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Criticism & Theory

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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.

Art has its own power in the world, and is as much a force in the power play of global politics today as it once was in the arena of cold war politics. Art, argues the distinguished theoretician Boris Groys, is hardly a powerless commodity subject to the art market’s fiats of inclusion and exclusion. In Art Power, Groys examines modern and contemporary art according to its ideological function. Art, Groys writes, is produced and brought before the public in two ways—as a commodity and as a tool of political propaganda.

Blow Job

In Andy Warhol's silent black-and-white movie, Blow Job (1964), a youth is filmed as he is apparently being given the sex act named in the title. The 35-minute film is accentuated by the paucity of expression on the actor's face: we see only his head and shoulders, rigidly framed so that all offscreen space has to be imagined, or avoided. Sometimes the young actor looks bored, sometimes as if he is thinking, sometimes as if he is aware of the camera, sometimes as if he is not. Like the protagonists of other Warhol films, he is apparently left to his own devices.

Edited by Kobena Mercer

Migration, whether freely chosen or forcibly imposed, has been a defining feature of twentieth-century modernity—and much of twentieth-century art. Exiles, Diasporas & Strangers examines life-changing journeys that transplanted artists and intellectuals from one cultural context to another, making clear the critical and creative role that migration, exile, and displacement have played in shaping the story of modern art.

The Mind is a Muscle

"It is my overall concern to reveal people as they are engaged in various kinds of activities—alone, with each other, with objects—and to weight the quality of the human body towards that of objects and away from the super-stylization of the dancer."
Yvonne Rainer, STATEMENT accompanying The Mind is a Muscle, 1968

Transversal Activism in the Long Twentieth Century

Gerald Raunig has written an alternative art history of the "long twentieth century," from the Paris Commune of 1871 to the turbulent counter-globalization protests in Genoa in 2001. Meticulously moving from the Situationists and Sergei Eisenstein to Viennese Actionism and the PublixTheatreCaravan, Art and Revolution takes on the history of revolutionary transgressions and optimistically charts an emergence from its tales of tragic failure and unequivocal disaster.

Language in 1960s Art

Language has been a primary element in visual art since the 1960s—whether in the form of printed texts, painted signs, words on the wall, or recorded speech. In Words to Be Looked At, Liz Kotz traces this practice to its beginnings, examining works of visual art, poetry, and experimental music created in and around New York City from 1958 to 1968. In many of these works, language has been reduced to an object nearly emptied of meaning.

Edited by Jennifer Higgie

Ever since Freud's Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious appeared in 1905, humor both light and dark has frequently surfaced as a subversive, troubling, or liberating element in art. The Artist's Joke surveys the rich and diverse uses of humor by avant-garde and contemporary artists.

The Reader

Twentieth-century artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)—legendary and self-mythologizing, enigmatic and controversial—remains an important influence on artists today. Beuys embraced radically democratic artistic and political ideas, proclaiming "Everyone is an artist," and advocating direct democracy through referenda. He famously worked with such nontraditional materials as felt, fat, and plants and animals both alive and dead.

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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