Alle­gories are, in the realm of thoughts, what ruins are in the realm of things (Wal­ter Ben­jamin, The Ori­gin of Ger­man Trag­ic Dra­ma ).

Actu­al­ly, there is one ontol­ogy main­tained through­out his­to­ry, the ontol­ogy of despair. If, how­ev­er, ontol­ogy is what is peren­ni­al, then thought expe­ri­ences every his­tor­i­cal peri­od as the worst and, most of all, its own which it knows direct­ly    (Theodor Adorno, Noten zur Lit­er­atur , vol. 4).

I have begun this essay by quot­ing Ben­jamin and Adorno because it is these two thinkers that seem to have most inspired Ben­jamin H. D. Buchlo­h’s writ­ings, in par­tic­u­lar Wal­ter Ben­jam­in’s the­o­ry of alle­go­ry and Theodor Adorno’s reflec­tions on the cul­ture indus­try. We are quite clear­ly posi­tioned on the cusp of a new peri­od in history–or posthis­to­ry’ as some of us would have it–one very much cod­i­fied by the advances made in dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy, inex­tri­ca­bly link­ing the domains of glob­al finance and cul­tur­al production/consumption into a tighter web of code­pen­den­cy. It is a well known fact that the his­tor­i­cal avant-garde of the ear­ly 20 th cen­tu­ry was long ago replaced by a homog­e­niz­ing and manip­u­la­tive cul­ture indus­try. There have been many neo-avant-garde strate­gies since the defeat of the his­tor­i­cal one, but none that have been able to per­ma­nent­ly unmask, let alone assist in dis­man­tling, the spec­tre of ide­ol­o­gy’ in its all-con­sum­ing form, one that per­me­ates all aspects of pub­lic and pri­vate life. Or per­haps it’s more that peo­ple (in the West) don’t real­ly care, or are in a posi­tion too com­fort­able to real­ly want to do some­thing about it (enlight­ened false con­scious­ness). Per­haps it was a dead issue long ago, the hope for art being able to affect life. Who knows if any­thing can be done. These words sound out­dat­ed to us now. Buchlo­h’s per­sis­tent exam­ple over the years, his insights and omis­sions, are a bril­liant exam­ple of strate­gies in art crit­i­cism used to frame and val­i­date a type of social­ly and polit­i­cal­ly con­scious work. A type con­cerned with social cri­tique, but more pre­cise­ly a type of social cri­tique that was attract­ed to an alle­gor­i­cal ten­den­cy in art­mak­ing that tar­get­ed the insti­tu­tion of art as an exten­sion of the cap­i­tal­ist market.


Fol­low­ing the trans­la­tion of Wal­ter Ben­jam­in’s The Ori­gin of Ger­man Trag­ic Dra­ma ( Trauer­spiel ) into Eng­lish in 1977, a num­ber of alle­go­ry-inspired texts cropped up in the field of art the­o­ry and crit­i­cism. This trans­la­tion could be under­stood as hav­ing appeared at a rather pro­pi­tious moment, see­ing as post­mod­ernism has been dat­ed as emerg­ing at about this very moment in time. Many writ­ers have under­stood post­mod­ern crit­i­cal trends in art as strong­ly alle­gor­i­cal in intent, in con­trast to the Lessingesque stance of mod­ernist canons of the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry up until the end of the Amer­i­can for­mal­ist peri­od in the late fifties. Craig Owens wrote two essays about alle­go­ry (“The Alle­gor­i­cal Impulse: Toward a The­o­ry of Post­mod­ernism” and a Part 2 of the same title, both in 1980). Geof­frey Ulmer dis­cussed alle­go­ry in The Object of Post-Crit­i­cism”, an essay includ­ed with­in the pop­u­lar book edit­ed by Hal Fos­ter, The Anti-Aes­thet­ic (1983). There are oth­ers. Although these essays dis­cuss a deci­sive shift in con­scious­ness from the self-ref­er­en­tial art and self-crit­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tions of mod­ernism, these reflec­tions on alle­go­ry do not seem to be over­ly atten­tive to the def­i­nite his­tor­i­cal rup­tures on which such alle­gor­i­cal modes depend.

In 1982, Ben­jamin Buchloh wrote Alle­gor­i­cal Pro­ce­dures: Appro­pri­a­tion and Mon­tage in Con­tem­po­rary Art”, the first in a series of reflec­tions he devel­oped on the alle­gor­i­cal nature of avant-garde and neo-avant-garde prac­tices, the rad­i­cal his­tor­i­cal nature of which such writ­ers as Owens and Ulmer seem to have missed or dis­missed in their adher­ence to the post­struc­tural­ist writ­ings of Der­ri­da, Lyotard, and de Man. Buchlo­h’s writ­ings are pro­found­ly inspired by the Frank­furt School (to a Ger­man tra­di­tion rather than the French, although he is also much indebt­ed to Roland Barthes’ Mytholo­gies and Fou­cault), and in par­tic­u­lar to the ideas of Wal­ter Ben­jamin. In oppo­si­tion to alle­gor­i­cal works that mere­ly rehearsed the reifi­ca­tion process of the com­mod­i­ty sign as a crit­i­cal stand­point, Buchloh cham­pi­oned works that ques­tioned the com­plic­i­ty of these very forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion (pho­tog­ra­phy, film, sculp­ture, muse­um instal­la­tions) with the pow­er struc­tures of the world at large. In our day and age, art­works with crit­i­cal punch are quite often just as quick­ly co-opt­ed by the establishment–to the extent that irony has come to lose its sting.

Under the melan­cholic eye of both Wal­ter Ben­jamin and Ben­jamin Buchloh, at two dif­fer­ent and very sep­a­rate points in his­to­ry, alle­gor­i­cal pro­ce­dures took on the emblem­at­ic sta­tus of the hiero­glyph: in the fusion or jux­ta­po­si­tion of dis­parate images and/or words, in the retrac­ing and recon­fig­u­ra­tion of past usages and expe­ri­ences and rep­re­sen­ta­tions, the hiero­glyph, like the alle­gor­i­cal emblem, embod­ies new and for­got­ten inter­pre­ta­tions that resur­face con­tin­u­ous­ly, espe­cial­ly when they mark out the thresh­old of his­tor­i­cal change.

In 1928 Ben­jamin pub­lished The Ori­gin of Ger­man Trag­ic Dra­ma (Trauer­spiel), a text that elab­o­rat­ed a the­o­ry of alle­go­ry in terms of Baroque lit­er­a­ture, but that was also cast in cul­tur­al and onto­log­i­cal terms. With the rise of sec­u­lar cul­ture in Europe in the six­teenth and sev­en­teenth cen­turies, the desire for pub­lic action and mate­r­i­al pro­duc­tion took on a gen­er­al melan­cholic atti­tude in the face of a world increas­ing­ly under­stood as frag­men­tary, tran­si­to­ry, and lack­ing in full­ness of expe­ri­ence”. This could be seen as stem­ming from the loss of both a spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion and a sense of ulte­ri­or mean­ing to actions and expe­ri­ences with­in the con­text of the everyday:

The great Ger­man drama­tists of the baroque were Luther­ans. Where­as in the decades of the Counter-Ref­or­ma­tion Catholi­cism had pen­e­trat­ed sec­u­lar life with all the pow­er of its dis­ci­pline, the rela­tion­ship of Lutheranism to the every­day had always been anti­n­o­m­ic. The rig­or­ous moral­i­ty of its teach­ing in respect of civic con­duct stood in sharp con­trast to its renun­ci­a­tion of good works’. By deny­ing the lat­ter any spe­cial mirac­u­lous spir­i­tu­al effect, mak­ing the soul depen­dent on grace through faith, and mak­ing the sec­u­lar-polit­i­cal sphere a test­ing ground for a life which was only indi­rect­ly reli­gious, being intend­ed for the demon­stra­tion of civic virtues, it did, it is true, instill into the peo­ple a strict sense of obe­di­ence to duty, but in its great men it pro­duced melancholy…In that exces­sive reac­tion which ulti­mate­ly denied good works as such … there was an ele­ment of Ger­man pagan­ism and the grim belief in the sub­jec­tion of man to fate. Human actions were deprived of all val­ue. Some­thing new arose: an emp­ty world…For those who looked deep­er saw the scene of their exis­tence as a rub­bish heap of par­tial, inau­then­tic actions…Mourning is the state of mind in which feel­ing revives the emp­ty world in the form of a mask, and derives an enig­mat­ic sat­is­fac­tion in con­tem­plat­ing it. 2

The alle­gor­i­cal gaze onto the out­side world betrayed a pro­found, inac­ces­si­ble absence: it is pre­cise­ly the immo­ti­va­tion of the world that caus­es the per­va­sive melan­cho­lia of the Trauer­spiel , that caus­es the alle­gor­i­cal way of look­ing at the world.” 3 Under the gaze of melan­choly life flows out of the object and remains behind, a dead object, a dis­em­bod­ied shell. The object becomes inca­pable of ema­nat­ing any sig­nif­i­cance of its own and must depend on the alle­gorist to make sense of the des­o­late, sor­row­ful dis­per­sal of mean­ing that marks the pres­ence of an anachro­nis­tic arti­fact amidst con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous things. As a fixed, sta­t­ic image or sign, the alle­gor­i­cal emblem acts as a stor­age site for mem­o­ry, like an aban­doned muse­um or library, a for­got­ten mon­u­ment, a dust-cov­ered souvenir.

The melan­cholic gaze stems from this sense of being cut off from direct divine influence–“mundane, earth­bound, cor­po­re­al” in the words of George Stein­er. This earth­bound­ed­ness, akin to Christ’s being kenot­i­cal­ly for­sak­en on earth, is what dis­tin­guish­es the con­cept of Trauer­spiel from Tragedy. Trauer­spiel is imma­nent, ground­ed in his­to­ry, while Tragedy is tran­scen­den­tal, ground­ed in mythol­o­gy. Tragedy is con­veyed through silence, Trauer­spiel through a tor­ren­tial pro­lix­i­ty”. This dis­tinc­tion strange­ly has its appli­ca­tions today in terms of how mod­ernism has been dis­tin­guished from post­mod­ernism (mod­ernism as sym­bol­ic, tran­scen­den­tal, total­is­tic, often utopi­an”, while post­mod­ernism as alle­gor­i­cal, imma­nent, con­tin­gent, some­how fall­en”). Alle­go­ry’s ten­den­cy to con­vey a mean­ing or idea through a pletho­ra of words or net­work of images, con­veys this neces­si­ty in alle­go­ry of dis­cov­er­ing hid­den cor­re­spon­dences amidst the cacoph­o­ny of every­day life before any­thing can even come close to the truth’ of divine con­stel­la­tions .

Just as Baroque dra­ma of the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry rep­re­sents nature in a process of decay as a result of the loss of this reli­gious con­text with­in the quo­tid­i­an and with­in great works”, a trans­for­ma­tion of human labour process­es in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry paved the way for an expe­ri­ence of alien­at­ed dead objects” under cap­i­tal­ism and a grad­ual loss of unmedi­at­ed per­son­al expe­ri­ence. Accord­ing to Wal­ter Ben­jamin, the last real instance of alle­go­ry to be ful­ly devel­oped was in the poet­ry of Baudelaire:

Melan­choly bears in the 19 th cen­tu­ry a dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter to that which it bore in the 17 th . The key fig­ure of the ear­ly alle­go­ry is the corpse. The key fig­ure of the lat­er alle­go­ry is the sou­venir” ( Andenken ). The sou­venir” is the schema of the trans­for­ma­tion of the com­mod­i­ty into a col­lec­tor’s object…The hero­ic tenor of the Baude­laire­an inspi­ra­tion shows itself in this, that with him mem­o­ry ( die Erin­nerung ) recedes in favour of remem­brances ( des Andenkens) ” ( Cen­tral Park , sec­tion 44).

The aware­ness of the all-too-human propen­si­ty to for­get the past”, the lack of full­ness’ of expe­ri­ence of the world, the frag­men­ta­tion of dis­course and imagery, the simul­ta­ne­ous deval­u­a­tion and sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion of the object, and the inter­nal­iza­tion of death and decay in the form of the sou­venir, all of these intense­ly alle­gor­i­cal ele­ments char­ac­ter­ized the form and con­tent of Baude­laire’s verse. The decay, not just of nature, but of every­day urban expe­ri­ence, and the deval­u­a­tion of the use val­ue of objects in favor of exchange val­ue, were all aspects result­ing from indus­tri­al modes of pro­duc­tion in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry and were man­i­fest­ly alle­gor­i­cal in terms of Marx’s notion of com­mod­i­ty fetishism that sig­naled cul­tur­al and social decay under cap­i­tal­ism. Just as Baude­laire’s poet­ry was to be char­ac­ter­ized by a wrench­ing of things from their famil­iar con­text” so as to cre­ate a sense of shock by the sud­den­ness of dis­con­ti­nu­ity, so were com­modi­ties to be exhib­it­ed for their exchange val­ue, wrenched from the usu­al con­text of every­day use, expos­ing the objects’ new rei­fied status.

Although the Trauer­spiel prob­a­bly rep­re­sents the last roman­tic-meta­phys­i­cal peri­od in Ben­jam­in’s thought” before his change of method­ol­o­gy towards a more Marx­ist dialec­ti­cal mate­ri­al­ism, one detects a strong rela­tion­ship of this text to the most influ­en­tial of his writ­ings on art, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechan­i­cal Repro­duc­tion . In advanc­ing the con­cept of aura as com­pris­ing the cult val­ue of his­tor­i­cal works that guar­an­teed the authen­tic­i­ty, unique­ness and auton­o­my of the tra­di­tion­al work, Ben­jamin seemed to have envis­aged an immi­nent future when the tech­nol­o­gy of mass cul­tur­al forms would wipe out the sta­tus of art as it had come to be known: He knew how much the con­cep­tion of the sin­gle, iso­lat­ed work of art, authen­tic and unre­peat­able, owed to reli­gion, which gave it its sacred radi­ance, and then lat­er, in a sec­u­lar­ized form, how much it owed to a sys­tem of pri­vate prop­er­ty which gave it its val­ue.” 4 How­ev­er, with this low­er­ing’ and dis­per­sal of the con­tent and form of the art work would be a cor­re­spond­ing rais­ing’ of the mean­ing of the work to a high­er lev­el of expe­ri­ence, thus giv­ing the work a social sig­nif­i­cance unknown to it before. It is in this onto­log­i­cal leap’ from the sacred to the pro­fane that mean­ing is con­struct­ed-from the absence or for­get­ting of a past notion of truth’ aris­es a new under­stand­ing of social expe­ri­ence through new modes of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion of visu­al and aur­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Of course this process seems to echo what he had described in the Trauer­spiel with the rup­ture of the reli­gious from the sec­u­lar world of expe­ri­ence. The end result of such a rup­ture is the fig­ure of alle­go­ry, frozen into a frag­ment­ed, emblem­at­ic stiff­ness (the look­ing glass or death’s head in sev­en­teenth-cen­tu­ry dra­ma, the com­mod­i­ty fetish and the repro­duc­tion of the art­work in nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry culture).

In the tran­si­tori­ness and frag­men­ta­tion of sec­u­lar expe­ri­ence, alle­go­ry is embod­ied in the dance of rep­re­sent­ed ideas”, such that truth is nev­er whol­ly present as such, but is per­pet­u­al­ly in the process of becom­ing and fad­ing away with­in the move­ment between con­flict­ing ideas: For ideas are not rep­re­sent­ed in them­selves, but sole­ly and exclu­sive­ly in an arrange­ment of con­crete ele­ments in the con­cept: as the con­fig­u­ra­tion of these elements…Ideas are to objects as con­stel­la­tions are to stars.” 5 Rather than a mere deval­u­a­tion of mean­ing that one would have expect­ed, in the trans­for­ma­tion of things of the world into signs, one becomes more con­scious of an absence with­in expe­ri­ence that was per­haps always already there. As the social and eco­nom­ic struc­tures with­in the world slip from one form of rep­re­sen­ta­tion to anoth­er, one’s expe­ri­ence and one’s rela­tion to objects and to oth­er peo­ple, become trans­formed. One tends to for­get the past in this struc­tur­al shift from one form of his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence to anoth­er, and in so doing one tends to look away from the truth of one­self   by shift­ing one’s sense of self from one ide­o­log­i­cal sub­ject posi­tion to anoth­er (i.e. in the loss of one form of expe­ri­ence to one that con­forms to a new imposed struc­ture). It is at this thresh­old from one form of expe­ri­ence to anoth­er that one can begin to under­stand the under­ly­ing pow­er struc­tures that bind expe­ri­ence. In high­light­ing this thresh­old, alle­go­ry makes present this absence as melancholy.

Inspired by this Ben­jamin­ian notion of alle­go­ry, Ben­jamin Buchloh indulges in what appears to be a very alle­gor­i­cal approach to dis­cussing art (in terms of how he relates rup­tures in his­to­ry to dis­con­tin­u­ous cul­tur­al and sub­ject for­ma­tions). He uses Ben­jam­in’s the­o­ry of alle­go­ry as a way to under­stand some of the avant-garde strate­gies used by artists in the lat­ter half of this century:

The alle­gor­i­cal mind sides with the object and protests against its deval­u­a­tion to the sta­tus of com­mod­i­ty by deval­u­at­ing it a sec­ond time in alle­gor­i­cal prac­tice. In the splin­ter­ing of sig­ni­fi­er and sig­ni­fied the alle­gorist sub­jects the sign to the same divi­sion of func­tions that the object has under­gone in its trans­for­ma­tion into a com­mod­i­ty. The rep­e­ti­tion of the orig­i­nal act of deple­tion and the new attri­bu­tion of mean­ing redeems the object. 6

The object can­not retrieve its orig­i­nal func­tion or val­ue. How­ev­er the process of trans­for­ma­tion, of desub­li­ma­tion and sub­li­ma­tion, is high­light­ed so as to ren­der vis­i­ble the work­ings of ide­ol­o­gy or mys­ti­fi­ca­tion (Adorno). In Wal­ter Ben­jam­in’s text on Ger­man Trauer­spiel , the alle­gor­i­cal mode also approach­es things in the world by the action of low­er­ing and then rais­ing them to a high­er significance:

In becom­ing a world of alle­gor­i­cal emblems, the pro­fane world is robbed of its sen­su­al full­ness, robbed of any inher­ent mean­ing it might pos­sess, only to be invest­ed with a priv­i­leged mean­ing whose source tran­scends this world. The philo­soph­i­cal con­cept thus finds its ana­logue in the alle­gor­i­cal emblem. In both con­cept and emblem, the arbi­trari­ness and unrea­son­able­ness of assign­ing a thing to a par­tic­u­lar mean­ing only make the point more strong­ly that the indi­vid­ual phe­nom­e­non now takes on a new life, no longer cen­tered in itself but enlist­ed in the ser­vice of rep­re­sent­ing truth. This para­dox is the foun­da­tion of Ben­jam­in’s bril­liant list of what he calls the antin­o­mies of alle­gore­sis” — the simul­ta­ne­ous deval­u­a­tion and sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion of the object… 7

Undoubt­ed­ly, the first instances of such deval­u­a­tion and rais­ing of an object with­in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry art con­text were that of the frag­men­tary sys­tem of mon­tage in poet­ry, film, and col­lage in visu­al art, and espe­cial­ly that of the ready­made exhib­it­ed with­in the muse­um. Com­menc­ing with such artists as Heart­field and Duchamp, the emp­ty­ing of the con­ven­tion­al mean­ing of lan­guage and the com­mod­i­ty and its ele­va­tion to the sta­tus of epis­te­mo­log­i­cal emblem was to serve as an alle­gor­i­cal mod­el for numer­ous instances of avant-garde inter­ven­tion with­in the muse­um. It is in wrench­ing an object from its pre­vi­ous con­text of pro­duc­tion and recep­tion that a new mean­ing of his­tor­i­cal, social and aes­thet­ic sig­nif­i­cance is con­struct­ed. With­in the con­text of the neo-avant-garde James Cole­man is the most recent artist that Buchloh has includ­ed in his reper­toire of alle­gor­i­cal­ly-bent artists, ded­i­cat­ed to the prac­tice of insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique (Broodthaers, Buren, Haacke, and Dan Gra­ham are oth­ers). Not that Cole­man is a recent’ artist (he has been mak­ing con­cep­tu­al works since the late six­ties), but that Cole­man’s new­er work has a decid­ed­ly alle­gor­i­cal feel approach­ing a Ben­jamin­ian sense that Buchloh has just caught onto. In the case of Cole­man, the use of alle­go­ry as a hermeneu­ti­cal trope seems par­tic­u­lar­ly fit­ting since the major­i­ty of Cole­man’s recent pro­jec­tions, video, and film works seem to relate direct­ly to the­atre, under the guise of   the tableau vivant or pho­to roman . The par­tic­u­lar way Cole­man uses lan­guage also seems to approach some of Ben­jam­in’s ideas on lan­guage with­in the con­text of alle­go­ry, or the con­cept non-sen­su­ous sim­i­lar­i­ty” ( On the Mimet­ic Fac­ul­ty ).

How­ev­er, before delv­ing into Buchlo­h’s more recent alle­gor­i­cal readings–particularly that of James Coleman–an account of Buchlo­h’s crit­i­cal project of pro­mot­ing avant-garde instances of self-deter­mi­na­tion’ needs to be divulged. Buchlo­h’s con­vic­tions and his Ben­jamin­ian melan­choly seem root­ed in the fail­ure of the his­tor­i­cal avant-garde, in the more recent short­com­ings of the (post-)Minimalist and (post-) Con­cep­tu­al art move­ments, and of course in the dilap­i­da­tion of mem­o­ry and expe­ri­ence under the weight of the cul­ture indus­try on the one hand and in the ruinous   ide­o­log­i­cal under­pin­nings of neo-Kant­ian posi­tions call­ing for the auton­o­my of art on the other.

The ref­er­ences to pop­u­lar the­ater in the case of James Cole­man’s post-Con­cep­tu­al­ist work seem to be direct­ly relat­ed to the visu­al arts’ rejec­tion of fig­u­ra­tion and nar­ra­tive and its inca­pac­i­ty for polit­i­cal cri­tique in the post­war peri­od, while the the­atre and cin­e­ma in France, Ger­many, and Ire­land proved to be overt­ly polit­i­cal, in large part because the­atre and cin­e­ma escaped the neces­si­ty of being sold on the mar­ket as in the case of art objects. It is espe­cial­ly in the realm of the the­atre of lan­guage and of his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry that Cole­man’s work can be under­stood to prob­lema­tize the neu­tral­iza­tion of visu­al art, in a sim­i­lar way to that of Peter Weiss’ plays or the Liv­ing The­ater (as a syn­the­sis of Brecht and Artaud), to that of Beck­et­t’s plays and tele­plays, and to that of Godard and Straub’s cin­e­ma, in that they addressed the polit­i­cal cli­mate of the post­war peri­od through a com­plex play of lan­guage. Much of Buchlo­h’s insight, and his sub­tle ref­er­ences to alle­go­ry, could be seen as orig­i­nat­ing from the polit­i­cal weight of Ger­man the­atre and cin­e­ma in Berlin dur­ing the six­ties. Thus it is to this post­war peri­od that we must turn now.


In a coun­try that’s in a hur­ry to make the future, the names attached to the prod­ucts are an endur­ing reas­sur­ance. John­son & John­son and Quak­er State and RCA Vic­tor and Burling­ton Mills and Bris­tol Myers and Gen­er­al Motors. These are the ven­er­at­ed emblems of the bur­geon­ing econ­o­my, eas­i­er to iden­ti­fy than the names of bat­tle­fields or dead pres­i­dents (Don Delil­lo, Under­world ).

For if we con­sid­er the innu­mer­able corpses with which, part­ly, the rav­ages of the plague and, part­ly, weapons of war, have filled not only our Ger­many, but almost the whole of Europe, then we must admit that our ros­es have been trans­formed into thorns, our lilies into net­tles, our par­adis­es into ceme­ter­ies, indeed our whole being into an image of death. It is there­fore my hope that it will not be held against me that in this gen­er­al the­atre of death I have not fore­borne to set up my own paper grave­yard. 9

From the incep­tion of the avant-garde with Courbet and Maxime du Camp in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, there was a call for the abo­li­tion of beaux-arts tra­di­tion and the con­ven­tions of fig­u­ra­tion through an embrac­ing of an ide­ol­o­gy of indus­tri­al progress and new tech­no-sci­en­tif­ic par­a­digms”. The avant-garde could be under­stood as aris­ing from the fail­ure of the rev­o­lu­tion of 1848 which paved the way for mod­ernist art (auton­o­my and mate­ri­al­i­ty) and new forms of mass cul­ture. Even in its ret­ro­spec­tive labelling, avant-garde art has a dif­fer­ent con­no­ta­tion from what mod­ernist art and mass cul­ture were to become. Mod­ernist art resolved to do away with the canons of a clas­si­cal, aris­to­crat­ic tra­di­tion which was still con­strued as a threat to the bour­geoisie while new­ly emerg­ing forms of mass cul­ture brought about by indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion, like pho­tog­ra­phy and film, was seen as threat­en­ing to give a promi­nent voice to the rise of the work­ing class­es. From this point on, mod­ernist art and mass cul­ture were to become inter­de­pen­dent in their strug­gle for dom­i­nance. Avant-garde art was to devel­op as a form that attempt­ed to cross the divide between class­es, a form that meld­ed art into life via the belief that indus­tri­al progress would bring about greater human equality.

Lat­er on, the abo­li­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and of cul­tur­al mem­o­ry in visu­al art in Europe and Amer­i­ca seemed to have acquired an even more urgent rai­son d’e­tre in light of the atroc­i­ties that per­vad­ed the sec­ond world war. This moment in his­to­ry with­out a doubt sym­bol­izes the most inex­plic­a­ble instance of human bar­barism, a wound that runs far too deep with­in the flesh of col­lec­tive and per­son­al imag­i­nary for cul­tur­al prac­tice to regain any real con­ti­nu­ity with the past. Old modes of rep­re­sen­ta­tion could not even begin to express this shat­ter­ing sense of exis­tence. This sen­ti­ment echoes an idea cen­tral to Theodor Adorno’s crit­i­cal thought–the impos­si­bil­i­ty of poet­ry after the Holo­caust. Adorno was also con­vinced of the impos­si­bil­i­ty of rep­re­sent­ing his­to­ry in art, a ten­den­cy that was also embraced by Amer­i­can cul­ture, although for com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent rea­sons (hav­ing become a world pow­er, it tend­ed to envi­sion the world as a clean slate onto which it could exer­cise its polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic influ­ence after the dev­as­ta­tion of the wars). Thus reflec­tions on his­to­ry were repressed with­in art pro­duc­tion for dif­fer­ent rea­sons depend­ing on whether one was Euro­pean or Amer­i­can. Euro­peans avoid­ed reflec­tions on recent his­to­ry up until the late six­ties because they were attempt­ing to let the wounds of the world wars heal, the guilt stem­ming from the atroc­i­ties sub­side. In terms of artis­tic the­o­ry and prax­is, the fail­ure of the his­tor­i­cal avant-garde rein­forced Adorno’s para­dox­i­cal mod­ernist stance, a stance that shunned rep­re­sen­ta­tion and the bridg­ing of art and life, but which did not deny art’s his­tor­i­cal deter­min­ism and it’s capac­i­ty for social change. This stemmed from the mem­o­ries of the recent past. Amer­i­cans on the oth­er hand were pre­oc­cu­pied with the future, for they had tak­en over what pow­er had been lost by impe­ri­al­ist Europe. Their his­to­ry was seen as one that was in the mak­ing, one that embod­ied the hopes and promis­es of progress that paved the way for the future.

In light of the dra­mat­ic socio-polit­i­cal devel­op­ments that occurred in the first few decades of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, from the utopi­an project of the Russ­ian rev­o­lu­tion to the defeat of the left dur­ing the Weimar Repub­lic, the notion of an avant-garde art in Ger­many was con­sid­ered a dead issue up until the late six­ties, seen more as an excuse to con­tin­ue pro­duc­ing works for the muse­um than as a way to effec­tu­ate any real social change:

The Ger­man New Left of the 60s sus­pect­ed the cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion of the neo-avant-garde of being not much more than the result of mar­ket inter­ests with no oth­er func­tion than to fur­nish muse­ums and homes with lux­u­ry con­sumer items and to legit­i­mate post­war neo­cap­i­tal­ism. Any cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion was con­sid­ered reac­tionary, affir­ma­tive by def­i­n­i­tion (for instance, Warhol), and con­sti­tu­tive of the sys­tem… 10

As a stu­dent in West Berlin dur­ing the six­ties, Buchloh wit­nessed the rejec­tion of the avant-garde as a nat­ur­al cul­tur­al expres­sion of that par­tic­u­lar time and place. Cin­e­ma and such dra­mat­ic projects as Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade were con­sid­ered a more cred­i­ble alter­na­tive to the plas­tic arts because of their roots in a pop­u­lar pub­lic cul­ture (espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the strong Brecht­ian tra­di­tion in Ger­many) in oppo­si­tion to bour­geois con­tem­pla­tion and con­sump­tion of fine art. With the col­lapse of tra­di­tions and val­ues based on kin­ship and com­mu­ni­ty as a result of the growth of eco­nom­ic and social indi­vid­u­al­ism in indus­tri­al soci­eties” (Goody, 1968, p. 402–3), the notions of the peo­ple and the Volk , nation­al­i­ty, class, and minor­i­ty cul­tures were sub­ject to dynam­ic, con­flict­ing, and shift­ing inter­pre­ta­tions dur­ing the six­ties. Cin­e­ma and the­atre were a very effec­tive means of address­ing con­tem­po­rary social issues with­in cul­tur­al prac­tice, some­thing that visu­al art prac­tice avoid­ed alto­geth­er it seems up until the eight­ies. 10a And unlike the erad­i­ca­tion of rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al forms in the visu­al moder­ni­ty of fine arts, cin­e­ma and the­atre did not depart from its focus on the domains of fig­u­ra­tion (the body), rhetoric, and lit­er­ary narrative.

In the ear­ly sev­en­ties Buchloh was intro­duced to Con­cep­tu­al art and to a neo-avant-garde move­ment that cir­cu­lat­ed around the crit­i­cal art jour­nal Inter­funkio­nen . In 1973 Buchloh took over this pub­li­ca­tion from Fritz Heubach, regard­ing the jour­nal as a chance for cul­tur­al inter­ven­tion, for he saw the pos­si­bil­i­ty for the trans­for­ma­tion of visu­al practices–with polit­i­cal implications–in cer­tain aspects of con­cep­tu­al art”. 11   Con­cep­tu­al art’s empha­sis on infor­ma­tion val­ue (such that any­one was able to par­tic­i­pate and approach the work with­out pre­req­ui­site knowl­edge about art) and its rejec­tion of the sta­tus of the art object made the jour­nal a priv­i­leged for­mat for most Con­cep­tu­al artists dur­ing the six­ties and seventies.

When Ben­jamin Buchloh arrived in North Amer­i­ca over twen­ty years ago, he had come with the inten­tion of being crit­i­cal­ly engaged in the dis­cours­es and activ­i­ties sur­round­ing the Con­cep­tu­al art move­ment. He had been invit­ed to the Nova Sco­tia Col­lege of Art in 1977 to serve as edi­tor to a con­tin­u­ing series of art pub­li­ca­tions of a decid­ed­ly Con­cep­tu­al focus. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, at that par­tic­u­lar moment Con­cep­tu­al­ism was already on its last legs. Fast emerg­ing was an era of mytho­log­i­cal’, reac­tionary art whose mock avant-garde label paid lip-ser­vice to the art mar­ket (and thus to grow­ing right-wing polit­i­cal oppres­sion) in the wake of Con­cep­tu­al­is­m’s slow dis­so­lu­tion from inci­sive insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique to a hol­low admin­is­tra­tive sig­ni­fi­er (or so Buchloh would have it). It so hap­pens that just fol­low­ing his depar­ture from Ger­many there had also occurred a polit­i­cal swing to the right in Ger­many that Buchloh saw as being sig­naled by the Berufsver­bote and the death of the Baad­er-Mein­hof group 12 . Buchloh found him­self as if ship­wrecked amidst the last sur­viv­ing and fast dwin­dling mes­sages of resis­tance to the admin­is­tra­tive enclo­sure of mod­ern art by the cul­ture indus­try” 13 . It was as if the inter­na­tion­al ten­den­cies of Con­cep­tu­al­ism had unwit­ting­ly paved the way for an inter­na­tion­al counter-move­ment based on a return to the hero­ic pos­tur­ings of paint­ing. The tau­to­log­i­cal strate­gies of Con­cep­tu­al­ism, in its emp­ty­ing of art of mate­ri­al­i­ty and tra­di­tion­al con­tent’, had reached the cul-de-sac of its ahis­tor­i­cal des­tiny. The oppor­tunis­tic and non-crit­i­cal reen­chant­ment of mytho­log­i­cal con­tent came gush­ing back into art.

This over­shad­ow­ing of neo-avant-garde inter­ven­tions by fig­u­ra­tive paint­ing at the end of the sev­en­ties was a piv­otal moment for Buchloh, for it was this very moment of regres­sion, this return to order” in art, that affirmed his resolve to stake out and pro­mote a post-Con­cep­tu­al art prac­tice that was his­tor­i­cal­ly con­scious and func­tion­al­ist in intent. He sought out artists who wished to rema­te­ri­al­ize crit­i­cal thought in real social life” 14 . I would go so far as to say that this mis­sion’ was con­ceived in Buchlo­h’s mind as some­how res­cu­ing the anti-pos­i­tivism of Adorno’s Crit­i­cal The­o­ry and of Ben­jam­in’s socio-polit­i­cal­ly engaged artist as pro­duc­er, espe­cial­ly in light of their melan­cholic adjust­ment to the new his­tor­i­cal neces­si­ty of liv­ing with­in the silence of Com­mu­nism” begin­ning in the 1930s” 15 .

In terms of Buchlo­h’s own his­tor­i­cal posi­tion, he had come to Amer­i­ca from a Ger­many where the left cul­ture of the East was an offi­cial state cul­ture while in the West the recon­struc­tion of an elite bour­geois cul­ture had been strong­ly guid­ed by Amer­i­can inter­ven­tion with the Mar­shall Plan. In terms of artis­tic inno­va­tion and author­i­ty, from a Euro­pean per­spec­tive, Amer­i­ca appeared as a land of infi­nite pos­si­bil­i­ties where the space for a pos­si­ble free­dom from the bar­barism of cap­i­tal­ist exploita­tion was still being mapped out. One must also assume that the defeat of the New Left per­spec­tive, cul­mi­nat­ing with the stu­dent rad­i­cal­ism of 1968, had resound­ed grave­ly in Buchlo­h’s mind. The rep­e­ti­tion of the fail­ure of the Left to effect socio-polit­i­cal change and then the fail­ure of avant-garde artists to resist the effects of the cul­ture indus­try (fig­ured through the log­ic of cap­i­tal­ist mar­ket prac­tices in art), seems to have trig­gered a melan­cholic revi­sion of Adorn­ian and Ben­jamin­ian cul­tur­al crit­i­cism. Through the late sev­en­ties, eight­ies and ear­ly nineties,   Buchloh pro­duced an art crit­i­cism that served to pro­mote the pro­duc­tion of works that strug­gled toward a func­tion­al rela­tion­ship with real­i­ty in the sense of New Left activism and a desire for a res­o­lu­tion to the dilem­ma of a reduc­tivist immo­bi­liza­tion of art (as a dema­te­ri­al­iza­tion of the work into crit­i­cal lan­guage as put for­ward by Con­cep­tu­al­ism.)   There­fore, Buchlo­h’s art crit­i­cism begins where Con­cep­tu­al­ism ends off.


Baude­laire’s mod­ernist poet­ry pro­vides us with expe­ri­ence of the world con­sti­tut­ed by the absence of expe­ri­ence. Such, for Ben­jamin and Adorno, is the remark­able con­sti­tu­tive char­ac­ter of mod­ernist works of art in rela­tion to the world they inhab­it. 16


What bound the aes­thet­ic dimen­sion of both Ben­jam­in’s and Adorno’s thought was the under­stand­ing of the adap­ta­tion of human per­cep­tion to indus­tri­al modes of pro­duc­tion and the desire to inscribe art with­in the frame­work of an his­tor­i­cal project. All forms of art, being affect­ed by the his­tor­i­cal con­tin­gen­cies with­in which they arise, come into the world and are expe­ri­enced as such with ide­o­log­i­cal strings attached. Although Adorno and Ben­jamin are often dis­cussed in con­nec­tion with one anoth­er, their ideas on art are decid­ed­ly diver­gent. Ben­jam­in’s writ­ings dis­play a para­dox­i­cal view of cul­tur­al expe­ri­ence, at once col­lec­tive and per­son­al, mix­ing a strain of mate­ri­al­ism with a mes­sian­ism and even psy­cho­an­a­lyt­ic ten­den­cies, cham­pi­oning mass cul­tur­al forms like film while secret­ing a nos­tal­gia for aurat­ic expe­ri­ence. Espe­cial­ly in light of the fail­ure of the his­tor­i­cal avant-garde to resist its own aes­theti­ciza­tion under Fas­cism and Com­mu­nism under Stal­in, Adorno remained elit­ist in his taste for mod­ernist art. His rejec­tion of the avant-garde, as well as l’art pour l’art and Jugend­stil, seems to be tied in with his belief that these move­ments paved the way for admin­is­tered cul­ture and the reign of com­mod­i­fied art, what he and Horkheimer called the cul­ture industry”.

Some crit­ics found this focus on the aes­thet­ic in Adorno’s and Ben­jam­in’s works annoy­ing, con­sid­er­ing their crit­i­cism to be lit­tle more than the sub­li­mat­ed ful­fill­ment of polit­i­cal urges”, a form of ersatz prac­tice”. But as Richard Wolin notes: “…in an his­tor­i­cal era in which social the­o­ry had become social sci­ence,” phi­los­o­phy was irre­deemably scholas­tic, and objec­tive prospects for social change were seem­ing­ly crushed beneath mono­lith­ic author­i­tar­i­an and wel­fare-state for­ma­tions, Crit­i­cal The­o­ry increas­ing­ly turned to the aes­thet­ic sphere as a unique repos­i­to­ry of qual­i­ta­tive dif­fer­ence, nega­tion, and cri­tique”. 17 Inspired by this very tra­di­tion,   Ben­jamin Buchloh stands out in my mind as one of the most promi­nent art crit­ics and his­to­ri­ans to have writ­ten about Amer­i­can and Euro­pean art of the post­war peri­od not only because of his ques­tion­ing of its dis­avow­al of his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry in the post­war peri­od but also because of his sys­tem­at­ic map­ping out of the avant-garde project since its his­tor­i­cal ori­gins in the 1920s. (How­ev­er, many art crit­ics and art his­to­ri­ans (e.g. Hal Fos­ter) have crit­i­cized him for what they see as a ten­den­cy towards his­tori­cism with­in this thought, that is, that he sees ten­den­cies in art as punc­tu­al and final, where rup­tures of great ret­ro­spec­tive clar­i­ty occur once and for all, where there is no room for long tran­si­tion­al murky peri­ods, or deferred revis­it­ings, such that art pro­duc­tion is not as depen­dent on abrupt eco­nom­ic or socio-polit­i­cal crises as he would like them to be.) In priv­i­leg­ing the domain of art as a form of social cri­tique and resis­tance to the glob­al­iza­tion of the cul­ture indus­try and its form of hege­mon­ic con­trol through spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion and sub­ject con­struc­tion, he upholds the Adornoian con­vic­tion that avant-garde prac­tices in the autonomous space of the muse­um remain one of the last strong­holds of West­ern bour­geois cul­ture against mass social con­trol of expe­ri­ence and of crit­i­cal thought and dis­course. Nonethe­less, the muse­um is under the con­tin­u­ous threat of mass sub­jec­tion to the cul­ture indus­try (whose strat­e­gy is diver­sion from pub­lic action through sys­tem­at­ic con­sump­tion of cap­i­tal­ist ide­ol­o­gy). Per­haps because of his posi­tion as out­sider to the hege­mon­ic Amer­i­can cul­tur­al sphere, he was con­scious of the urgency to address the dis­so­lu­tion of crit­i­cal art prac­tices in light of the socio-eco­nom­ic rup­ture of the ear­ly 1970s (the oil embar­go of 1973, etc.) and the atten­dant con­ser­v­a­tive polit­i­cal pres­sures felt in the field of cul­ture. This dis­so­lu­tion of the crit­i­cal func­tion was in large part due to the impasse of con­ven­tion­al­ized approach­es to mak­ing avant-garde” art: the dema­te­ri­al­iza­tion of art, the ahis­tor­i­cal approach that entailed the wip­ing out any mem­o­ry of ref­er­ences to past sub­ject mat­ter, genre, and mate­r­i­al-speci­fici­ty. In the late sev­en­ties, Buchloh was par­tic­u­lar­ly instru­men­tal in bring­ing atten­tion to the overt repres­sions and omis­sions cre­at­ed by art his­tor­i­cal and crit­i­cal writ­ing, espe­cial­ly those that had issued from post-war America.


I’m total­ly unin­ter­est­ed in Euro­pean art and I think it’s all over with - Don­ald Judd.

At the time that Buchloh was writ­ing about Euro­pean and Amer­i­can neo-avant-garde artists in the jour­nal Inter­funk­tio­nen , Amer­i­cans paid very lit­tle atten­tion to what Euro­pean artists were pro­duc­ing, chiefly because Amer­i­can artists had final­ly found an oppor­tune his­tor­i­cal moment to forge their own legit­i­mate and author­i­ta­tive iden­ti­ty as pro­duc­ers of seri­ous, avant-garde art in con­tradis­tinc­tion to the Euro­pean con­ven­tions and inno­va­tions of the past that had hith­er­to dom­i­nat­ed the art world. A new Amer­i­can avant-garde style was enforced in Europe by the unprece­dent­ed post­war inva­sion of Amer­i­can art and cul­ture on the Euro­pean mar­ket after the Mar­shall Plan. This of course was in part due to the thriv­ing prac­tice of Amer­i­can art crit­i­cism. Clement Green­berg and then Michael Fried were amongst the most influ­en­tial in for­ward­ing an aes­thet­ic of modernism–autonomy, ide­o­log­i­cal neu­tral­i­ty, medi­um-speci­fici­ty, opti­cal­i­ty, and empir­i­cal self-reflexivity–that made this brand of art par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive to post­war artists in a bur­geon­ing, pros­per­ous art mar­ket. In order to show to what extent art crit­i­cism was to hith­er­to affect art pro­duc­tion in the post­war peri­od I quote from Buchlo­h’s essay For­mal­ism and his­toric­i­ty that express­es the prob­lem of an exclu­sive­ly for­mal­ist the­o­riza­tion: For­mal­iza­tion of his­tor­i­cal and crit­i­cal descrip­tion seems to have found feed­back in the pro­duc­tion of Amer­i­can art of the six­ties. The terms which had been used to describe the phe­nom­e­na became the terms used to pro­duce the phe­nom­e­na”. 18 The omis­sions and emphases that were cre­at­ed by art crit­i­cism and the­o­ry had an unpar­al­leled influ­ence on how art was made and on what end­ed up get­ting acknowl­edged as a legit­i­mate and authen­tic work of art. These his­tor­i­cal­ly deter­mined vari­ables con­sti­tute recep­tion, one of the most impor­tant aspects of avant-garde prac­tices: It is a valid step to acknowl­edge the extent to which recep­tion his­to­ry’ has become pro­duc­tion his­to­ry’, and … to reveal the degree to which seem­ing­ly autonomous aes­thet­i­cal enti­ties inform them­selves his­tor­i­cal­ly.”   Besides ana­lyz­ing the pit­falls of for­mal­ist ten­den­cies in Amer­i­can art, Buchloh also vehe­ment­ly crit­i­cized the ten­den­cy to mythol­o­gize the artist and the artis­tic process or con­tent at the expense of address­ing the his­tor­i­cal events that led to the polit­i­cal decline of Europe (i.e. Beuys). To counter the over­rid­ing mod­ernist ten­den­cies to for­mal­ize and mythol­o­gize art pro­duc­tion and con­tent, Buchloh   brings in post­struc­tural­ist lin­guis­tic the­o­ry to show how the lan­guage of sec­ondary myth­i­cal real­i­ty has to be read with the ade­quate tool of   ide­o­log­i­cal crit­i­cism” so that their orig­i­nal inten­tion­al real­i­ty becomes appar­ent”. 19 The ahis­toric­i­ty of myth and for­mal­ism were to become the mod­ernist ten­den­cies that Buchloh would con­tin­ue to attack in his crit­i­cal writ­ings for the next two decades. It was pre­cise­ly this sem­blance of artis­tic auton­o­my in oppo­si­tion to any ide­o­log­i­cal con­no­ta­tions, and even the out-and-out affir­ma­tion of a will to tran­scend the struc­tures of the cul­ture indus­try, that allowed the Amer­i­can avant-garde (as Abstract Expres­sion­ism) to estab­lish a hege­mon­ic posi­tion in the Euro­pean art mar­ket in the post-war peri­od. What Buchloh was to reveal to the North Amer­i­can art world, as demon­strat­ed by Guil­baut in an even more sys­tem­at­ic man­ner, was the cul­tur­al­ly neu­tral­iz­ing effect of such art in the inter­ests of Amer­i­can polit­i­cal hege­mo­ny in the post-war period.

In his attempt to revi­tal­ize the crit­i­cal func­tion of art, Buchloh has con­tin­u­ous­ly stressed two fac­tors: that past and present art works and art prac­tices could not be read out­side the eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal and social devel­op­ments that made up a giv­en his­tor­i­cal peri­od, and that the only way that art could hope to save soci­ety from being com­plete­ly con­sumed by a cor­po­rate-backed cul­ture indus­try was through address­ing the con­tin­u­al­ly fluc­tu­at­ing cri­te­ria of legit­i­ma­tion with­in the insti­tu­tion­al frame­work in which art was exhib­it­ed (the lib­er­al-demo­c­ra­t­ic and bour­geois def­i­n­i­tion of cul­ture autonomous from cor­po­ra­tized struc­tures). Thus avant-garde prac­tice was exem­plary in both its mnemon­ic func­tions and utopi­an bent, both in its rav­aging crit­i­cism (while judg­ing the present against the stan­dards of his­to­ry) as well as in its antic­i­pat­ed promis­es (while judg­ing the present against the stan­dards of imag­ined pos­si­bil­i­ties)”. 20 The work that Buchloh con­sid­ers mer­it­ing dis­cus­sion are those that resist the art con­ven­tions that are neu­tral­iz­ing and mythol­o­giz­ing in the face of   the val­ues of cor­rupt state and cor­po­rate pow­er struc­tures, name­ly those that imprison soci­ety with­in the cap­i­tal­ist log­ic of com­mod­i­ty fetishism. Like such artists as Buren, Haacke or Broodthaers, Buchloh con­sid­ers it naïve to sup­pose that one can sim­ply aban­don or destroy the muse­um space (as was attempt­ed by some avant-garde artists of the 20s and 60s). Resis­tance to the ide­ol­o­gy of the cor­po­rate cul­ture indus­try could be freely expressed through inter­ven­tion with­in the seem­ing­ly secure space of the bour­geois pub­lic sphere so as to dis­turb the expect­ed notions of pro­duc­tion, exhi­bi­tion and recep­tion, and so as to unset­tle the view­ers’ pre­con­ceived val­ue sys­tems: “…mod­ern art’s abil­i­ty to engage in such soci­etal cri­tique depends on its par­tic­i­pat­ing in pre­cise­ly those pat­terns that it expos­es”. 21 Far from har­bour­ing any utopi­an ideals, he used pes­simism as the dri­ving force behind his strate­gies of crit­i­cal nega­tion in the war against the cul­tur­al indus­try’s dom­i­na­tion over all spheres of social activ­i­ty. The auton­o­my of the art insti­tu­tion from the vora­cious maw of the cul­ture indus­try made avant-garde cri­tique still seem like a viable form of resistance.


Although Buchloh appears to be strug­gling against defeatism in evok­ing Pro­duc­tivist activism, his cri­tique has the effect of extend­ing and mak­ing con­scious con­cep­tu­al­is­m’s instinc­tive fusion of activism and defeatism. In the reign­ing ide­o­log­i­cal con­di­tions of suprema­cy of the Pop counter-rev­o­lu­tion, such a fusion can only result in plac­ing the residues of activist strate­gies at the ser­vice of an impe­ri­ous defeatism–one which uses activism as an out­er form, shield, or mask. 22


Much of Buchlo­h’s pes­simism seems to be con­sis­tent with a his­tori­cist mourn­ing of the orig­i­nal’ avant-garde project. The Russ­ian chap­ter of the his­tor­i­cal avant-garde that involved an attempt to abol­ish the fetishism, com­mod­i­ty exchange, and prop­er­ty val­ue of bour­geois art in favour of inte­grat­ing art into life could be under­stood as a return to reestab­lish­ing the pri­or­i­ty of use val­ue. For the first time art would be on the same lev­el as oth­er modes of pro­duc­tion, thus estab­lish­ing a rela­tion­ship of equal­i­ty between objects of indus­tri­al­iza­tion that would reflect the rela­tion­ship of equal­i­ty between class­es.   Wal­ter Ben­jam­in’s warn­ing of the poten­tial for such art prac­tices to be appro­pri­at­ed by polit­i­cal forces as instru­ments of pro­pa­gan­da, espe­cial­ly in the case of pho­tomon­tage, was the fate of the Russ­ian avant-garde, while the Dada and Sur­re­al­ist art prac­tices were over­tak­en by adver­tis­ing and by a return to con­ven­tion­al art prac­tices in the rest of Europe. Buchloh describes this turn of events in Fig­ures of Author­i­ty, Ciphers of Regres­sion . As we know the avant-garde was to return in var­i­ous guis­es but nev­er to return with any firm belief in the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a utopi­an inte­gra­tion of art into life in a more egal­i­tar­i­an soci­ety. Rather it would come back as an effec­tive method of cri­tiquing art insti­tu­tions and con­ven­tions that remained pas­sive to or even per­pet­u­at­ed the val­ues of hege­mon­ic pow­er struc­tures. Buchloh cham­pi­ons this form of insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique, a strat­e­gy that he gets from Adorno who saw the autonomous field of art as the only form of resis­tance left in a soci­ety over­tak­en by the cul­ture indus­try under the sign of spec­ta­cle. There is no more talk of class strug­gle, no more talk of faith in indus­tri­al­iza­tion, only a wish to out­smart the insti­tu­tions in their sub­servience to eco­nom­ic forces and ide­o­log­i­cal interests.

Jeff Wal­l’s crit­i­cism of this fusion of activist strate­gies (as a turn toward real­i­ty’) and defeatism is well found­ed. It is pre­cise­ly this activism through the nega­tion or dis­so­lu­tion of the aes­thet­ic (as in Con­cep­tu­al­is­m’s use of lan­guage as pure com­mu­ni­ca­tion that dis­solves aes­thet­ic hier­ar­chies) that pos­es a prob­lem in terms of appro­pri­a­tion of such mod­els by the art insti­tu­tion. In the case of this cycli­cal return of the avant-garde project, it is nev­er ful­ly suc­cess­ful in retain­ing its posi­tion of cri­tique because of the even­tu­al, inevitable accul­tur­a­tion of the works’ orig­i­nal inten­tions by the art insti­tu­tion, ren­der­ing them mar­ketable and inef­fec­tu­al in terms of rad­i­cal insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique. Buchloh relates this to the his­tor­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion of embrac­ing an anti-aes­thet­ic while remain­ing with­in the con­fines of the museum:

This dilem­ma, con­sti­tu­tive of the rad­i­cal­i­ty of post-Min­i­mal work in gen­er­al, result­ed from an unre­solv­able his­tor­i­cal con­tra­dic­tion: name­ly, that the work’s phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal and the­o­ret­i­cal ambi­tion could no longer acknowl­edge its spe­cif­ic sta­tus as an aes­thet­ic object, nor admit its sta­tus as con­ven­tion with­in tra­di­tions of artis­tic and rhetor­i­cal fig­u­ra­tion. Yet at the same time, the work’s depen­dence on the insti­tu­tions and dis­cours­es of art in order to achieve legit­i­ma­cy pre­vent­ed it from actu­al­ly aban­don­ing its sta­tus as a tra­di­tion­al aes­thet­ic object and claim­ing the con­di­tion of a sci­en­tif­ic or polit­i­cal inter­ven­tion instead. 23

Buchloh described the same fate to all Con­cep­tu­al prac­tices: “…the crit­i­cal anni­hi­la­tion of cul­tur­al con­ven­tions itself imme­di­ate­ly acquires the con­di­tions of the spec­ta­cle, that the insis­tence on artis­tic anonymi­ty and the demo­li­tion of author­ship pro­duces instant brand names and iden­ti­fi­able products…[and] inevitably ends by fol­low­ing the pre-estab­lished mech­a­nisms of adver­tis­ing and mar­ket­ing cam­paigns”. 24 The con­tin­u­ous accul­tur­a­tion of avant-garde cri­tique by art insti­tu­tions, essen­tial­ly because of the infil­tra­tion of cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship into the domain of cul­ture, even­tu­al­ly made Buchloh ques­tion the effi­ca­cy and the lim­it­ed scope of the strate­gies he con­tin­ued to pro­mote with­in the muse­um setting:

For three or four years now, all the approach­es that for­mer­ly inter­est­ed me have begun to seem insuf­fi­cient. A kind of revi­sion of my own method­ol­o­gy brought me to the prob­lems of nar­ra­tive as his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry. The most dra­mat­ic thing was the change in my rela­tion to min­i­mal­ism, which was so impor­tant to my intel­lec­tu­al devel­op­ment and which sud­den­ly became a pri­ma­ry prob­lem… 25

From this moment (1994–97), Buchloh would return to the piv­otal moment of the decline” of Min­i­mal­ism and Con­cep­tu­al­ism in order to reeval­u­ate James Cole­man’s work and its rela­tion to alle­gor­i­cal modes of social and cul­tur­al crit­i­cism. Per­haps because of the non-didac­tic, unre­solved sta­tus of Cole­man’s works vis-à-vis soci­ety and the art insti­tu­tion, his works have been able to evolve in a more com­plex way than Buchloh could ever have imag­ined up to quite recent­ly. It is with the re-dis­cov­ery of Cole­man’s works that Buchlo­h’s use of alle­go­ry acquires a new rich­ness of con­text that seems much indebt­ed to Fou­cault’s con­cept of power/knowledge.


What is even more sig­nif­i­cant is that this rejec­tion [of social con­ven­tions and pro­hi­bi­tions] was not in the name of some oth­er pat­tern of order­ing soci­ety, though the new lib­er­tar­i­an­ism was giv­en ide­o­log­i­cal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by those who felt it need­ed such labels, but in the name of the unlim­it­ed auton­o­my of indi­vid­ual desire. It assumed a world of self-regard­ing indi­vid­u­al­ism pushed to its lim­its. Para­dox­i­cal­ly the rev­els against the con­ven­tions and restric­tions shared the assump­tions on which mass con­sumer soci­ety was built, or at least the psy­cho­log­i­cal moti­va­tions which those who sold con­sumer goods and ser­vices found most effec­tive in sell­ing them (Eric Hob­s­bawm, Age of Extremes , p. 334).

This change in Buchlo­h’s rela­tion to min­i­mal­ism was most appar­ent in 1997, when Art­fo­rum asked him to con­tribute a few reflec­tions on what he saw as con­sti­tut­ing the role and respon­si­bil­i­ties of con­tem­po­rary art crit­i­cism. In a tongue in cheek fash­ion, he begins by com­par­ing his posi­tion as crit­ic at the end of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry to that of Michael Fried thir­ty years ear­li­er when he had writ­ten Art and Object­hood , the essay that sig­naled his with­draw­al from crit­i­cism with the emer­gence of min­i­mal­ism on the art stage. This com­par­i­son is sig­nif­i­cant for it is in large part because of the co-opta­tion of min­i­mal­ist works by the cul­ture indus­try (cor­po­ra­tions, fash­ion design­ers) that Buchloh had become so embit­tered as a crit­ic. Iron­i­cal­ly enough he found it increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize the min­i­mal­ist project as a suc­cess­ful avant-garde prac­tice in a reverse posi­tion from that of Michael Fried. The most poignant case in point is Buchlo­h’s dis­en­chant­ment with Flavin for hav­ing suc­cumbed to the seduc­tions of the fash­ion indus­try’s call for an aris­to­crat­ic aus­ter­i­ty campaign”:

Dan Flavin, how­ev­er, unlike his late friend and Min­i­mal­ist col­league [Judd], did have a choice as to whether to sub­mit flu­o­res­cent sculp­tures to the cor­po­ra­tion that spec­tac­u­lar­izes Min­i­mal­ism to gen­er­ate the new dis­tinc­tion of the con­sump­tion of aus­ter­i­ty. Flavin of course accept­ed. (I won­der whether my orig­i­nal assess­ment, that Flav­in’s Min­i­mal­ism posed a resis­tance to cor­po­rate cul­ture, was ever jus­ti­fied at any point in his­to­ry of end­less rep­e­ti­tions, or whether the very avant-garde mod­el under­ly­ing his work was ever any thing but pure affir­ma­tion.) 26

The fol­low­ing year, in a pan­el dis­cus­sion with oth­er mem­bers of the the­o­ret­i­cal jour­nal Octo­ber , Buchloh repeat­ed his dis­af­fec­tion for Min­i­mal­ism in light of how its main artists con­tin­ued to work in an opti­mistic vein of indus­tri­al­ized mass cul­ture despite the fact that this project became unten­able over the years with the rev­e­la­tion of the destruc­tive forces of indus­tri­al­iza­tion at the hands of cor­po­ra­tions. The most pos­i­tive influ­ence engen­dered by Min­i­mal­ism had been the first attempts at the cri­tique of insti­tu­tions, espe­cial­ly in unmask­ing the myth of auton­o­my and opti­cal­i­ty of art. But in con­tin­u­ing the min­i­mal­ist project with­out ques­tion­ing the valid­i­ty of its place under his­tor­i­cal­ly dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances and with their oppor­tunis­tic embrac­ing of spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion through the pro­duc­tion of com­mis­sioned min­i­mal­ist pub­lic art works and the adop­tion of the min­i­mal­ist aes­thet­ic in fash­ion, Buchloh found him­self in a posi­tion where he had to re-eval­u­ate all the pre­vi­ous aspects of art that he had con­sid­ered indis­pens­able in the fight against the eco­nom­ic inter­ests of the cul­ture industry.

Although he begins his essay in Art­fo­rum rather iron­i­cal­ly, pok­ing fun at him­self through a com­par­i­son to Fried, in actu­al­i­ty he sounds more seri­ous than ever in see­ing his role as a crit­ic com­ing to an end. In his apoc­a­lyp­tic mus­ings on the state of art’s crit­i­cal­i­ty and of the art estab­lish­men­t’s sup­port for such avant-garde prac­tices, one detects a cer­tain final­i­ty in his crit­i­cal project:

…declar­ing from the van­tage point of a crit­ic who has been engaged with a rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed set of artis­tic posi­tions and prac­tices that what has come into sight as a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty is, if not the end of art, then the end of these his­tor­i­cal­ly deter­mined def­i­n­i­tions of artis­tic prac­tice and with them the end of their pro­tag­o­nists and insti­tu­tions. These prac­tices had been defined with­in a mod­el of crit­i­cal resis­tance and rad­i­cal neg­a­tiv­i­ty; the pro­tag­o­nists had per­ceived them­selves as inex­tri­ca­bly linked to yet indis­putably opposed to the cul­ture indus­try; the insti­tu­tions had tak­en seri­ous­ly their his­tor­i­cal­ly defined func­tions of pro­vid­ing a crit­i­cal space of exemp­tion, if not oppo­si­tion, with­in the bour­geois pub­lic sphere–that is, sites for the devel­op­ment and preser­va­tion of aes­thet­ic and his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge in forms of exchange and com­mu­ni­ca­tion that were nei­ther imme­di­ate­ly nor entire­ly sub­ject­ed to ide­o­log­i­cal instru­men­tal­iza­tion or eco­nom­ic interests…the end arrived much soon­er than antic­i­pat­ed. 27


Through­out the arti­cle Buchloh reacts to the present state of the neo-avant-garde as if it were tru­ly the end of any pos­si­ble crit­i­cal prac­tice in art. Unlike his pre­vi­ous defeatist sym­pa­thies, such as in the pan­el dis­cus­sion on Art after Min­i­mal­ism and Pop” in Dis­cus­sions in Con­tem­po­rary Cul­ture , this essay tru­ly reflects a turn­ing point in his aban­don­ment of pre­vi­ous strate­gies toward a con­sid­er­a­tion of alter­na­tive forms of sub­ject con­struc­tion through the re-inscrip­tion of the mnemon­ic func­tion back into art. Despite the Fou­cauldian under­tones that such con­sid­er­a­tions of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty evoke, the move seems to be a   nat­ur­al direc­tion for his thought to take con­sid­er­ing how ahis­tor­i­cal notions of iden­ti­ty con­struc­tion had become so preva­lent in the late 80s and ear­ly 90s and how they were so detri­men­tal to the pos­si­bil­i­ties of col­lec­tive activism. This he blames on the suc­cess­ful merg­er between the cul­ture indus­try” and avant-garde art, insti­gat­ed by the fash­ion indus­try. This suc­cess­ful coup by fash­ion was the result of a long line of art made with an eye to the con­struc­tion of iden­ti­ty and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty in the absence of any real expe­ri­ence with­in which sub­jec­tiv­i­ty could be authen­ti­cal­ly constructed:

Art-world fash­ions, by con­trast, present a con­clu­sive and com­pelling log­ic of their own: from iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics to the even nar­row­er restric­tion of gen­der pol­i­tics, straight down to the final install­ment as fash­ion pol­i­tics, in which, through the delu­sion that iden­ti­ty can be pro­duced, con­struct­ed accord­ing to the con­fig­u­ra­tion of objects, cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion becomes absolute­ly equiv­a­lent to fash­ion pro­duc­tion at the core . 28

This is refer­ring to the art made in the eight­ies and ear­ly nineties that react­ed to the anx­i­ety of feel­ing pow­er­less with­in soci­ety by trans­fer­ring the focus from the col­lec­tive onto the indi­vid­u­al’s sense of iden­ti­ty and respon­si­bil­i­ty. This of course is what the cul­ture indus­try and cor­po­ra­tions want to enforce. The symp­tom of anomie and the crises in iden­ti­ty explain the smoth­er­ing of resis­tance with­in the pub­lic sphere: What is most obvi­ous­ly lack­ing in the time-worn def­i­n­i­tion of the per­son­al as the polit­i­cal” is the insight that the pub­lic” has become an increas­ing­ly con­trolled and reg­u­lat­ed space and that the insis­tent, polit­i­cal­ly dis­abling deflec­tion of artis­tic prac­tice onto the domain of pri­vate expe­ri­ence itself is of course part of the effects of that reg­u­la­to­ry rerout­ing”. 29 This type of art, as we know, was used by minor­i­ty cul­tures and mar­gin­al­ized social groups for a just and moral pur­pose not intend­ed to fall into the pat­tern of navel-gaz­ing or essen­tial­ist state­ments about cul­ture, nation, and gen­der. But this is exact­ly what the cul­ture indus­try caus­es it to do once it spec­tac­u­lar­izes iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics for the pur­pose of prof­it. Offer­ing a choice of mul­ti­ple sub­ject posi­tions was as easy as sell­ing a com­mod­i­ty once the fash­ion indus­tries got their hands on it. The very seduc­tion of iden­ti­ty rests on the feel­ing that one is resist­ing the struc­tures of pow­er and of the media through a polit­i­cal notion of per­son­al iden­ti­ty when in actu­al­i­ty it is obey­ing to a sign sys­tem based on adver­tis­ing dif­fer­ence rather than effec­tu­at­ing real dif­fer­ence, and thus resis­tance. Accord­ing to Buchloh, the real way to resist and to change the sys­tem would be through par­tic­i­pa­tion and active engage­ment with­in the pub­lic sphere, through attack­ing the prob­lem from inside the sys­tem, not by retreat­ing inside the self. What Buchloh seems to be point­ing at is, first of all, the by now famil­iar desub­li­ma­tion of such iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics with­in adver­tis­ing strate­gies so as to con­struct a com­mod­i­ty-dri­ven iden­ti­ty while seem­ing to embrace mul­ti­far­i­ous iden­ti­ties; sec­ond­ly, he blames the mis­use of post­stuc­tural­ist the­o­ry for the con­cep­tu­al­iz­ing of iden­ti­ty as a per­for­ma­tive cat­e­go­ry and [for the] fore­ground­ing of the lin­guis­tic sig­ni­fi­er in iden­ti­ty’s pro­duc­tion [that] promised an exemp­tion if not an escape from social class and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions that was only too wel­come in Amer­i­can cul­ture, where pol­i­tics since the 70s has been increas­ing­ly writ­ten out of pub­lic his­to­ry by total inscrip­tion onto the pri­vate self”. 30 There­fore, the adop­tion of such the­o­ries of iden­ti­ty at the expense of a con­cern with the greater pub­lic per­pet­u­ates a social col­lapse into anomie where the pub­lic sphere becomes an inef­fec­tu­al, homog­e­nized and con­trolled enti­ty. This may sound prob­lem­at­ic in that one can­not deny the need to address a diver­si­ty of   inter­ests coex­ist­ing with­in the pub­lic sphere. What Buchloh seems to see as the dan­ger how­ev­er is the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of spe­cif­ic inter­ests by cor­po­ra­tions so as to gain more influ­ence over   peo­ple’s actions and tastes. The imme­di­ate fal­si­fi­ca­tion of artis­tic con­struc­tions of iden­ti­ty through the process of spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion is enforced by the cul­ture indus­try. The with­er­ing of true life expe­ri­ence is at the root of the prob­lem, for true sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and iden­ti­ty are con­struct­ed through unmedi­at­ed instances of con­scious­ness, through real first-hand’ expe­ri­ences (such as pain and suf­fer­ing), and through encoun­ters with real, unex­pect­ed, uncon­trolled events and objects: The image of life with­out expe­ri­ence is final­ly the image of life with­out history…only lives artic­u­lat­ed through expe­ri­ence can be ful­ly and self-con­scious­ly his­tor­i­cal”. 31

When Buchloh com­plains of the defeat of art crit­i­cism he is com­ment­ing on the fact that his role has been den­i­grat­ed by the fetishiza­tion of cer­tain avant-garde works by the fash­ion indus­try, or by their jux­ta­po­si­tion to fash­ion logos, ren­der­ing them com­mod­i­fied as fash­ion objects. This phe­nom­e­non seems relat­ed to the impos­si­bil­i­ty of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the abo­li­tion of aes­thet­ics, and the grav­i­ta­tion toward real­i­ty that were some of the trade­marks of Min­i­mal­ism and Con­cep­tu­al­ism, and that were in part inher­it­ed from and in part in reac­tion to the mod­ernist ten­den­cies of Amer­i­can post­war art. Their emp­ty­ing of ref­er­ence and their close­ness to the seri­al­i­ty of com­mod­i­ty sta­tus, made them all the more sus­cep­ti­ble to decon­tex­tu­al­iza­tion from art into com­mod­i­ty sign. Why Buchloh con­tin­ues to believe in the immu­ni­ty of cer­tain avant-garde strate­gies only to have this belief defeat­ed, shat­tered by what Wal­ter Ben­jamin had already out­lined at the end of his 1936 essay The Work of Art in the Age of Mechan­i­cal Repro­duc­tion”, is beyond ratio­nal judge­ment on his part. He seems to blind­ly wal­low in defeatism instead of com­ing to terms with the end­less cycle of inno­va­tion and accul­tur­a­tion which has been hap­pen­ing since the rise of mod­ernist art and mass cul­ture in the mid 19 th cen­tu­ry. He com­pares the fate of indi­vid­ual art objects to the state of the muse­um that receives cor­po­rate sup­port by multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions and even fash­ion design­ers like Hugo Boss. He, more than any­one, should not have been the least bit sur­prised by the change in the dynam­ics of muse­um cul­ture due to the shift from nation­al pow­er struc­tures (gov­ern­ment sub­si­dies) to cor­po­rate ones since the ear­ly eight­ies. In Doc­u­men­ta X , the book he declares that if some­one like David Gef­fen, who made his mon­ey in music pro­duc­tion, …can buy the con­tem­po­rary art muse­um in Los Ange­les for five mil­lion dol­lars and call it the David Gef­fen muse­um[, t]here’s noth­ing left to pro­tect. There’s not a sin­gle voice of resis­tance”. 32 He appears to be stat­ing once and for all that no form of artis­tic resis­tance is capa­ble of com­bat­ing the all-con­sum­ing hydra of the cul­ture indus­try that has inte­grat­ed spec­ta­cle seam­less­ly into every­day life. In say­ing this he is reit­er­at­ing an Adornoian stance that is by now, worn out and tired and quite pre­dictably defeatist. But it was toward cer­tain artists of the neo-avant-garde, in par­tic­u­lar min­i­mal­ist artists, and toward their pur­port­ed­ly sup­port­ive cura­tors that had sold out to the fash­ion design indus­try (just as so many art insti­tu­tions had sold out to multi­na­tion­al cor­po­rate pow­er), that Buchloh was to direct his most scathing critique–for it was behind them that he had stood all along. In a moment of melan­cholic mus­ing he calls up the image of   a muse­um mon­u­ment, a dead object in mem­o­ry of a dead cul­ture, as a vir­tu­al pos­si­bil­i­ty for the future:

I often think of the day when the Guggen­heim will final­ly close down…It would become one of the tru­ly great twen­ti­eth-cen­tu­ry tes­ti­monies to the failed idea of the muse­um as a site of demo­c­ra­t­ic civil­i­ty and of the bour­geois pub­lic sphere, where a class con­struct­ed and pre­served its own visu­al­i­ty and cul­tur­al self-con­scious­ness, out­side cor­po­rate state pow­er and the state of cor­po­ra­tions. 33


This image of a muse­um in ruins pro­ject­ed into the future resounds alle­gor­i­cal­ly in this arti­cle, for it in fact acts as a rhetor­i­cal device to con­vey the urgency of find­ing new strate­gies to counter such a bleak image of the future. These avant-garde strate­gies that Buchloh invokes through this sce­nario of the aban­doned muse­um are dis­cov­ered in a few remain­ing instances of artis­tic prac­tice whose insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique for­ti­fy rather than dam­age the dilap­i­dat­ing walls of the muse­um as a space of resis­tance to spec­ta­cle cul­ture. Although Buchloh remains res­olute­ly pes­simistic, he iden­ti­fies three artists whom he con­sid­ers to be suc­cess­ful in resist­ing glob­al com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion’: Alan Seku­la, Ray­mond Pet­ti­bon, and James Cole­man. The work of James Cole­man, while root­ed in post-Min­i­mal­ist and Con­cep­tu­al avant-garde strate­gies, departs sig­nif­i­cant­ly from the more prob­lem­at­ic aspects of Min­i­mal­ism and Con­cep­tu­al­ism, in par­tic­u­lar the dis­avow­al of the mnemon­ic func­tion [as] one of the most cru­cial pre­con­di­tions of moder­ni­ty, [and] the anni­hi­la­tion of all mem­o­ry of its dis­cur­sive con­di­tion as visu­al fiction…and as a sys­tem grounded…in con­ven­tion”. 34 He posi­tions him­self against   the restric­tive appli­ca­tions of mod­ernist par­a­digms in Min­i­mal­ist and Con­cep­tu­al through the incor­po­ra­tion of nar­ra­tive and opti­cal dura­tion with­in the expe­ri­ence of visu­al art in the muse­um set­ting. By rep­re­sent­ing past tra­di­tions of the­atre with­in con­tem­po­rary art media, video, film, and slide pro­jec­tion, Cole­man’s work makes the view­er con­scious of the impor­tance of recall­ing past nar­ra­tive and visu­al modes of iden­ti­ty con­struc­tion (that are ever more alien to present expe­ri­ence) in eval­u­at­ing our present sub­jec­tiv­i­ty that owes much of its aspect to the tech­no­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion of real­i­ty through pho­to­graph­ic and dig­i­tal media.



The busi­ness of the crit­ic, for Ben­jamin, is not to resus­ci­tate the dead, or to recon­sti­tute the orig­i­nal which now stands before us frag­ment­ed, but to under­stand the work as a ruin, and in so doing para­dox­i­cal­ly to awak­en the beau­ty present in it as a ruin. 3 5

Cole­man’s archae­ol­o­gy of fig­u­ra­tion appears to be engaged in the inves­ti­ga­tion of the intri­cate rela­tion­ship between the his­to­ry of scop­ic desire from its ear­li­er embod­i­ment in pic­to­r­i­al con­ven­tions to their sub­se­quent desub­li­ma­tion and dis­si­pa­tion in mass cul­tur­al forms. His archae­ol­o­gy of nar­ra­tive traces the trans­for­ma­tion of lan­guage expe­ri­ence from the poet­ic and com­mu­nica­tive dimen­sions of the­atri­cal dia­logue and dra­matur­gy to their sub­se­quent dilap­i­da­tion in con­tem­po­rary film and tele­vi­sion and the nar­ra­tive struc­tures in pulp fic­tion and the photonov­el. 36


Buchlo­h’s method­ol­o­gy has nev­er depart­ed from the desire to recon­nect with an his­tor­i­cal project that he under­stood as hav­ing been for­got­ten, erased, or remained unknown in Amer­i­can mod­ernist art. This has been coex­ten­sive with the devel­op­ment of a ret­ro­spec­tive cri­tique of Con­cep­tu­al art through the dis­cov­ery of an his­tor­i­cal con­scious­ness with­in the works of many post-Con­cep­tu­al artists after 1980. Buchloh had up to quite recent­ly not shown any inter­est in James Cole­man’s work, not hav­ing noticed until then the prop­er­ly alle­gor­i­cal fac­tors at play in his work that were so effec­tive in the cri­tique of iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics in the eight­ies and nineties. Whether or not Buchloh inter­pret­ed the return to fig­u­ra­tion, nar­ra­tive and rhetoric in Cole­man’s work as lit­tle more than a return to mytho­log­i­cal or pre-Duchampian prac­tices as in the case of most 1980s paint­ing, is unclear. It is no doubt in large part due to the warm (and long over­due) recep­tion of Cole­man’s work in New York in 1989 that changed Buchlo­h’s opin­ion about the work (and I might add Michael New­man’s cat­a­logue essay on Cole­man enti­tled Alle­gories of the Sub­ject: The Theme of Iden­ti­ty in the Work of James Coleman”).

Odd­ly enough, or rather typ­i­cal­ly enough, Buchloh feels the need to ratio­nal­ize Cole­man’s refusal to com­ply to the restric­tions mapped out by mod­ernist and avant-garde canons by refer­ring to Ducham­p’s own crit­i­cal revi­sion of the ready­made doxa” 36a in his return to fig­u­ra­tion (and to a form of tableau vivant ) in his Etant donnes . This return to past forms of fig­u­ra­tion in a peep show’ for­mat and in its use of uncan­ny jux­ta­po­si­tion of het­ero­ge­neous ele­ments (the sim­u­lat­ed out­door tableau of a corpse-like female nude hold­ing up an oil lamp in the fore­ground while a water­fall scin­til­lates arti­fi­cial­ly in the back­ground) seems to alle­go­rize the com­mod­i­fied nature of desire in terms of rei­fied sym­bols of need and plea­sure derived from Ducham­p’s pre­vi­ous works ( La mariee mise a nue par ses celi­bataires, meme , Eau & gaz a tous les etages , Priere de touch­er , Feuille de vigne femelle , etc.) Through this enig­mat­ic return to fig­u­ra­tion in Etant donnes , Buchloh feels that Duchamp indi­rect­ly dis­closed the fact that the ready­made and the death of the artis­tic author was not the be all and end all of avant-garde strate­gies in art; that obvi­ous­ly, strate­gies altered accord­ing to his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stance, accord­ing to new modes of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion, and accord­ing to changes in sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. Like the inven­tion of the ready­made as alle­gor­i­cal emblem, the tableau vivant was used as a hybrid life-like mod­el whose innate dialec­tic between pic­to­r­i­al and the­atri­cal gen­res revealed alle­gor­i­cal insight into the nature of desire under the sign of com­mod­i­ty production.

It is pre­cise­ly in allow­ing the deval­ued’ forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion to enter into dialec­ti­cal dis­course with con­tem­po­rary forms of repro­duc­tion that Cole­man is able to grasp a syn­the­sis of the loss of sub­jec­tive expe­ri­ence in the face of his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry. The con­flict between the impov­er­ished’ forms of the­ater and paint­ing and the now priv­i­leged ones of tele­vi­sion and film reveal the lay­ers of past for­ma­tions of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. Past modes of visu­al pro­duc­tion high­light the his­tor­i­cal­ly and ide­o­log­i­cal bound nature of expe­ri­ence through our sense of alien­ation and dis­con­ti­nu­ity with these out­mod­ed forms. The unbridge­able gap between the two modes of expe­ri­ence draws our atten­tion to the efface­ment of causal­i­ty or moti­va­tion between the before and after states of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty (dur­ing a peri­od of his­tor­i­cal rup­ture) and makes us ques­tion the mech­a­nisms behind such a change in sub­ject posi­tion through his­to­ry. By using the out­mod­ed devices of nar­ra­tiv­i­ty and fig­u­ra­tion that recall a past form of sub­ject­hood, Cole­man attempts a rede­f­i­n­i­tion of the sub­ject that is not com­plic­it with the soci­ety of the spec­ta­cle, one that is con­scious of the process of his­to­ry on sub­ject for­ma­tion and on the dan­gers of ide­ol­o­gy in enforc­ing cer­tain points of view, cer­tain priv­i­leged sub­ject posi­tions, or even a dis­so­lu­tion of the sub­ject altogether.

Buchlo­h’s re-eval­u­a­tion of the method­ol­o­gy of his crit­i­cism seems to cor­re­spond to a piv­otal moment in his­to­ry where many of the avant-garde strate­gies he sided with were no longer effec­tive. This moment of course cor­re­sponds to the socio-polit­i­cal upheavals on a glob­al scale in 1989 that were to have reper­cus­sions at an eco­nom­i­cal lev­el through­out the 90s. The uncer­tain­ty of the sur­vival of neo-avant-garde art prac­tices under the uni­fy­ing per­va­sive sign of cap­i­tal­ism in its new glob­al con­fig­u­ra­tion, made the idea of res­cu­ing human mem­o­ry through art more urgent than ever. Short­ly after the his­tor­i­cal rup­ture of 1989, Fran­cis Fukuya­ma pre­sent­ed a revi­sion of Kojeve’s Hegelian the­o­ries on the end of his­to­ry, warn­ing us that with­out the dialec­ti­cal coun­ter­part to cap­i­tal­ism, sym­bol­ized by the for­mer Sovi­et Union, there would be a col­lapse of the social strug­gle between sub­ject and object, mas­ter and ser­vant, that which con­sti­tut­ed the basis of all His­to­ry, at least since Pla­to’s Repub­lic. Lib­er­al democ­ra­cy, char­ac­ter­ized by the prin­ci­ples of free mar­ket eco­nom­ics would spread glob­al­ly, suc­ceed­ing in pro­duc­ing an unprece­dent­ed mate­r­i­al pros­per­i­ty on all con­ti­nents. The peri­od of mourn­ing for a social­ist utopia would make way for the myth of a glob­al econ­o­my (replete with its man­ic symp­toms of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion of com­modi­ties I might add). This loss of resis­tance to glob­al cap­i­tal­ism on an inter­na­tion­al lev­el of course would have reper­cus­sions in the super­struc­ture. As we have come to real­ize some ten years after the fall’ of social­ism, glob­al cap­i­tal­ism did not come to be seam­less­ly inte­grat­ed into these for­mer com­mu­nist soci­eties. If any­thing, many of them are doing worse off than before (Rus­sia and the Republics, and Poland). But in the West, as Ben­jamin Buchloh was to wit­ness, the socio-eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal inter­ests behind the appa­ra­tus of the cul­tur­al indus­try” was to be felt as the omnipres­ence of cor­po­ra­tions invad­ing the art insti­tu­tions. The final blow to the last remain­ing cul­tur­al forms of resis­tance was the fusion of art with fash­ion. As will become clear, it is in large part a return to the alle­gor­i­cal mode in art that saves it from being sub­sumed by spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion via the com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of per­son­al and nation­al identity.

In light of the prob­lems fac­ing art pro­duc­tion and recep­tion in the face of the cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion of cul­ture and the con­tin­u­ous accul­tur­a­tion and appro­pri­a­tion of avant-garde cul­ture, Buchloh turned to writ­ing about James Cole­man’s pro­jec­tion image works because of their use of uncon­ven­tion­al uses of the­atri­cal­i­ty, fig­u­ra­tion, and frag­ment­ed nar­ra­tive struc­tures, as well as the sub­tle ref­er­ences to his­to­ry in the form of shift­ing posi­tions of enun­ci­a­tion that resist the uni­ty and essen­tial­ism of inter­pre­ta­tion and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty. As in post­war Berlin up until the mid-1960s, Buchloh expe­ri­enced a renewed dis­trust of art objects that were too eas­i­ly com­mod­i­fied and he came to priv­i­lege a return to the unprocur­able per­for­ma­tive arts that depend on the body’s phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal expe­ri­ence in the real time and space of the muse­um, the active inter­pre­ta­tion of the work by the view­er, and the mul­ti­far­i­ous inter­pre­ta­tions pro­vid­ed by com­plex, frac­tured, over­lap­ping, and incon­clu­sive   narratives.

Against the back­drop of eight­ies and nineties-style artis­tic con­struc­tions of iden­ti­ty and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, Cole­man’s work stands out all the more as a poignant cri­tique of the anni­hi­la­tion of mem­o­ry. Cole­man calls up past for­ma­tions of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty through the medi­a­tion of the expe­ri­ence of the­ater in ancient times, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with char­ac­ters in a play con­sti­tut­ing one of the ear­li­est forms of   sub­ject con­struc­tion through the exter­nal­ized enact­ment of imag­i­nary con­flicts and anx­i­eties. Jean Fish­er con­tex­tu­al­izes this his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion of the sub­ject in its present social configuration:

Our sense of self­hood is con­di­tioned by estab­lished pic­to­r­i­al and lin­guis­tic codes that make up the sym­bol­ic order of soci­ety. Among the anx­i­eties of the present is that the more the world has become entan­gled in the com­mod­i­fied lan­guages of medi­at­ed com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works, the less con­trol the self has appeared to exert over its own des­tiny; the more we have become entrapped in the labyrinth of signs that con­sti­tute the spec­ta­cle of con­tem­po­rary exis­tence, the more we are com­pelled to nat­u­ral­ize and uni­ver­sal­ize the imag­i­nary con­structs and val­ues of the hege­mon­ic order which deny legit­i­ma­tion to oth­er knowl­edges, expe­ri­ences, and aspi­ra­tions. 37

The archae­o­log­i­cal lay­ers of past forms of visu­al and nar­ra­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion that Cole­man jux­ta­pos­es to con­tem­po­rary forms of visu­al and aur­al repro­duc­tion cre­ates a sense of dis­con­ti­nu­ity of expe­ri­ence with­in the view­er, mak­ing one aware of a loss of expe­ri­ence and of the process of alien­ation and cul­tur­al decay caused by medi­at­ed forms of enter­tain­ment and infor­ma­tion (sim­i­lar to what Wal­ter Ben­jamin was to fore­ground in his analy­sis of Baroque the­ater of the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry with the loss of the reli­gious con­text in every­day life).

The out­mod­ed’ or anachro­nis­tic fig­ures and events that are por­trayed in Cole­man’s slide pro­jec­tions, video and film works seem to have been sub­ject­ed to a process of reifi­ca­tion by their jux­ta­po­si­tion to the modes of tech­no­log­i­cal repro­duc­tion bur­geon­ing under glob­al cap­i­tal­ism. These images are ren­dered stiff in their decid­ed­ly sta­t­ic por­tray­al of arrest­ed move­ment. Also, as repro­duced images/events, they are removed and emp­tied of their his­tor­i­cal con­text, like com­modi­ties emp­tied of their use val­ue and of the process of human labour. As with Baude­laire’s bring­ing togeth­er of lofty and low in the con­text of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry urban life, Cole­man resus­ci­tates the deval­ued lit­er­ary and visu­al forms of the past so as to dis­play them as a pet­ri­fied pri­mor­dial landscape”(Benjamin) amidst com­mon forms of con­tem­po­rary expe­ri­ence, such as tele­vi­sion and film. There occurs a lev­el­ing effect of these past forms of expe­ri­ence when they are medi­at­ed through the con­tem­po­rary forms of pho­tog­ra­phy and film, for mechan­i­cal repro­duc­tion obeys the same log­ic as that of the free cir­cu­la­tion of com­modi­ties when they are decon­tex­tu­al­ized from their place of pro­duc­tion. The images remain for­ev­er neb­u­lous, sta­t­ic, rei­fied and inac­ces­si­ble to con­tem­po­rary experience.

One of the ways James Cole­man presents these past con­ven­tions of the­atri­cal­i­ty is through a sequence of slow­ly dis­solv­ing and over­lap­ping slide pro­jec­tions. Cole­man empha­sizes the sta­t­ic nature of each framed tableau, mix­ing the return to con­tem­pla­tion of detail and com­po­si­tion relat­ed to paint­ing, with the unful­filled antic­i­pa­tion of move­ment and nar­ra­tive in the pre­sen­ta­tion of what appears to be a staged set­ting of a film or the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion. On both con­tem­pla­tive and spec­tac­u­lar lev­els, or rather in a dialec­ti­cal move­ment between the two, the dis­con­ti­nu­ity of expec­ta­tions dri­ven by the rhetor­i­cal use of con­trast­ing con­ven­tions caus­es the uni­ty of sub­ject posi­tion to fall apart. Between the pic­to­r­i­al ref­er­ences to cin­e­ma, paint­ing, tele­vi­sion, the photonov­el, and the­atre, the view­er has no sense of being able to mas­ter knowl­edge of these diverse visu­al forms that were and are instru­men­tal to sub­ject con­struc­tion with­in dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal peri­ods. Buchloh rec­og­nizes this as a strat­e­gy of sub­ject dis­per­sal rather than the dis­ap­pear­ance of the sub­ject alto­geth­er. In fact Cole­man’s work seems to be a direct cri­tique of the present   instru­men­tal meth­ods of sub­ject for­ma­tion through the call­ing up of past forms of visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tion and expe­ri­ence dis­con­tin­u­ous with our present social con­di­tion. This empha­sis on deval­ued past forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in con­trast to new­er forms cre­ates a dialec­ti­cal dis­course of a dis­con­ti­nu­ity with the past, of a loss of expe­ri­ence, and of an inac­ces­si­bil­i­ty of the his­tor­i­cal, for one finds no way of enter­ing into this dis­course as a uni­fied sub­ject. Buchloh claims that: It is by con­sid­er­ing past for­ma­tions of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty that the dis­persed sub­ject grows stronger, or con­sti­tutes itself”. 38

While Min­i­mal­ist and Con­cep­tu­al mod­els addressed sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and objec­tiv­i­ty through the uni­ver­sal leg­i­bil­i­ty’ of   phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal expe­ri­ence between mate­r­i­al object, view­er, and archi­tec­tur­al space, or as an egal­i­tar­i­an exchange of pure infor­ma­tion between sub­ject and object with­in the admin­is­tra­tive space of the muse­um, these works were not immune to the influ­ences of accul­tur­a­tion because of a cer­tain neu­tral­iza­tion of the issues of past con­struc­tions of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty through the loss of the mnemon­ic func­tion. By unearthing the past for­ma­tions of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty intrin­sic to the expe­ri­ence of the­atre and paint­ing, the post-Con­cep­tu­al work of Cole­man reminds us of how we came to adopt the sub­ject posi­tions we now inhab­it. This con­scious­ness of the ide­o­log­i­cal under­pin­nings of cul­ture via alle­go­ry seems to con­sti­tute, for Buchloh, the key to estab­lish­ing a resis­tance to the lev­el­ing effect of expe­ri­ence under glob­al capitalism.

Cole­man’s tableaux vivants become hybrid mod­els that strad­dle the pic­to­r­i­al and the the­atri­cal, the instant and the tem­po­ral. In his pro­jec­tions the visu­al remains fair­ly sta­t­ic, only slight­ly shift­ing from one still to the next, while the lin­guis­tic and per­for­ma­tive aspects fol­low dif­fer­ent lev­els of hybrid­i­ty and over­lap­ping nar­ra­tiv­i­ty. As con­cerns his use of lan­guage, in oppo­si­tion to the lin­guis­tic dimen­sion of Con­cep­tu­al works, the mul­ti­ple sub­ject posi­tions coex­ist­ing in the dis­em­bod­ied voice-overs of the pro­jec­tions, seem to intend a dis­uni­fy­ing effect on the view­er. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of past and present nar­ra­tive gen­res, the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of voic­es, the dis­con­ti­nu­ity of nar­ra­tive, the mono­logue, the use of rep­e­ti­tion, the con­stant switch­ing of diegetic time sequences (from past, to present, to future), all of these lin­guis­tic ele­ments con­tribute to frus­trat­ing the spec­ta­tor and cre­at­ing a flu­id­i­ty of sub­ject posi­tion­al­i­ty because of the lack of sta­ble iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and the sub­ver­sion of antic­i­pa­tions. The var­i­ous gen­res and grains of the voice’ also add to this sense of discontinuity–advertising jux­ta­posed to lit­er­ary gen­res, a child’s voice against the the­atri­cal­ly-trained voice–a ver­i­ta­ble col­lage of het­eroge­nous ref­er­ences and tim­bres, of high and low cul­tur­al forms. Cole­man play­ful use of lan­guage also seems to refer to a strong Irish lit­er­ary tra­di­tion of lan­guage as a way of allud­ing to nation­al iden­ti­ty. His use of puns, fac­tured lyri­cism, and var­i­ous lev­els of stream of con­scious­ness seem to refer to a sen­su­al­i­ty and impov­er­ish­ment’ of lan­guage invent­ed by such authors as Joyce and Beck­ett. In the video instal­la­tion So Different…and yet”, the use of an exag­ger­at­ed French accent by the two char­ac­ters and the many ref­er­ences to Irish­ness (“emer­ald of the beau­ti­ful isle”) refer to the defeat of the Anglo-Sax­ons by the Nor­mans, whose descen­dants invad­ed Ire­land, thus refer­ring to the his­tor­i­cal and nation­al con­tin­gen­cies that go on to make up a nation­al iden­ti­ty, a nec­es­sar­i­ly hybrid iden­ti­ty. This is but one exam­ple of how the dis­con­ti­nu­ity of lan­guage as an alle­gor­i­cal device informs the viewer/listener about the com­plex­i­ties of the for­ma­tion of nation­al identity.

The first fla­grant instance of the­atri­cal­i­ty and alle­go­ry in Cole­man’s work was no doubt Slide Piece (1972–73), the pho­to­graph­ic pro­jec­tion of a mun­dane urban loca­tion accom­pa­nied by a sound track of mul­ti­ple male voic­es. Here the visu­al reg­is­ter is impov­er­ished’, that is our expec­ta­tions of the slide chang­ing to a new image is thwart­ed, such that the aural/narrative reg­is­ter is priv­i­leged as an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal mod­el. The per­sis­tence of the unchang­ing image seemed to act as an emp­ty ref­er­ence point onto which mem­o­ries and ideas could be pro­ject­ed by the indi­vid­ual speak­ers in the voice-over, each respond­ing to the urban land­scape with dif­fer­ent descrip­tions. This high­light­ing of diver­gent per­cep­tions and recount­ings of impres­sions and expe­ri­ences sur­round­ing this sin­gle image/event reflects the insep­a­ra­bil­i­ty of visu­al inter­pre­ta­tion from indi­vid­ual expe­ri­ence and imag­i­nary, and from the struc­tur­ing prin­ci­ples of lan­guage. This pil­ing up of frag­ments’ of response from var­i­ous voic­es, as well as those unvoiced by the view­er, echoes the alle­gor­i­cal mode plot­ted out by Ben­jamin: the col­lage of var­i­ous ideas and respons­es breaks apart the false uni­ty’ of the decon­tex­tu­al­ized image. The dis­con­ti­nu­ity of expe­ri­ence, empha­sized in the descrip­tive leaps’ from one voice to the next, a col­lage of voic­es one could say, is nec­es­sary in the con­struc­tion of a more gen­uine’ uni­ty, one that con­trasts the homo­gene­ity of expe­ri­ence encour­aged by the instru­ments of pow­er. In terms of Ben­jam­in’s ideas on lan­guage, the divest­ing’ action of the con­cept has the medi­at­ing role of sav­ing phe­nom­e­na from utter iso­la­tion in their indi­vid­u­a­tion and allows ideas…to be rep­re­sent­ed in dis­course”. 39 Only by rep­re­sent­ing ideas in con­crete, every­day lan­guage, can one break apart the alien­at­ing false uni­ty’ of an image, and re-inscribe with­in it the par­tic­u­lar­i­ty and truth val­ue of experience.

Accord­ing to Buchloh, Cole­man ques­tions Michael Fried’s rejec­tion of the­atre by coun­ter­ing the tran­scen­dent char­ac­ter of medi­um-speci­fici­ty with a mul­ti­tude of artis­tic and lit­er­ary forms, media, and gen­res, and by coun­ter­ing all sense of auton­o­my of the work of art through his direct phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal invo­ca­tion of the spec­ta­tor and the insti­tu­tion (he does not con­ceal the mech­a­nism of pro­jec­tion, allow­ing the noisy pro­jec­tor to occu­py the same space as the view­er’s body). But although he embraces a vari­ety of art media and ref­er­ences, he also prob­lema­tizes Min­i­mal­ism and post-Min­i­mal­ism by his use of sta­t­ic or dis­solv­ing pho­to­graph­ic pro­jec­tions and video/film instal­la­tions that depict visu­al the­atri­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion and a lin­guis­tic dimen­sion that pro­vides var­i­ous nar­ra­tive points of view. Rather than fac­tu­al, doc­u­men­tary, and uni­ver­sal­iz­ing con­cepts of lan­guage and pho­tog­ra­phy as in Con­cep­tu­al­ism, Cole­man uses fig­u­ra­tion, dra­matur­gy, rhetoric, nuances in pho­net­ic enun­ci­a­tion, and his­tor­i­cal speci­fici­ty to con­vey a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of sub­ject and object posi­tions vis-à-vis the image. But if Cole­man’s post-Con­cep­tu­al work dis­tin­guish­es itself from Con­cep­tu­al­ism in many ways it owes much to it as well:

La Tache Aveu­gle in this sense is both obe­di­ent to the pro­hi­bi­tions against nar­ra­tive so deeply ingrained in the whole his­to­ry of mod­ernism, and so recent­ly rein­forced by Con­cep­tu­al art’s the­ma­tiz­ing of immo­bil­i­ty via an aes­thet­ics of tau­tol­ogy, but at the same time, by embed­ding its very notion of the medi­um with­in the process of the unfold­ing, it covert­ly traf­fics with the diegetic. 40

In fact, much of Cole­man’s alle­gor­i­cal method­ol­o­gy depends on mul­ti­ple dia­logues, between past and present and between high and low cul­tur­al forms. In the case of La Tache Aveu­gle (a work I will go on to dis­cuss lat­er) he jux­ta­pos­es ele­ments from spec­ta­cle cul­ture and from the­o­ret­i­cal con­tem­po­rary art forms such as Con­cep­tu­al­ism on the one hand, and jux­ta­pos­es new forms of visu­al repro­duc­tion (the slow slide dis­solve) and the impov­er­ished’ his­tor­i­cal cin­e­mat­ic forms that have been anni­hi­lat­ed from col­lec­tive mem­o­ry (the clas­sic 1933 film) on the other.

In oppo­si­tion to the spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion of per­son­al iden­ti­ty by the fusion of cor­po­rate struc­tures with the cul­ture indus­try, Cole­man address­es not only the his­tor­i­cal per­mu­ta­tions of sub­jec­tiv­i­ty, he also the cur­rent debates and con­flicts sur­round­ing the con­cept of nation­al iden­ti­ty with­out suc­cumb­ing to the essen­tial­ist and nat­u­ral­iz­ing ten­den­cies that unwit­ting­ly fetishize the con­cept of nation­hood. In the film Box (ahhare­turn­about) , a found piece of film footage of a box­ing match is looped and frag­ment­ed by inter­spers­ing each frame with black leader. An inter­nal mono­logue accom­pa­nies the loop, char­ac­ter­ized by puns and a dis­tinc­tive enun­cia­tive delivery–the grain of the voice’ ref­er­enc­ing a the­atri­cal reg­is­ter, but jux­ta­posed to the spec­tac­u­lar image of a box­ing match. The ref­er­ence to Irish nation­al iden­ti­ty is sub­tle, for it is in iden­ti­fy­ing the Irish box­er Gene Tun­ney fight­ing Jack Dempsey in a rematch in Ire­land in 1927 that his­tor­i­cal speci­fici­ty and a sociopo­lit­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic body” enters the pic­ture (in con­trast to the uni­ver­sal­ist abstract ten­den­cy of phe­nom­e­nol­o­gy). The very form of the work, the seri­al­ized loop with its alter­nat­ing visu­al shocks that recre­ate the impres­sion of visu­al punch­es by the black leader, seems to act as an opti­cal metaphor for the con­flict between two his­tor­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic agents that rep­re­sent oppos­ing nation­al iden­ti­ties. Cole­man con­fus­es any clear mes­sage of nation­al iden­ti­ty by plac­ing it with­in the alien­at­ing con­text of the spec­ta­cle. It is this ten­den­cy toward a rein­te­gra­tion of the notion of the his­tor­i­cal­ly and sociopo­lit­i­cal­ly spe­cif­ic with­in Cole­man’s work (with­out fix­ing these notions into a nat­u­ral­ized posi­tion) while prob­lema­tiz­ing the estab­lished canons and taboos of mod­ernist prac­tice in Amer­i­ca, that makes Cole­man’s work effec­tive in deal­ing with the con­tem­po­rary prob­lems of the spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion of per­son­al and nation­al iden­ti­ty. There­fore Buchlo­h’s empha­sis on the­atre in Cole­man’s work not only posi­tions it against Michael Fried’s notions of mod­ern art and against Min­i­mal­ism and post-Min­i­mal­is­m’s uni­ver­al­iz­ing ten­den­cies, it also seems to char­ac­ter­ize the alle­gor­i­cal nature of Cole­man’s work that indi­rect­ly crit­i­cizes the dual posi­tions of fun­da­men­tal­ist nation­al iden­ti­ty and the dis­so­lu­tion of the sub­ject by the alien­at­ing expe­ri­ence of spec­ta­cle by hear­ken­ing back to tra­di­tion­al notions of per­for­mance and nar­ra­tiv­i­ty with­in theatre.

One of the main for­mal aspects of Cole­man’s alle­gor­i­cal method is the recur­ring slow slide dis­solve in his image pro­jec­tions. What is unset­tling is the way the images do not dif­fer very much from one anoth­er, such that rather than a sense of pro­gres­sion of move­ment one sens­es and insta­bil­i­ty and a dis­con­ti­nu­ity between the images. The over­all impres­sion is of a slight shift in posi­tion, or in hori­zon line. As if caught in time, the dis­con­tin­u­ous’ pro­ject­ed images flow into one anoth­er with no clear sense of real nar­ra­tive unfold­ing, no sense of before and after states, no pro­gres­sion toward a con­clu­sion as in con­ven­tion­al uses of nar­ra­tive. This occurs par­tic­u­lar­ly in the pro­jec­tion Liv­ing and Pre­sumed Dead , where one has the sense of wit­ness­ing the final cur­tain call of a the­atri­cal piece. A suc­ces­sion of slide dis­solves por­tray the sub­tle shift­ing posi­tions of a long line of char­ac­ters in masks and cos­tumes, rem­i­nis­cent of a pop­u­lar play. Not much hap­pens except that the panoram­ic line up of the char­ac­ters seems to shift ever so slight­ly with­in the dis­solves, in a con­fu­sion of visu­al effects–blurring, fol­lowed by clar­i­ty, a shift in hori­zon line, the dis­ap­pear­ance of a char­ac­ter, and the reap­pear­ance of anoth­er. But the show nev­er comes to an end. This sub­ver­sion of antic­i­pa­tion breaks with the con­ven­tions of both film’s and the­ater’s priv­i­leg­ing of the scop­ic field, of the view­er con­di­tioned expec­ta­tions, and pas­sive voyeurism. The visu­al field is impov­er­ished’ in the Ben­jamin­ian alle­gor­i­cal sense of the word, while the actu­al nar­ra­tive accom­pa­ny­ing the sta­t­ic images com­pli­cates mat­ters   in a sim­i­lar but tem­po­ral man­ner. In Liv­ing and Pre­sumed Dead , the voice-over, a very expres­sive the­atri­cal voice, recounts an Oedi­pal type sto­ry. How­ev­er, rather than pro­vid­ing uni­fied sub­ject and object posi­tions Cole­man seems to have dis­persed these posi­tions with­in a panoply of rep­e­ti­tious nar­ra­tives, of mul­ti­ple appear­ances and mul­ti­ple deaths…, pro­duc­ing a log­ic of dis­sem­i­na­tion rather than of clo­sure”. 41 This exag­ger­at­ed eter­nal return of the same plot struc­tures with­in the­atri­cal nar­ra­tive comes from Prop­p’s Mor­phol­o­gy of the Folk­tale where he the­o­rizes that an extreme­ly reduced num­ber of nar­ra­tive func­tions is elab­o­rat­ed into an ever bur­geon­ing cast of char­ac­ters in ever chang­ing per­mu­ta­tions of basic plots”. 42 The title of the image pro­jec­tion Liv­ing and Pre­sumed Dead itself evokes alle­go­ry, for the fig­ures act as masked and cos­tumed uniden­ti­fi­able char­ac­ters, mere mar­i­onettes real­ly, objects that dis­play them­selves in their stiff­ness, and around which pile up frag­ments of nar­ra­tive vari­a­tions. They are emblem­at­ic sym­bols for the nar­ra­tive, but they are past dead con­fig­u­ra­tions of sub­ject iden­ti­ty. Fur­ther­more, the allu­sion to ancient tragedy (the Oedi­pal type ref­er­ences) with­in the con­text of alle­go­ry fits in well with Wal­ter Ben­jam­in’s analy­sis of Trauer­spiel :

For in the the­o­ry of tragedy’ the rules of ancient tragedy are tak­en sep­a­rate­ly, as life­less com­po­nents, and piled up around an alle­gor­i­cal fig­ure rep­re­sent­ing the trag­ic muse. Thanks only to the clas­si­cist mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Trauer­spiel, such as the baroque prac­ticed in igno­rance of its true self, could the rules’ of ancient tragedy become the amor­phous, bind­ing, and emblem­at­ic rules accord­ing to which the new form devel­oped. In such a con­text of alle­gor­i­cal decay and destruc­tion the image of Greek tragedy seemed to be the only pos­si­ble, the nat­ur­al sign of trag­ic poet­ry’. 43

Ros­alind Krauss relates this sense of sub­tle rup­ture between pro­ject­ed images in Cole­man’s work to Barthes’ term obtuse mean­ing” or third mean­ing” that he uses when ana­lyz­ing stills from film in their hor­i­zon­tal pro­gres­sion from one image to the next. In many ways Barthes’ third mean­ing approach­es Ben­jam­in’s con­cept of dialec­tics at a stand­still”, the alle­gor­i­cal dialec­ti­cal image that cre­ates new sparks of mean­ing from the com­ing togeth­er of incon­gru­ous ele­ments. As Krauss puts it, at a cer­tain point Barthes arrives at a set of details that strike him as counter-nar­ra­tive” details that set reversibil­i­ty against the for­ward dri­ve of die­ge­sis, that pro­duce the effect of dis­sem­i­na­tion against the inter­weav­ing of nar­ra­tive form, that give off a sense of per­mutabil­i­ty against the focal­iza­tion of the sto­ry”. 44 This could be inter­pret­ed as the pres­ence of   sub­tle forms of rup­ture with­in the con­ti­nu­ity of the diegetic flow of nar­ra­tive, as what is prop­er­ly alle­gor­i­cal with­in the jux­ta­po­si­tion of film stills. It relates to the sense of a leap in con­ti­nu­ity from one moment to the next that is inte­gral to our under­stand­ing of alle­go­ry. It also relates to what Barthes calls the mor­tif­er­ous lay­er of the pose” and to what Zizek says about how film can be con­ceived as the mag­ic com­ing alive of dead images while the pho­to relates as the frozen, immo­bi­lized move­ment of life. Zizek rec­og­nizes this ten­den­cy toward desir­ing mor­ti­fied’, pet­ri­fied objects, as being prop­er to the sym­bol­ized gaze. 45 The very notion of the reifi­ca­tion of the image that obscures the pro­duc­tion process relates direct­ly to the process of com­mod­i­ty fetishism in cap­i­tal­ist modes of pro­duc­tion and to the stiff­ness of the alle­gor­i­cal dead object. This is what is prop­er­ly alle­gor­i­cal about Barthes third mean­ing” in film that seems to find its echo in Cole­man’stableaux vivants . The reifi­ca­tion of the image/object through dis­con­ti­nu­ity between film stills is exem­pli­fied when one ana­lyzes a work like La Tache Aveu­gle in which Cole­man uses nine stills from Whale’s film, The Invis­i­ble Man, pre­cise­ly the series of moments lead­ing up to when the hero is about to become vis­i­ble at the very moment of his death. Nobody mate­ri­al­izes in Cole­man’s image pro­jec­tion. The arresta­tion of this final moment and the sub­ver­sion of antic­i­pa­tion, as in the case of Liv­ing and Pre­sumed Dead ,   is caused by the ago­niz­ing­ly slow dis­solve ( La Tache Aveu­gle s nine stills unfold in eight hours). This device relates to the sys­tem of alle­go­ry in the Ben­jamin­ian sense, for it is the very absence of a pres­ence or in the very pres­ence of an absence (the dead object, the corpse, the com­mod­i­ty, the object emp­tied of his­tor­i­cal and human con­text) that mean­ing is con­struct­ed. Ben­jamin thought that it was in the jux­ta­po­si­tion of objects, the leap in mean­ing from one instance to anoth­er, that the idea was con­fig­ured. The qual­i­ties of dis­uni­ty, non-imme­di­a­cy, and the gen­er­a­tion of mean­ing through process are all alle­gor­i­cal in that truth’ remains con­stant­ly in sus­pense. It is unavail­able except as a per­pet­u­al­ly fleet­ing process. The dif­fi­cul­ty of attain­ing a clear, direct mean­ing in Cole­man’s work seems to stem from this con­tin­u­ous leap from one mean­ing to anoth­er, or in the sub­tle, almost imper­cep­ti­ble, shifts from one image to anoth­er. Ben­jamin held that there was no con­tin­u­ous pas­sage from the real­i­ty of phe­nom­e­na to the tran­scen­dent realm of ideas. What dis­tin­guish­es the alle­gor­i­cal form from mere com­mod­i­ty fetishism and the cul­ture of spec­ta­cle is the ele­ment of crit­i­cal rup­ture between past and present forms of rep­re­sen­ta­tions, the leap from phe­nom­e­no­log­i­cal expe­ri­ence to tran­scen­den­tal mem­o­ry and his­to­ry, inte­gral to the work.

It stands to rea­son that James Cole­man’s slide dis­solves con­sti­tute a high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and con­tem­po­rary form of alle­go­ry in terms of reveal­ing to the view­er the nature of per­cep­tion and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty amidst the crum­bling nations of the late 20 th cen­tu­ry. Buchloh was not the first art crit­i­cal writer to notice this how­ev­er, and his sta­tus seems slow­ly but sure­ly to be rel­e­gat­ing itself to the sphere of art his­to­ry, i.e. the pub­li­ca­tion of his book this year on Amer­i­can and Euro­pean neo-avant-garde art from 1955 to 1975. His appro­pri­a­tion of ele­ments from Ben­jamin to Adorno and Fou­cault (from alle­go­ry to the the­o­ry of the cul­ture indus­try to the con­struc­tion of per­cep­tion and sub­jec­tiv­i­ty around admin­is­tered insti­tu­tions) in his essays from the 1960s to the 90s were inge­nious­ly con­struct­ed around the desire to pro­mote the con­tin­u­a­tion of a crit­i­cal­ly engaged avant-garde prac­tice. Muse­um cri­tique had been effec­tive up to a point but seems to have exhaust­ed itself with the inter­ven­tion of multi­na­tion cor­po­ra­tions into the sphere of the muse­um. We seem to have reached a point where the domain of art as provider of ide­o­log­i­cal­ly crit­i­cal forms of knowl­edge needs to reach beyond the walls of cor­po­rate manipulation.


Ben­jamin Buchlo­h’s crit­i­cal stance is, to my mind, one of the few strong­ly eth­i­cal voic­es resound­ing with­in the con­tem­po­rary con­text of West­ern” art. Although he may be accused of being his­tori­cist and defeatist and although he could also be accused of a cer­tain Euro­cen­trism, I do feel that he takes a per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty as a crit­ic and art his­to­ri­an to out­line the reper­cus­sions of a dwin­dling avant-garde artis­tic prax­is in the wake of total­i­tar­i­an­ism, advanced cap­i­tal­ism, and now glob­al corporatism.

The fact that such gallery spaces as P.S. 1 can be tak­en over in a merg­er with MOMA (Feb. 1999) and that deac­ces­sion­ing has become the log­i­cal solu­tion to a glob­al art mar­ket that must reeval­u­ate its col­lec­tion accord­ing to trends in mar­kets and fash­ion, makes Buchlo­h’s defeatist posi­tion ring true. That once alter­na­tive spaces like the Dia Foun­da­tion seem to be con­tin­u­ing a trend set by the now 12-year direc­tor of the Guggen­heim, Thomas Krens (Guggen­heim’s in Spain, Ger­many, etc.), by plan­ning to open a new Dia space in Bea­con, N.Y., points to a new com­pet­i­tive­ness that seems to have tak­en over art insti­tu­tions, one that sees the muse­um more as a cor­po­ra­tion and their col­lec­tions as assets:

The once-clear bound­ary between main­stream and alter­na­tive insti­tu­tions has become increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to draw, as has the dis­tinc­tion between art designed for these once-so-dif­fer­ent venues. The most estab­lished alternatives”–P.S. 1, the Draw­ing Cen­ter, the New Museum–have long assumed a more muse­um­like demeanor. Con­verse­ly, the cre­ation of project rooms devot­ed to exper­i­men­tal new art and the will­ing­ness to address up-to-the-moment issues and artists have pushed estab­lished muse­ums ever clos­er to the cut­ting edge (“Issues and Com­men­tary: Grow­ing Pains”, in Art in Amer­i­ca , June 1999, p. 51).

The sum­mer of 99 saw two shows at the MOMA that reveal the con­tra­dic­to­ry mes­sages that the cor­po­ratism of the muse­um are con­vey­ing to the pub­lic: The Muse­um as Muse: Artists Reflect” and Fame After Pho­tog­ra­phy”. The for­mer was an attempt on the part of the muse­um to play at insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique. But by turn­ing its space into a theme park sur­vey of artists that do muse­um-spe­cif­ic or muse­um crit­i­cal art, they seem to have some­how emp­tied the works of their orig­i­nal, often site-spe­cif­ic, and time-spe­cif­ic strate­gies, some­how lump­ing them togeth­er as so many equiv­a­len­cies to be drained of any real func­tion or poignancy:

Where MOMA attempt­ed to go Buchloh one bet­ter and fos­ter its own bit of insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique from an artist he has cham­pi­oned, the results are fair­ly dis­as­trous for all con­cerned. Daniel Buren direct­ed that a slice of the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion be dis­placed intact into the Muse­um as Muse” instal­la­tion, with his sig­na­ture stripes left behind to mark the absence in the upstairs galleries…Buren drains his ges­ture of effect by prim­ly with­draw­ing him­self from the act of selec­tion and leav­ing the details to the muse­um… Buren’s fas­tid­i­ous non­par­tic­i­pa­tion only opens the door to cura­to­r­i­al busi­ness as usu­al, a lesson–if one were needed–of the futil­i­ty of the insti­tu­tion orga­niz­ing its own cri­tique (Thomas Crow, Art­fo­rum , Sum­mer 1999, p. 146).

The oth­er show Fame After Pho­tog­ra­phy” con­sist­ed of the dis­play of most­ly pop cul­ture para­pher­na­lia that moved in, I dare say, the oppo­site direc­tion to that of insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique: media spec­tac­u­lar­iza­tion. The hotch­potch of Amer­i­can mass-mar­ket adver­tis­ing and media images was no doubt sup­posed to work in a sim­i­lar vein to the 1990 show High and Low”, only this time they quite brazen­ly omit­ted the high” part, or any poten­tial­ly crit­i­cal part. Orga­niz­ing a show about insti­tu­tion­al cri­tique one month and then one based on arti­facts and ephemera from Amer­i­can mass-cul­ture and paparazzi oppor­tunism the next, points to the deeply prob­lem­at­ic nature of cor­po­rate-man­age­ment style muse­um pro­gram­ming, or per­haps to its secret agen­da of glob­al neu­tral­iza­tion and homog­e­niza­tion of art. This seems very much in keep­ing with Krens’ exhi­bi­tion­ist use of cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship at the Guggen­heim, to the point where he incor­po­rates the spon­sors’ prod­ucts with­in the exhi­bi­tions: BMW spon­sored the block­buster Art of the Motor­cy­cle” exhib­it; Nokia cell­phone own­ers got dis­counts on the pur­chase of tick­ets to the Chi­na, 5000 years” show, spon­sored by Nokia; John Cage’s 1994 show includ­ed a demon­stra­tion of spon­sor AT&T’s new still-image phone” (Art in Amer­i­ca, June 1999). What has hap­pened to the idea of the muse­um or gallery as space of knowl­edge with­in the demo­c­ra­t­ic pub­lic sphere? Since when did the art insti­tu­tion have to become an exten­sion of mar­ket forces, and art a func­tion of these mar­ket forces (assets) rather than mul­ti­ple, het­ero­ge­neous expres­sions of human reflec­tion on the nature of knowl­edge, aes­thet­ics, and beau­ty, and the impor­tance of these areas of thought and expres­sion as a form of social cri­tique and reform?

Beyond the preva­lence of his defeatism and the acknowl­edge­ment of a few bright stars amidst the admin­is­tra­tive black holes of cul­ture, Buchloh does not seem to embrace any ven­tures into new forms of pro­duc­tion or repro­duc­tion. The West­ern muse­um appears mori­bund and super­sat­u­rat­ed with cor­po­rate cul­ture. Com­put­er tech­nol­o­gy haunts the mar­gins of muse­um cul­ture, offer­ing up vir­tu­al spaces of expres­sion. But the capac­i­ty for art to thrive out­side of the phys­i­cal art muse­um insti­tu­tions seems uncer­tain to say the least regard­less of what such jour­nals as Third Text may say about the use of mul­ti-media by artists in sec­ond or third world countries.

In the some­what sweep­ing scope of this essay on Buchloh and alle­go­ry, I want­ed to con­vey the sense of a crit­i­cal jour­ney through two his­tor­i­cal rup­tures occur­ring in the sec­ond half of this cen­tu­ry via the social and polit­i­cal reflec­tions elab­o­rat­ed in cer­tain avant-garde prac­tices. It was meant as a response to the con­tin­ued urgency with which we must address the cri­sis of visu­al cul­ture as it has come to evolve in our art insti­tu­tions under advanced cap­i­tal­ism. By now we have grown tired of the inces­sant talk of the end of art and cul­ture and ide­ol­o­gy and his­to­ry, etc. As James Cole­man point­ed out in his ref­er­ence to nation­hood, as have oth­er crit­i­cal­ly-engaged artists such as Alan Seku­la, the future of a crit­i­cal­ly engaged sub­jec­tiv­i­ty will be based on the prob­lems involved with par­tic­i­pat­ing in a glob­al cul­ture”. On the one hand we have a globe embrac­ing the cap­i­tal­ist stan­dards of liv­ing thanks to the efforts of the IMF, WTO, GATT; on the oth­er hand we have extreme instances of nation­al­ism in oppo­si­tion to Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ism that breeds intol­er­ance and war. The strate­gies of the above men­tioned artists, in their efforts to retrace the steps that led to col­o­niza­tion and the exploita­tion of cheap labour in an his­tor­i­cal­ly crit­i­cal man­ner, will per­haps lead to a con­scious­ness-rais­ing   vis-à-vis the myth of globalization.

Revi­sions in crit­i­cal method­ol­o­gy, as in artisitic prac­tice, are occa­sioned by unprece­dent­ed and unpre­dictable rup­tures in col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence through­out his­to­ry. The very expe­ri­ence and mem­o­ry of these rup­tures, as we have seen, depends on resis­tance to an enlight­en­ment project that pro­motes the ratio­nal­iza­tion, cat­e­go­riza­tion, and homog­e­niza­tion of human expe­ri­ence and action through the fine tun­ing of the instru­ments of pow­er toward greater con­trol of the pub­lic domain. As Buchlo­h’s crit­i­cal project has shown us, the role of avant-garde prac­tices with­in the space of the muse­um, although not direct­ly and imme­di­ate­ly influ­en­tial on the over­all social fab­ric, has effec­tu­at­ed some social aware­ness out­side the realm of every­day life that has become com­plete­ly infil­trat­ed and dic­tat­ed by the media. James Cole­man’s alle­gor­i­cal mode of cri­tique has been for­ward­ed as one of the most effec­tive ways of ques­tion­ing the sub­ject posi­tions con­struct­ed around the log­ic of com­mod­i­ty fetishism and spec­ta­cle cul­ture, thus occa­sion­ing a resis­tance to the glob­al homog­e­niza­tion of medi­at­ed expe­ri­ence, thus bring­ing about the sus­pen­sion of the end of his­to­ry . There are oth­ers, there will be more.


2 Wal­ter Ben­jamin, The Ori­gin of Ger­man Trag­ic Dra­ma , Lon­don: NLB, 1977, pp. 138–139.

3 Bairnard Cow­an, Wal­ter Ben­jam­in’s The­o­ry of Alle­go­ry” in New Ger­man Cri­tique , no. 26, 1982, p. 118.

4 Charles Rosen, The Ruins of Wal­ter Ben­jamin” in On Wal­ter Ben­jamin , Cam­bridge: MIT Press, 1988, p. 167.

5 Wal­ter Ben­jamin, Trauer­spiel , p. 34.

6 Ben­jamin Buchloh, Alle­gor­i­cal Pro­ce­dures: Appro­pri­a­tion and Mon­tage in Con­tem­po­rary Art” in Art­fo­rum , Sep­tem­ber 1982, vol. 21, p. 44.

7 Cow­an, Wal­ter Ben­jam­in’s The­o­ry of Alle­go­ry”, p. 116.

9 Hall­man, Leichre­den , cit­ed in The Ori­gin of Ger­man Trag­ic Dra­ma , p. 231.

10 Doc­u­men­ta X, the book , Ost­fildern: Cantz-Ver­lag, 1997, p. 377.

10a The devel­op­ment and con­tin­u­a­tion of such a rich the­atri­cal and cin­e­mat­ic avant-garde prac­tice in sev­er­al Euro­pean coun­tries proved to be of sig­nif­i­cance for lat­er avant-garde visu­al art prac­tices such as that of James Cole­man, who was to address the prob­lem­at­ic notions of   nation­al­i­ty and iden­ti­ty by ref­er­enc­ing the pop­u­lar genre of the­atre with­in his work.

11 op. cit., p. 384.

12 op. cit., 625.

13 Jeff Wall, Dan Gra­ham’s Kam­mer­spiel, Toron­to: Art Metro­pole, 1991, p.104.

14 op. cit., p. 112.

15 op. cit., p. 93.

16 Tom Huhn & Lam­bert Zuider­vaart, The Sem­blance of Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty , Cam­bridge: MIT Press, 1997, p. 201.

17 op. cit., p. 94.

18 Ben­jamin Buchloh, For­mal­ism and His­toric­i­ty” in Art in the Sev­en­ties , p. 83.

19 op. cit., p. 83.

20 Ben­jamin Buchloh, Crit­i­cal Reflec­tions” in Art­fo­rum , Jan­u­ary 1997, p.102.

21 The Sem­blance of Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty , p. 9.

22 Dan Gra­ham’s Kam­mer­spiel , p. 109.

23 Ben­jamin Buchloh, Mem­o­ry Lessons and His­to­ry Tableaux: James Cole­man’s Archae­ol­o­gy of Spec­ta­cle” in James Cole­man: Pro­ject­ed Images: 1972–1994 , New York: Dia Cen­ter for the Arts, 1995, p. 51–52.

24 Ben­jamin Buchloh, Con­cep­tu­al Art 1962–1969: From the Aes­thet­ic of Admin­is­tra­tion to the Cri­tique of Insti­tu­tions” in Octo­ber, The Sec­ond Decade, 1986–1996 , Cam­bridge: MIT Press, 1997, p.152.

25 Doc­u­men­ta X, the book , p. 637.

26 Crit­i­cal Reflec­tions” in Art­fo­rum , Jan­u­ary 1997, p.69.

27 op. cit., p. 68.

28 op. cit., p. 69.

29 op. cit., p. 69.

30 op. cit., p. 69.

31 The Sem­blance of Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty , p. 203.

32 Doc­u­men­ta X, the book , p. 640.

33 Crit­i­cal Reflec­tions”, p. 102.

34 James Cole­man: Pro­ject­ed Images: 1972–1994 , p. 49.

35 The Sem­blance of Sub­jec­tiv­i­ty , p. 152.

36 James Cole­man: Pro­ject­ed Images: 1972–1994 , p. 64.

36a op. cit., p.58.

37 op. cit., p. 20.

38 Doc­u­men­ta X, the book , p. 638.

39 Trauer­spiel , p. 35.

40 Ros­alind Krauss, ” ‘…And Then Turn Away?’ An Essay on James Cole­man” in OCTOBER 81 , Sum­mer 1997, Cam­bridge: MIT, p. 17.

41 op. cit., p. 19.

42 op. cit., p. 19.

43 Trauer­spiel , p. 189.

44 “…And Then Turn Away? An Essay on James Cole­man”, p. 12.

45 Slavoj Zizek, The Plague of Fan­tasies , Lon­don and New York: Ver­so, 1997, p. 88, 123.



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