Tamara Trodd: The Art of Mechanical Reproduction 


“Medium” is a central concept in 2th-century art criticism. This is the first book-length exploration of how the status of traditional mediums (painting, sculpture, drawing) has been transformed in modern and contemporary art by the rise of photography, film, broadcast tv and other technologies. It presents original research on many famous artists together with a fresh theoretical approach that challenges some of the most entrenched criticism of the past several decades. It reconsiders key practices in modern art in relation to specific technologies of the time rather than through the strict current idea of medium. Thus we get to watch Paul Klee tinker in the darkroom, Hans Bellmer figuring out how to make doube-exposures in motion pictures, an aging Chris Marker gleefully experimenting with digital technology, Robert Smithson taking apart a Xerox machine, Douglas Huebler brushing up on basic chemistry, and Gerhard Richter adapting his technical knowledge of mass printing and photo reproduction to produce a full-blown aesthetic agenda and set of artistic protocols for painting. Other artists considered include Ellsworth Kelley, Tacita Dean, and networks that draw in Duchamp, Kiesler, Picasso, Twombly, Rauschenberg, Mel Bochner, and more.

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Reviews: 

Film Quarterly
Washington Book Review
Art Libraries Society of North America
Additional Resources:

Tamara Trodd on Thomas Demand (audio)
Round Table: Screen/Space: The projected image in Contemporary Art (from October)
Walter Benjamin: Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility (PDF)

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Pierre Bourdieu: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

No judgement of taste is innocent. In a word, we are all snobs. Pierre Bourdieu brilliantly illuminates this situation of the middle class in the modern world. France's leading sociologist focusses here on the French bourgeoisie, its tastes and preferences. Distinction is at once a vast ethnography of contemporary France and a dissection of the bourgeois mind.
In the course of everyday life people constantly choose between what they find aesthetically pleasing and what they consider tacky, merely trendy, or ugly. Bourdieu bases his study on surveys that took into account the multitude of social factors that play a part in a Frenchperson's choice of clothing, furniture, leisure activities, dinner menus for guests, and many other matters of taste. What emerges from his analysis is that social snobbery is everywhere in the bourgeois world. The different aesthetic choices people make are all distinctions-that is, choices made in opposition to those made by other classes. Taste is not pure. Bourdieu finds a world of social meaning in the decision to order bouillabaisse, in our contemporary cult of thinness, in the "California sports" such as jogging and cross-country skiing. The social world, he argues, functions simultaneously as a system of power relations and as a symbolic system in which minute distinctions of taste become the basis for social judgement.
The topic of Bourdieu's book is a fascinating one: the strategies of social pretension are always curiously engaging. But the book is more than fascinating. It is a major contribution to current debates on the theory of culture and a challenge to the major theoretical schools in contemporary sociology.

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Further Readings Available as PDF
Language and Symbolic Power
The Logic of Practice
The Forms of Capital
Social Space and Symbolic Power

Additional Resources:
Routledge Profile of Pierre Bourdieu
Documentary: Sociology is a Martial Art (2002)

Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra and Simulation


The first full-length translation in English of an essential work of postmodernism.

The publication of Simulacra et Simulation in 1981 marked Jean Baudrillard's first important step toward theorizing the postmodern. Moving away from the Marxist/Freudian approaches that had concerned him earlier, Baudrillard developed in this book a theory of contemporary culture that relies on displacing economic notions of cultural production with notions of cultural expenditure.

Baudrillard uses the concepts of the simulacra—the copy without an original—and simulation. These terms are crucial to an understanding of the postmodern, to the extent that they address the concept of mass reproduction and reproduceability that characterizes our electronic media culture.

Baudrillard's book represents a unique and original effort to rethink cultural theory from the perspective of a new concept of cultural materialism, one that radically redefines postmodern formulations of the body.

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Douglas Crimp: On the Museum’s Ruins


On the Museum's Ruins presents Douglas Crimp's criticism of contemporary art, its institutions, and its politics alongside photographic works by the artist Louise Lawler to create a collaborative project that is itself an example of postmodern practice at its most provocative. Crimp elaborates the new paradigm of postmodernism through analyses of art practices broadly conceived, not only the practices of artists—Robert Rauschenberg, Cindy Sherman, Marcel Broodthaers, Richard Serra, Sherrie Levine, and Robert Mapplethorpe—but those of critics and curators, of international exhibitions, and of new or refurbished museums such as the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart and the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.

The essays:

– Photographs at the End of Modernism.

– On the Museum's Ruins.

– The Museum's Old, the Library's New Subject.

– The End of Painting.

– The Photographic Activity of Postmodernism.

– Appropriating Appropriation.

– Redefining Site Specificity.

– This is Not a Museum of Art.

– The Art of Exhibition.

– The Postmodern Museum.

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Roland Barthes: Mythologies


"No denunciation without its proper instrument of close analysis," Roland Barthes wrote in his preface to Mythologies. There is no more proper instrument of analysis of our contemporary myths than this book—one of the most significant works in French theory, and one that has transformed the way readers and philosophers view the world around them.

Our age is a triumph of codification. We own devices that bring the world to the command of our fingertips. We have access to boundless information and prodigious quantities of stuff. We decide to like or not, to believe or not, to buy or not. We pick and choose. We think we are free. Yet all around us, in pop culture, politics, mainstream media, and advertising, there are codes and symbols that govern our choices. They are the fabrications of consumer society. They express myths of success, well-being, or happiness. As Barthes sees it, these myths must be carefully deciphered, and debunked.

What Barthes discerned in mass media, the fashion of plastic, and the politics of postcolonial France applies with equal force to today's social networks, the iPhone, and the images of 9/11. This new edition of Mythologies, complete and beautifully rendered by the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, critic, and translator Richard Howard, is a consecration of Barthes's classic—a lesson in clairvoyance that is more relevant now than ever.

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Anne Truitt: Daybook: the Journal of an Artist


Renowned American artist Anne Truitt kept this illuminating and inspiring journal over a period of seven years, determined to come to terms with the forces that shaped her art and life. Her range of sensitivity—moral, intellectual, sensual, emotional, and spiritual— is remarkably broad. She recalls her childhood on the eastern shore of Maryland, her career change from psychology to art, and her path to a sculptural practice that would “set color free in three dimensions.” She reflects on the generous advice of other artists, watches her own daughters’ journey into motherhood, meditates on criticism and solitude, and struggles to find the way to express her vision. Resonant and true, encouraging and revelatory, Anne Truitt guides herself—and her readers—through a life in which domestic activities and the needs of children and friends are constantly juxtaposed against the world of color and abstract geometry to which she is drawn in her art.

Beautifully written and a rare window on the workings of a creative mind, Daybook showcases an extraordinary artist whose insights generously and succinctly illuminate the artistic process.

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Robert Irwin: Notes Towards a Conditional Art


Robert Irwin, who is one of the most important artists of this era, was a seminal figure in "Light and Space" art. He began as an Abstract Expressionist painter in the 1950s, and was for some time (but is no longer) an artist who produced no art obejcts. Irwin's philosophical and aesthetic theories are so far-reaching that only now, some twenty years after they were first posited, has the art world begun to recognize that his questions about perception come to bear upon the definition of art itself. In the 1960s, his disc paintings succeeded in "breaking the edge of the canvas," with the resultant effect that the space surrounding the work became equally important. In the 1970s, Irwin created room-environment pieces of a phenomenal or non-object nature across the United States. Comprised solely of light, string, or nylon scrim, these works placed the responsibility upon the viewer in order to bring him to a position where he could "perceive himself perceiving" – "The Mondrian was no longer on the wall – the viewer was in the Mondrian." In the last ten years, Irwin's sculptural aesthetic and his philosophical theories have merged to provide the impetus behind a major body of sculpture created in response to a specific site, situation, or locale. Irwin's importance as an artist lies not only in the beauty and clarity of his precendent-setting work, but in his theoretical contribtion, which provides a framework by which all phenomenal works can be examined. This book, written by the artist, lays out his theoretical position and documents the working processes behind seventeen major sculpture projects created over the past decade. — from dust jacket.

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David Batchelor: Chromophobia


Excerpt from Chromophobia:
The notion that colour is bound up with the fate of Western culture sounds odd, and not very likely. But this is what I want to argue: that colour has been the object of extreme prejudice in Western culture. For the most part, this prejudice has remained unchecked and passed unnoticed. And yet it is a prejudice that is so all-embracing and generalized that, at one time or another, it has enrolled just about every other prejudice in its service. If its object were a furry animal, it would be protected by international law. But its object is, it is said, almost nothing, even though it is at the same time a part of almost everything and exists almost everywhere. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that, in the West, since Antiquity, colour has been systematically marginalized, reviled, diminished and degraded. Generations of philosophers, artists, art historians and cultural theorists of one stripe or another have kept this prejudice alive, warm, fed and groomed. As with all prejudices, its manifest form, its loathing, masks a fear: a fear of contamination and corruption by something that is unknown or appears unknowable. This loathing of colour, this fear of corruption through colour, needs a name: chromophobia.
Chromophobia manifests itself in the many and varied attempts to purge colour from culture, to devalue colour, to diminish its significance, to deny its complexity. More specifically: this purging of colour is usually accomplished in one of two ways. In the first, colour is made out to be the property of some ‘foreign’ body – usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration. Colour is dangerous, or it is trivial, or it is both. (It is typical of prejudices to conflate the sinister and the superficial.) Either way, colour is routinely excluded from the higher concerns of the Mind. It is other to the higher values of Western culture. Or perhaps culture is other to the higher values of colour. Or colour is the corruption of culture.

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Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others


Twenty-five years after her classic On Photography, Susan Sontag returns to the subject of visual representations of war and violence in our culture today.How does the spectacle of the sufferings of others (via television or newsprint) affect us? Are viewers inured–or incited–to violence by the depiction of cruelty? In Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag takes a fresh look at the representation of atrocity–from Goya's The Disasters of War to photographs of the American Civil War, lynchings of blacks in the South, and the Nazi death camps, to contemporary horrific images of Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Israel and Palestine, and New York City on September 11, 2001.In Regarding the Pain of Others Susan Sontag once again changes the way we think about the uses and meanings of images in our world, and offers an important reflection about how war itself is waged (and understood) in our time.

Features an analysis of our numbed response to images of horror. This title alters our thinking about the uses and meanings of images, and about the nature of war, the limits of sympathy, and the obligations of conscience.

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Selected Other Writings
Notes on Camp
Against Interpretation
The Aesthetics of Silence
On Photography (Excerpt)

Interviews, Lectures, etc.
John Berger and Susan Sontag: To Tell a Story
On Classical Pornography (Audio)
Susan Sontag Lecture at the San Francisco Public Library
Interview (1995)

Additional Resources:
The Susan Sontag Foundation