Art and Architecture

Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

April 19, 2017
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Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures in Artforum

Below follows an excerpt from David Velasco’s review of Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures at Artforum. What makes Douglas Crimp’s Before Pictures so remarkable is not just its subject—the art historian and AIDS activist’s early years leading up to the epoch-defining 1977 exhibition at Artists Space and the pair of titular essays that were so critical to its historicization. It’s not just the casual meet-cutes at John Ashbery parties and the formative encounters with Agnes Martin and Ellsworth Kelly and Charles James and Daniel Buren; the early, incisive formalist writings whose frissons eventually inspired one of the great innovations in late-twentieth-century criticism: the recognition of a breach, which Crimp labels postmodernism, in modernist parables of art and theatricality. It’s how the story is told. Before Pictures is a strange and shimmering chimera: Part memoir, part theory, it swerves and circles, often paragraph to paragraph, from anecdote to argument and back again, a graceful, unfussy waltz that sometimes seduces you into thinking that it’s “simply” autobiography. But the writing is also a performance of the necessary entanglement between serious thought and its “decor”—an entanglement that fascinates Crimp, and that makes him such an exceptional protagonist. The animating juxtaposition is announced early on, in the . . .

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Artificial Darkness in the TLS: A Mystical Abyss

March 29, 2017
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Artificial Darkness in the TLS: A Mystical Abyss

The full  TLS review of Noam Elcott’s Artificial Darkness: An Obscure History of Modern Art and Media follows below—for those behind the Times (or a paywall)—after the jump. *** In the Festival Theatre in Bayreuth, built in 1876 for Richard Wagner to stage his music dramas, darkness was carefully manufactured and controlled. In earlier theatres, the audience was as much a spectacle as the play, and lighting was balanced so that you could see the dignitaries in attendance as clearly as the performers. But Wagner, with his windowless cathedral, intended the audience to disappear entirely so that spectators would project all their attention to the stage. The orchestra was hidden behind a hood in a pit, referred to as the “mystical abyss,” which created a clear division between a blacked-out reality and the ideal world of the artwork. For Noam M. Elcott, in his compelling study of early cinema and avant-garde performance, it was a new mode of seeing to which all the deliberate darknesses of our contemporary cinemas is indebted. Elcott was a student of Jonathan Crary, the author of the seminal Techniques of the Observer (1990), a book that examined how—for René Descartes and John Locke in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—the camera . . .

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#ReadUPScience: A Digital Menagerie from The Paper Zoo

March 13, 2017
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#ReadUPScience: A Digital Menagerie from The Paper Zoo

American Scientist explores several centuries-worth of zoology on paper at the British Library in a review + “digital menagerie” from The Paper Zoo, an excerpt from which follows below. *** Historian Charlotte Sleigh’s book The Paper Zoo, which taps into the British Museum’s rich collection to explore and contextualize five centuries of zoological illustration (our sampler), leads one to conclude that the refrain’s origin can be traced back to 1659. Johann Amos Comenius’s elementary reader Orbis sensualium pictus (“The Visible World in Pictures”), Sleigh explains, “is commonly regarded as the first picture book for children.” By combining didactic text with illustrations Comenius had, with the stroke of a printing press, invented multimedia instruction. His petite depictions of animals, each appearing alongside a letter of the alphabet meant to represent the sound the animal makes, are clear and endearing without being especially cute. It’s easy to see how they would capture a child’s interest and, as Sleigh observes, ease memorization: Presenting the image of an animal next to a letter whose sound replicates the creature’s hooting, braying, growling, or hissing was an instructional breakthrough. In addition to their utility in the classroom, Sleigh notes, zoological illustrations helped far-flung naturalists keep up with discoveries made in . . .

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1971: A Year in the Life of Color

February 13, 2017
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1971: A Year in the Life of Color

Darby English’s 1971: A Year in the Life of Color points to a moment when the self-representation of black American artists working in the wake of modernism manifested in two shows staged during a tumultuous period of cultural, political, and aesthetic change—Contemporary Black Artists in America, at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and The DeLuxe Show, “a racially integrated abstract art exhibition presented in a renovated movie theater in a Houston ghetto.” *** Hyperallergic (in a piece by Jessica Bell Brown) has more commentary on what the convergence of these two shows meant for dismantling a homogeneous narrative of black modernist expression: Enter 1971, which takes as its starting point a most urgent year in aesthetic and racial politics. English’s object of study are two exhibitions essential to the ongoing relationship between black American artists and modernism: The Deluxe Show and the Contemporary Black Artists in America exhibition at the Whitney Museum, preceding Deluxe in the spring of 1971. In his book, English magnifies “an unprecedented brief swell of dissent within black political culture” that year, centering his study on the status and relevance of “color” as an aesthetic and social obsession. For so long, historians of African American art were unable . . .

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RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

February 9, 2017
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RIP Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)

Tzvetan Todorov (1939–2017)—literary theorist, intellectual historian, and philosopher—died earlier this week; in particularly uncanny circumstances, our free e-book of the month happens to be his The Fear of Barbarians. Rather than link to an obit, we’re going to reblog a conversation between Todorov and media scholar WJT Mitchell—who had never met in person or previously exchanged correspondence—that unfolded over three days on our blog, back in December 2010, on the heels of the then-recent publications of Barbarians and Mitchell’s Cloning Terror. Little more than six years ago, and the topics they discuss—the politics of occupation, the war on terror, the then-emergent Wikileaks, Goya, the US State Department’s penchant for torture, Guantanamo, cloning—feel both like prescient observations from a time now past, and nearly enraging in their unfortunate contemporaneity. Below, you’ll find links to Parts II and III. Download your free copy of The Fear of Barbarians here. ** We’re kicking things off with a series of letters between Tzvetan Todorov, author of The Fear of Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations and W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Cloning Terror: The War of Images, 9/11 to the Present on the visual imagery of the war on terror, our current global political climate, and the role of . . .

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RIP JSG Boggs (1954/55–2017)

January 26, 2017
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RIP JSG Boggs (1954/55–2017)

In 1992 New Yorker critic Lawrence Weschler published Boggs: A Comedy of Values, which made the case for idiosyncratic conceptual artist JSG Boggs (1954/55–2017), whose work fabricated both a physical variety of currencies and the notion of legal tender, when Boggs tried to cash his bills in for goods and services. Boggs died this past week, and was duly eulogized, by both his hometown paper and the art world, and each offer up some details that enhance his story, perfect fodder for a world sorting out “alternate facts” from the “fake news.” From the Tampa Bay Times: Mr. Boggs’s full name was James Stephen George Boggs, but he was better known as J.S.G. Boggs and often just as “Boggs.” His art was all about money. It consisted, in fact, of exquisitely detailed, exact-sized reproductions of American dollars, English pounds and Swiss francs — though with one side left blank and key features drawn with an off-kilter twist. The George Washingtons on his “Boggs bills” sometimes faced the wrong way. Some were drawn laughing. Others crying. On some notes, Mr. Boggs’ own face appeared in place of the dead presidents. Others he signed above phrases like “crazy cash” or “for what it’s worth.” Often . . .

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RIP John Berger (1925–2017)

January 4, 2017
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RIP John Berger (1925–2017)

Critic, writer, and playwright John Berger (1925–2017), one of the twentieth century’s most important art critical voices (linking to the Guardian piece, as its the most thorough) died on January 2, 2017. Best known for the four-part BBC series Ways of Seeing (1972) and its accompanying critical text, Berger there offered a Marxist response to another (banal and apolitical) take on the history of culture, also produced by the BBC, Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation (1969). Hyperallergic was first with a tribute, which includes this anecdote: Speaking to Kate Kellaway, Berger explained his interest in labor and social issues. “The connection between the human condition and labour is frequently forgotten, and for me was always so important. At 16, I went down a coal mine in Derbyshire and spent a day on the coal face – just watching the miners. It had a profound effect,” he told her. When she asked how it made him feel. He responded quietly. “Respect. Just respect. There are two kinds. Respect to do with ceremony – what happens when you visit the House of Lords. And a completely different respect associated with danger,” he said. “This is not a prescription for others, but when I look back on my life I think it’s very significant I . . .

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Free e-book for December: Outside the Box

December 1, 2016
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Free e-book for December: Outside the Box

Our free e-book for December is Hillary L. Chute’s Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists. Download your copy here. *** We are living in a golden age of cartoon art. Never before has graphic storytelling been so prominent or garnered such respect: critics and readers alike agree that contemporary cartoonists are creating some of the most innovative and exciting work in all the arts. For nearly a decade Hillary L. Chute has been sitting down for extensive interviews with the leading figures in comics, and with Outside the Box she offers fans a chance to share her ringside seat. Chute’s in-depth discussions with twelve of the most prominent and accomplished artists and writers in comics today reveal a creative community that is richly interconnected yet fiercely independent, its members sharing many interests and approaches while working with wildly different styles and themes. Chute’s subjects run the gamut of contemporary comics practice, from underground pioneers like Art Spiegelman and Lynda Barry, to the analytic work of Scott McCloud, the journalism of Joe Sacco, and the extended narratives of Alison Bechdel, Charles Burns, and more. They reflect on their experience and innovations, the influence of peers and mentors, the reception of . . .

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RIP Mary D. Sheriff (1950–2016)

October 25, 2016
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RIP Mary D. Sheriff (1950–2016)

Mary D. Sheriff, internationally celebrated art historian and educator, died on October 19, 2016, at the age of 66. From Susan Bielstein, executive editor at the University of Chicago Press: We’re sad to report that our beloved author Mary Sheriff died on October 19, 2016, after a short, intense fight with pancreatic cancer. Sheriff was the W.R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Art History in the Art Department of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. A leader in the study of eighteenth-century art, she published three books with the Press: Fragonard: Art and Eroticism (1990), The Exceptional Woman: Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and the Cultural Politics of Art (1996), and Moved by Love: Inspired Artists and Deviant Women in Eighteenth-Century France (2004). We expect to publish her new book, Enchanted Islands: Picturing the Allure of Conquest in Eighteenth-Century France, and will announce a publication date in due course. From Sheriff’s partner, Keith Luria: specialized in eighteenth-century French art and transformed the field by re-evaluating rococo painting, introducing feminist perspectives, and examining European art in a global context. She published widely on artists such as Fragonard and Vigée-Lebrun, as well as on questions of art and gender. She taught at the . . .

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Virginia Dwan and Dwan Gallery

October 12, 2016
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Virginia Dwan and Dwan Gallery

Philip Kennicott, writing for the Washington Post, where he serves as art and architecture critic, recently reviewed Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971, an exhibition curated by James Meyer at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC: The art galleries operated by Virginia Dwan from 1959 to 1971 were no ordinary white boxes selling decorative daubing to rich people. And the promise of some 250 works from Dwan’s personal collection to the National Gallery of Art is no ordinary gift. She played an instrumental role in the development of postwar American art, championing pop art, minimalism, ­language-based and conceptual work, and land art. She sponsored “The Lightning Field” by Walter De Maria and “Spiral Jetty” by Robert Smithson and paid for the land on which Michael Heizer carved his monumental earth work “Double Negative.” Fortunately, the exhibition surveying this gift is not the usual celebratory overview of a rich person’s trophies, either. “Los Angeles to New York: Dwan Gallery, 1959-1971” allows visitors to follow the intellectual path Dwan pursued during more than a decade of rapid change in American culture. In dialogue with the artists she championed, Dwan eventually talked herself out of the gallery business altogether, as the . . .

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