Art as Existence
The narrative of the artist's life and work is one of the oldest models in the Western literature of the visual arts. In Art as Existence, Gabriele Guercio investigates the metamorphosis of the artist's monograph, tracing its formal and conceptual trajectories from Vasari's sixteenth-century Lives of the Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (which provided the model and source for the genre) through its apogee in the nineteenth century and decline in the twentieth. He looks at the legacy of the life-and-work model and considers its prospects in an intellectual universe of deconstructionism, psychoanalysis, feminism, and postcolonialism.
Since Vasari, the monograph has been notable for its fluidity and variety; it can be scrupulous and exact, probing and revelatory, poetic and imaginative, or any combination of these. In the nineteenth century, the monograph combined art-historical, biographical, and critical methods, and even added elements of fiction. Guercio explores some significant books that illustrate key phases in the model's evolution, including works by Gustav Friedrich Waagen, A. C. Quatremère de Quincy, Johann David Passavant, Bernard Berenson, and others. The hidden project of the artist's monograph, Guercio claims, comes from a utopian impulse; by commuting biography into art and art into biography, the life-and-work model equates art and existence, construing otherwise distinct works of an artist as chapters of a life story. Guercio calls for a contemporary reconsideration of the life-and-work model, arguing that the ultimate legacy of the artist's monograph does not lie in its established modes of writing but in its greater project and in the intimate portrait that we gain of the nature of creativity.
About the Author
Gabriele Guercio is an independent writer living in Milan. He has a doctorate in art history from Yale University and has lectured at the Universities of Rome and Naples. He has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery and a recepient of a J. P. Getty Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Art and the Humanities. Editor of Art after Philosophy and After by Joseph Kosuth (MIT Press, 1991) and De Dominicis, Raccolta di scritti sull'opera e l'artista, he has written on modern and contemporary art as well as the history of art theory.
"An impressively wide-ranging analysis of the monograph from its Renaissance antecedents to the present." , Ann Compton, The Art Book
"Independent, passionate, and unexpected." , Christopher S. Wood, Artforum
"[M]arvelously original, unbeholden to the doxa, [and] unmarred by academic posturing ... [It] hints at what art and art history might be able to contribute to a new and still-undeveloped philosophy of experience." Christopher S. Wood Artforum
"In this impressive and engagingly written first book, Gabriele Guercio poses a focal question for the history of art: what have been the forms and goals of the centuries-long art-historical construction of the monograph, which aims to join the who of the artist—his/her inner and mundane life—with the oeuvre? Guercio's overview of the monograph from the Renaissance to the present day is enriched by his command of the philosophical and theoretical roots of its evolution."
—James S. Ackerman, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Fine Arts Emeritus, Harvard University
"Gabriele Guercio's informed and original reading of the monograph from its origins in the era of Vasari to the late twentieth century is a revivalist ghost story narrated around the embers of the 'death of the artist.' Art as Existence offers not only an intriguing critical narrative of the 'life-and-work model' but also engages its central propositions with a range of recent reflections on intention and imagination, singularity and social extension as they are played out in the particularity of the artwork. Essential for students of methodology, genre, and historiography; and a useful exorcism for the structural abstraction in all of us."
—John C. Welchman, Professor of Visual Arts, University of California, San Diego
"Guercio's study of the life-and-work model for the understanding of art is impressively comprehensive, deeply researched, and judiciously argued. It probes the significance of relatively obscure but notable artistic biographies as well as the most celebrated ones. Guercio succeeds in relating modes of biography to the cultural values of their particular historical moment, linking artists to the accounts constructed for their careers, and hence to a social context."
—Richard Shiff, Department of Art and Art History, The University of Texas at Austin