Essays

 

"The Fact of Blackness (For Tony Lewis)," Tony Lewis: pressure weight power movement free nomenclature

Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, forthcoming 2015, pages 12-22 (exhibition catalogue)

"The Fact of Blackness" is an original essay on the work of artist Tony Lewis, included in his first monograph accompanying the exhibition Tony Lewis: free movement power nomenclature pressure weight organized by Rose Bouthillier at MOCA Cleveland. In his expansive drawing practice,  Lewis uses action and language to explore communication, presence, and authority. Focusing on graphite powder as a basic material element, his works emphasize the body through scale, tension, and imprint. Tony Lewis is the artist's first solo museum exhibition.

Exhibition page


"After the Production of Space," Critical Landscapes: Contemporary Art and the Politics of Land Use

eds. Emily Scott and Kirsten Swenson, UC Press, Berkeley, 2015

This essay provides a critical summary of the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s book The Production of Space, which has been a cornerstone text for critical geography, art, art history and architecture over the last forty years. Considering his theories of production, labor, capitalism and urban revolution, the chapter provides a usable précis of the dense and theoretical book, and theorizes about developments in space, cities and urban resistance in the four decades since its publication in 1974. Discussing an artwork by the Swedish artists Goldin + Senneby and a brief but important building occupation in Oakland, it argues that new forces of financial speculation and digitization inflect a Lefebvrean analysis of space in the present, and produce new challenges and possibilities for urban resistance.

Book description


"Hard Form and Soft Work," Sterling Ruby: Soft Work

Walther König, Köln, 2014 (exhibition catalogue)

Hardness has been Sterling Ruby’s key negative subject for the last decade, one that unifies the disparate productions and media that together constitute his artistic practice. In exhibitions, his true, aggregative medium, Ruby stages hardness in order to attack it. Geometrical minimalist sculpture, associated with sadism and incarceration, is burlesqued, stained and defaced; phallic monuments are decapitated. In ‘Physicalism: The Recombine’ (a series of six photographic collages from 2006) bodybuilders squeeze muscles rigid for the camera, their heads replaced by polymorphic candles; and in The Masturbators (a video installation from 2009), brawny pornographic models pound disconsolately and often without climax at their erect cocks. [...]

Book description


"Urban Fragments," Keith Haring: The Political Line

ed. Dieter Buchhart, Musée d'Art Moderne de la ville de Paris, 2013/Prestel, 2014 (exhibition catalogue)

A photograph exposes a bare passageway. Fluorescent bulbs glare against ceramic bricks above a cement floor stained with the accumulated residue of a thousand spills and a hundred drunks’ late-night pissings. This is no place one would stay for long, but rather one to hurry past on the way to somewhere else. But someone has paused in this spot: framed off-center between stairwell and photographer is a man in racing jacket and white sneakers, his crouched pose evincing a body in the suspense of fluid motion. His figure is framed on either side by advertisements [...]

Book description (French edition) . Book description (English edition) . Elizabeth Lebovici review


"Between and Across"

Art Papers, vol. 37 no. 6, November-December 2013 (guest editor Dushko Petrovich)

How is it that the best journal of the 1990s has been more or less forgotten? Maybe trace it to the name, Documents, borrowed from the Surrealist journal established by Georges Bataille in 1929, a moniker as deadpan and nondescript as could be. Or blame our current regime of digital searchability: enter the title into whichever search engine and find too much or too little. Or accuse the limited imagination of academic distributors and libraries, for whom the editorial remit of the magazine, organized, as the first issue’s editorial statement evinces, “between and across” disciplines in the vicinity of art, was simply too curious and capacious to be accommodated easily into one category or another. Or, finally, chalk it up to the 90s themselves, a decade whose recentness and weird sprawl still make it an awkward subject of historical memory. [...]

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"Artists and Workers"

Mousse 40, October-November 2013

If, through a million individual acts, the bourgeoisie can be said to have “emerged,” “developed,” “built itself up,” “subjected” and “conquered” the world, the working class by contrast had to be produced, its specificity discovered and argued for. And central to this project of making a class out of people who might before have shared little, indeed who might have previously been rivals, was the steady articulation of its unifying culture, its taste, and the distinct forms of its art. [...]

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"Attitudes and Affects," When Attitudes Became Form Become Attitudes

ed. Jens Hoffmann, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco, and Indexed Edition, 2013 (exhibition catalogue)

A man takes a photograph on the Helvetiaplatz in Bern, Switzerland. At his back sits the River Aare and the Kirchenfeld Bridge. Before him, in the morning haze, stand the towers of the Historical Museum of Bern, modeled on the great castles of the fifteenth century. The facade of the Kunsthalle Bern stands stage left, its identity—“art gallery”—spelled out in Swiss German on the lintel above the door. And in the near ground, the event that caused him to pull his camera from its bag: a wrecking ball slams into tarmac still wet from spring rain, punching holes in the cladding that separates “culture” from the mere matter beneath. Before him the pavement is a pulverized mess, small craters converging on a central hollow of rubble. [...]

Book description


"Earth Beneath Detroit," The Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974

eds. Miwon Kwon and Philippe Kaiser,  Prestel, 2012 (exhibition catalogue)

Michael Heizer installed Dragged Mass Displacement on the north side of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in Detroit, Michigan, over the course of three days in March 1971. The artist’s idea for the work involved dragging an enormous thirty-ton granite block, donated by Rock of Ages Corporation, across the institute’s north lawn until its weight began to dig into the ground and “an impressive pile of dirt was dug up.” [...]

Book description . Art Journal review


"Documenta, Stationary"

Mousse 34, June-July 2012

A brief survey of the history of the documenta exhibitions, with a somewhat coded argument (considering the figure of the anarchist and video artist Douglas Davis) demanding that the perennial exhibition cease.

PDF (Journal version) . PDF (More accurate manuscript version)


"On Art, Language, and Consecutive Matters"

Mousse 33, April-May 2012

The antipathy to language amongst the modernist avant-gardes is legendary. Take for example the kamikaze attacks on "the language that journalism has abused and corrupted" described in Hugo Ball’s diary of his years in the Cabaret Voltaire, Flight Out of Time. Or, to invoke another paradigmatic example from a different place and time, recall the critic Clement Greenberg’s epochal description of everything good art was not, in his 1939 essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”: in his account, capitalist kitsch had commenced to looting existing cultural traditions for “devices, tricks, strategems, rules of thumb, [and] themes” and re-purposing them as sales apparatus. The only way to preserve what was still worth saving was to reject such story-telling devices and to embrace the “plastic values” of Picasso and others like him. To silence or pulverize language: this was one great task of the best art of the modern period, and even a cursory look at the writing of these men will suggest just how impossibly difficult, how imperiled and imperiling, such undertaking was taken to be. To be successful meant defying capitalist modernity as such. [...]

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"On Educating Artists: A Letter to Charles Harrison" (co-written with Dominic Willsdon), Draw It With Your Eyes Closed

Paper Monument, 2012

Dear Charles,

We are reading “Educating Artists,” pulled from a 1972 edition of Studio International that had seen better days, and very much enjoying your pungent criticisms of the art school mind-set. The piece is a broadside in a debate we can only grasp part-way—and you might react with bemusement, if not horror, at the prospect of its disinterment forty years on. Still, it spoke to us and we thought we might respond. In many ways, it is surprising how little has changed. The idea that art school (merely) encourages and assesses students’ self-expression still exists—this self-absorbed notion of art school as a pseudo-therapeutic situation, shaped by Skinnerian techniques of ‘reinforcement’ and ‘reward.’ It might even be the dominant notion of what art school is, today, and we have as little patience for it as you did. [...]

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Hopelessness Freezes Time (with Edgar Arceneaux)

Kunstmuseum Basel, Museum für Gegenwartskunst, 2011

Produced on the occasion of Edgar Arceneaux’s exhibition at Kunstmuseum Basel, Hopelessness Freezes Time presents artworks, research, and writing from the artist’s collaboration with art historian Julian Myers-Szupinska. Drawing on the art and culture of Detroit in the long aftermath of the thwarted urban resistance of 1967, the book connects historical events, guerrilla monuments, earthworks, iconoclasm, and the mythic-political techno of Underground Resistance and Drexciya, to create a counter-allegorical field from which new work might be realized—work that might unsettle the past that historicist allegory attempts to resolve. Embracing this possibility, Kimberly Varella’s innovative design presents an object complete yet provisional, singular but fragmentary.

Link . PDF . Content Object


"On the Value of a History of Exhibitions"

The Exhibitionist, number 4, June 2011

In her introduction to Harald Szeemann: Individual Methodology, the curator and art historian Florence Derieux asserts, "It is now widely accepted that the art history of the second half of the twentieth century is no longer a history of artworks, but a history of exhibitions." Articulated in the pages of one of the most visible publications in a wave of recent scholarship around Szeemann, such wide acceptance has become increasingly hard to dispute. One need only take in the frequent restaging in institutions of historical exhibitions (Artist Space's 2001 "fragmentary re-creation" of Douglas Crimp's 1977 exhibition Pictures is a signal example); the establishment and proliferation of courses devoted to this history in curatorial training programs and universities; a new pitch in academic study of the history of art away from monographic studies and toward essays on exhibitions; and a raft of new publications, from the modest to the monumental. [...]

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"Riot Show: Some Notes on the Archive"

Fillip, no. 12, Fall 2010 (pages 20–29)

Against the distorted pulse of a rhythm box, we hear voices. The voice of the singer, first, inhuman, amplified and drenched in tape-echo, crooning and shrieking, as if Elvis Presley enduring a schizoid break. And then the voices of the crowd, scattered shouts and cries coalescing into waves of terrifying sound: boos and chants, threats, their own songs. “I hate your fucking guts!” the singer shouts at them, early on, still confident in his possession of the means of sound, in his ability to drown them out. “This song is about somebody just like all of you—every one of you!” But then we hear a cheer. An intrepid member of the audience has stolen the singer’s microphone. The rhythm hovers in place, as the crowd’s chanting grows louder. A plaintive voice from the stage: “We’re just a bunch of poor musicians, just like everybody in here, we’d like to have that microphone back! It ain’t gonna do you no good!” But the singer’s newfound solidarity is rejected; folding chairs are thrown at his head. He flees the stage. The show is over. [...]

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"What Happened in Vegas" (co-written with Dominic Willsdon and Mary Elizabeth Yarbrough)

Journal of Visual Culture 8:2, December 2009—Special issue on Barack Obama

We come to this questionnaire from two perspectives. As a curator, an artist, and an art historian, we have professional interests in visual culture, and things to say about it. In 2008, however, we were also partisans and volunteers for Barack Obama’s campaign. In March, Dominic volunteered in El Paso, during the Texas Democratic primary and caucuses, and in November we canvassed together the exurbs of north Las Vegas – we were among thousands of Californians who had swarmed into Nevada to get out the vote in the nearest swing state to home. [...]

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"Totality: A Guided Tour"

Afterall 20, Spring 2009

Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk: Europäische Utopien seit 1800 (the first phrase is translated, variously, as ‘The Inclination Towards a Synthesis of the Arts’ or ‘The Search for a Total Artwork’; the second as ‘European Utopias since 1800’) was installed at the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1983. Organised by Harald Szeemann, the exhibition was the third instalment of a triptych of travelling shows, starting with ‘Jungesellenmaschinen’ (‘Bachelor Machines’) in 1975, and continuing with the different incarnations of ‘Monte Verità’ (named after the ‘Hill of Truth’ in Ascona, Switzerland) in 1978. Together these exhibitions offered a kind of psychic history of modern Europe – an affectionate, if critical diagnosis of its deepest drives and impulses. [...]

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"I Want To Tell You Everything," Shana Lutker: Excerpts.

Wetterling Gallery, 2006 (exhibition catalogue)

An artist has mounted a piece of white paper on a board, with a single frail sentence inscribed across its top third. "I want to tell you everything," it reads. Her letters are drawn, but they aim, and carefully fail, to reproduce the look of print. The space between "I" and "want" seems too large, and "everything" goes awry half way through, skewing suddenly downward. The word-pictures clot around arbitrary letters: the second "l" in "tell," the curl of the "g" in "everything." The visual form of the sentence pressures its syntax by carving odd spaces and distortions in the regimented look of printed language. Schisms appear: who is this "I" that "wants" to "tell"? What is every "thing" to be "told?"  Why even speak this sentence, instead of just commencing the telling? [...]

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"If it need be termed surrender, then let it be so, or: Trisha Donnelly in Parallax"

Afterall 12, Autumn/Winter 2005

Where some imagine that there is only one Trisha Donnelly, I know there are at least four. One is surely a biological entity, and another a projected image, like the one who acts out the codeless semaphore of Canadian Rain (2002). A third, a literary invention of the first, sometimes appears in her place in the vicinity of the art world. A fourth is a malleable figure, co-authored by the third, and anyone who tells her story. (There may be more: one who can travel through time, another who can speak in the tongue of seals, and so on.) [...]

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"Out the Window," Zoe Crosher: Out the Window (LAX).

Los Angeles Forum for Architecture and Urban Design, 2005

I leave half-conscious while the morning is bruise-purple; time stutters past, eyes open and shut. I am in the air watching the night retreat over the ocean and then, as if in a dream, I'm in a dim bathroom in Sea-Tac airport. I stay for several minutes, watching the mirror and listening to passengers piss fitfully. I splash my face with water and then call again. Has it only been six hours? "I'm in Seattle. I'm here." I don't know why I've come, but now I can't go home. [...]

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"Super Pride and Super Prejudice," Tariq Alvi 

Exhibition brochure, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, 2005

In 1981 The Advocate published the results of a demographic survey done at the end of the previous year. The results were in. Peter Frisch, publisher of the magazine, boasted in an editorial that its readership had, among other things, “above-average taste.” He’d learned that the men who read it were middle-class or better, literate and political, populist and erudite. They were Marlboro men who preferred vodka martinis to whiskey shots. But Frisch’s statistics reveal more than the changing predilections of The Advocate’s target audience, which had changed so greatly since the magazine began. They show us an historical shift, a watershed moment in the self-awareness of the gay community. Homosexual men, at least in The Advocate’s estimation, were no longer secretive pansies or, following Herbert Marcuse’s famous expression, “new subjects of history,” but on the verge of becoming a taste culture, unified by more than just sexual preference and shared risk. [...]

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"Ellsworth Kelly: Turn To Abstraction," Ellsworth Kelly in San Francisco

UC Press, Berkeley, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2002

A photograph from 1949 depicts a man, the artist Ellsworth Kelly, seated in the sand of Belle-lie, an island off the coast of France. He draws on a pad held on his knee with the studied pose of a trained artist, though he is incongruously stripped to a bathing suit. His subject sits a few feet in front of him: a woman, Claude Drevet, cross-legged and impassive, in loose pants rolled to her knees for wading in the surf. Her hair is tied back, and it is summer. [...}

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"The Future As Fetish"

October vol. 94, Special issue on the Independent Group, Autumn 2000, pp. 62-88 (peer review)

[...] For these artists, this odd musculature was less an answer to historical circumstance than a site where those histories could be inscribed and, subsequently, remade. This character was their response to the vagaries of representation during a specific moment in capitalist mass culture, and, more specifically, to the vagaries of representing the body in relation to the illogics and short circuits of commodity fetishism. I will first offer an account of the stakes of such representation in terms of Eduardo Paolozzi’s collages; that done, I will widen the scope of my inquiry to include the installations and exhibitions—The Parallel of Life and Art, Man Machine and Motion, and This is Tomorrow—where this grotesque survivalism was most fully developed [...]

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"Verbs Like an Automatic"

Documents 7, Fall 1996

Bloodclot is a curse word in Jamaican dancehall and reggae. It means a very stupid, worthless person. A blood clot is a coagulation. It stops flows. Flows shouldn't stop in hiphop, becoming a scab is becoming a wack MC. Wack MCs can't flow. They can't put language together, they aren't original, they suck, their flow isn't together, one line doesn't produce the next. You can hear a wack MC as soon as they step in a cipher, you can hear the lack of confidence in their voice and the lack of flow between words and verses. A bloodclot is a dead flow. An MC must not scab over. They should flow. [...]

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