressed giggle at another person’s ignorance; that flush of generosity accompanying the resolve to set the poor soul straight: that

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  • Moral Right

    CAN IT BE that the government of the United States, despite the likes of Jesse Helms, truly believes in the inherent value of art? The signals are mixed. Although, after very public debate, NEA funding was cut back, in late November 1990, without public ceremony, Congress enacted the “Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990” (known as “VARA”), which incorporated into existing federal copyright law a provision that deals with the moral rights of visual artists. (California, New York, and nine other states already had their own moral-rights acts. To what extent these state laws will remain vital or be

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  • Being “Economical with the Truth”

    THE PUBLIC FACE OF the war in Britain and the United States seems, as far as one can tell from this side of the Atlantic, to have been nearly the same. The best proof of this came in an interview on BBC radio with three American foreign editors. The British interviewer expressed the general opinion among his colleagues that American military spokesmen were more forthcoming than their British counterparts; the Americans countered with their belief that the reverse was true. An unfamiliar accent produces the illusion of more information and more sense, when the product is exactly the same.

    The

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  • Reversal of Fortune

    The effect is certain but unlocatable, it does not find its sign, its name; it is sharp and yet lands in a vague zone of myelf; it is acute yet muffled, it cries out in silence. Odd contradiction: a floating flash.

    —Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1981

    It is a bitterly cold night in Newport, Rhode Island, several days before Christmas 1980. The camera focuses on the lavish dining room of Clarendon Court, the palatial estate of Martha “Sunny” von Bülow and her second husband, Claus von Bülow. The attractive von Bülow family—Claus, Sunny, their teenage daughter Cosima, and Sunny’s 21-year old son

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  • Queer Nation

    OVER COCKTAILS, at gallery openings, during street protests, and in darkened auditoriums, we have become accustomed to invoking what cultural critic Kobena Mercer has tellingly dubbed “the mantra” (say it with me now): “class-race-gender-sexuality. Class-race-gender-sexuality.” Mercer’s evocation of the nearly evangelical fervor with which so many of us name difference recognizes that our naming is at once perfunctory and guilt-ridden. But he also serves us a provocation, a call to disentangle overlapping systems of oppression. Careful social and cultural analysis, as literary theorist Eve

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  • Czechered History

    It’s been a long time since the Rolling Stones have mattered enough to rock the body politic. Once, through music and otherwise, they seemed to be saying something serious, even in their habits of consumption—as in the 1967 marijuana and uppers bust that made Jagger and Richards symbolic foci of a new generation’s new life and of the establishment’s reaction to it. Attacking the heavy sentence (later overturned), a London Times editorialist was moved to ask, “Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?,” adding his brick to a romantic construction inside which everything the band did had weight. But then

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