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Criticism & Theory

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Art and Politics

Contemporary art is increasingly part of a wider network of cultural practices, related through a common set of references in cultural theory. Within Europe, relations between national theoretical traditions have become more fluid and dynamic, creating an increasingly transnational—or postnational—space for European cultural and art theory. This book offers a snapshot of recent influential work in contemporary art and political theory in France, Italy, and Germany, in the form of original writings by major representatives of each of the three overlapping national traditions.

What if Jacques Lacan--the brilliant and eccentric Parisian psychoanalyst--had worked as a police detective, applying his theories to solve crimes? This may conjure up a mental film clip starring Peter Sellers in a trench coat, but in Lacan at the Scene, Henry Bond makes a serious and provocative claim: that apparently impenetrable events of violent death can be more effectively unraveled with Lacan’s theory of psychoanalysis than with elaborate, technologically advanced forensic tools. Bond’s exposition on murder expands and develops a resolutely Žižekian approach.

Marcel Duchamp was a famous expatriate, a wanderer, living and working in Paris, New York, and Buenos Aires and escaping from them in turn. But exile, argues T. J. Demos in this innovative reading, is more than a fact in Duchamp's biography. Exile—in the artist's own words, a "spirit of expatriation"—infuses Duchamp's entire artistic practice. Indeed a profound sense of dislocation—from geographical situation, national identity, and cultural conventions—deeply informs the mobile objects and disjunctive spaces of Duchamp's readymades and experimental exhibition installations.

Communal (Post)Modernism in Russia

In The Museological Unconscious, Victor Tupitsyn views the history of Russian contemporary art through a distinctly Russian lens, a "communal optic" that registers the influence of such characteristically Russian phenomena as communal living, communal perception, and communal speech practices. This way of looking at the subject allows him to gather together a range of artists and art movements—from socialist realism to its "dangerous supplement," sots art, and from alternative photography to feminism—as if they were tenants in a large Moscow apartment.

Edited by Nadja Rottner

Claes Oldenburg (born in 1929) is largely known today as a pop art sculptor. Oldenburg himself described his formless canvas and vinyl soft sculptures--gigantic hamburgers and ice cream cones, cushiony toilets and typewriters--as “objects that elude definition.” This collection of writings revisits not only Oldenburg’s soft objects from the early to mid 1960s but also his pioneering installations The Street (1960) and The Store (1961–1962) and his often overlooked multimedia performances.

In Under Blue Cup, Rosalind Krauss explores the relation of aesthetic mediums to memory--her own memory having been severely tested by a ruptured aneurysm that temporarily washed away much of her short-term memory. (The title, Under Blue Cup, comes from the legend on a flash card she used as a mnemonic tool during cognitive therapy.) Krauss emphasizes the medium as a form of remembering; contemporary artists in what she terms the "post-medium" condition reject that scaffolding.

An Anthology of Artists' Writings

"Institutional critique" is an artistic practice that reflects critically on its own place within galleries and museums and on the concept and social function of art itself. Such concerns have always been a part of modern art but took on new urgency at the end of the 1960s, when--driven by the social upheaval of the time and enabled by the tools and techniques of conceptual art--institutional critique emerged as a genre.

Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art

Over the past two decades, artists James Luna, Fred Wilson, Amalia Mesa-Bains, Pepón Osorio, and Renée Green have had a profound impact on the meaning and practice of installation art in the United States. In Subject to Display, Jennifer González offers the first sustained analysis of their contribution, linking the history and legacy of race discourse to innovations in contemporary art. Race, writes González, is a social discourse that has a visual history.

In Where Art Belongs, Chris Kraus examines artistic enterprises of the past decade that reclaim the use of lived time as a material in the creation of visual art.

Work by black artists today is almost uniformly understood in terms of its "blackness," with audiences often expecting or requiring it to "represent" the race. In How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness, Darby English shows how severely such expectations limit the scope of our knowledge about this work and how different it looks when approached on its own terms.

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