Depiction

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Object,
Event
Jeff
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Depiction,
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Depiction,
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Contents
Inhoud
Hans Brens, Camiel van Winkel
Introduction
Inleiding
Jeff Wall
Depiction, Object, Event
Afbeelding, object, gebeurtenis
Vivian Rehberg
Response
Reactie

Discussion
Discussie


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30
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On Sunday 29 October 2006, the first Hermes Lecture was held in
the late-modernist setting of the Provinciehuis in ’s-Hertogenbosch.
Here, to a capacity crowd, Jeff Wall delivered his paper entitled
Depiction, Object, Event, describing the state of contemporary art.
The publication before you contains the unabridged text of the lec-
ture, Vivian Rehberg’s response to it, as well as a condensed version
of the public discussion that concluded the event.
The Hermes Lecture is a biennial lecture by a distinguished,
internationally active artist about the position of the visual artist
in the cultural and social field. The idea for organizing it came
from a collaboration between Hermes, an entrepreneurs’ network
in ’s-Hertogenbosch—that, among other goals, is committed to
establishing contacts between art and the business world—and the
Research Group of Fine Arts at the art academy AKV| St. Joost, Avans
University, also based in ’s-Hertogenbosch. The Research Group,
headed by Camiel van Winkel, conducts research into the cultural
position and function of the visual artist.
The Hermes Lecture aims to promote the development of the
critical and theoretical discourse on art, and also to reaffirm this
I nt roduct i on
Hans Brens
Camiel van Winkel
7
discourse, that in the course of the twentieth century has become
rather a specialist affair, in its place in the public domain—a place
it still held so explicitly in the days of Zola and Baudelaire.
For the Hermes Lecture we will invite artists who have demon-
strated their capacity for theoretical reflection at the highest level.
Rather than discussing their own work, they will be invited to
address more general issues such as the social responsibility of the
artist, the relationship between art and mass culture, and the future
of the visual arts as a critical discipline with its own intellectual
tradition.
We could not have wished for a more distinguished speaker to give
the first lecture than Jeff Wall. Depiction, Object, Event, written
especially for this occasion, is an original and thought-provoking
interpretation of developments in the art of the last century that
have culminated over the past two decades in an alleged fusion of
art and life.
Today, artists are often regarded as the trendsetting members of a
‘creative class’ that is fully integrated within the tertiary sector of
the global economy. They are seen as fully-fledged service providers
who meet all the requirements of professional entrepreneurship and
contribute to the growing prosperity of the community with their
creative expertise. The notion that artists are employable in all sorts
of social domains is related to the belief that orthodox-modernist
dogmas—such as the autonomy of the arts and the ban on mixing
media—have been permanently left behind on the battlegrounds of
history. Jeff Wall’s text, however, makes a reasonable case for assum-
ing that such convictions continue to have an effect, if only by the
void they left in their wake. Even in its most extrovert moments the
innovative power of art is primarily directed inwards, at (the trans-
formation of) its own object.
One of Wall’s theses is that the fusion of art and non-art is in a
sense an illusion, a mimetic operation that leaves the institutional
art context fully intact. Non-artistic phenomena, including various
forms of economic and social activity, make their ‘second appear-
ance’ in, or rather as, art. Artists and curators appropriate these
activities without actually having to leave the institutional domain
of art. The heteronomy of contemporary art is, in Wall’s term, a
‘pseudo-heteronomy’.
There are no criteria available to judge the quality of these crea-
tive expressions, because, as Wall states, aesthetic criteria are only
valid within the classic disciplines—painting, drawing, sculpture,
the graphic arts, and photography. These ‘canonical forms’ are still
thriving, by the way, in spite of all efforts by artists to subvert them
from within; but they thrive as a separate sector within contempo-
rary art, as a genre with its own laws and standards. By contrast,
the success of the alternative, pseudo-heteronomous art forms lies in
the very fact that they have managed to neutralize these aesthetic
9 8
criteria for themselves. The criteria are no longer tested, challenged
or stretched, but simply set aside.
Jeff Wall pointedly does not pass any judgment on this fact;
he sketches the current ‘bifurcation’ of two different versions of
contemporary art as a temporary situation, without venturing into
speculations about the future. It is everyone’s prerogative to ponder
the implications of his argument. What risks, for instance, are
entailed in the social trend of ‘the artist as a service provider’, if
we neglect the ambivalent history preceding this development? And
how should art schools deal with the legacy of the avant-garde and
the indeterminate state of the aesthetic judgement?
On behalf of the Hermes Lecture Foundation we would like to
thank all those individuals and institutions who helped to make
this lecture possible or contributed to its success: the members and
the board of Hermes; the members of the Recommending Committee
of the Hermes Lecture; the management, staff and students at
AKV| St. Joost; the Mondriaan Foundation; and the Province of
Noord Brabant.
Modern and modernist art is grounded in the dialectic of depic-
tion and anti-depiction, depiction and its negation within the
regime of depiction. The self-criticism of art, that phenomenon
we call both ‘modernist’ and ‘avant-garde’, originated in terms
of the arts of depiction and, for the hundred years beginning in
1855, remained within their framework.
The forms of the depictive arts are drawing, painting, sculp-
ture, the graphic arts, and photography. These of course are
what were called the ‘fine arts’ to distinguish them from the
‘applied arts’. I will call these the ‘canonical forms’.
The depictive arts do not admit movement. Movement in them
has always been suggested, not presented directly. The quality
and nature of that suggestion has been one of the main criteria
of judgment of quality in those arts. We judge the depictive arts
on how they suggest movement while actually excluding it.
Movement is the province of other arts—theatre, dance, mu-
sic, and cinema. Each of these arts also has its own avant-garde,
its own modernism, its own demands for the fusion of art and
life, and its own high and low forms. But in the 1950s, those
who took up and radicalized the pre-war avant-garde convic-
Depi ct i on,
Obj ect,
Event
Jef f Wall
tion that art could evolve only by breaking out of the canoni-
cal forms, turned precisely to the movement arts. I am think-
ing here of Allan Kaprow, John Cage, or George Maciunas. They
sensed that the depictive arts could not be displaced by any
more upheavals from within, any more radical versions of depic-
tion or anti-depiction. They came to recognize that there was
something about the depictive arts that would not permit an-
other art form or art dimension to evolve out of them. The new
challenge to western art would be advanced in terms of move-
ment and the arts of movement. Cage’s piano concert, 4’33”, first
presented in 1952, can be seen as the first explicit statement of
this challenge.
This was, of course, opposed by proponents of the canon,
pre-eminently Clement Greenberg. Greenberg published his es-
say Towards a Newer Laocoon in 1940, twelve years before Cage’s
concert. In it he wrote, “There has been, is, and will be, such a
thing as a confusion of the arts.” He argues that, in each era,
there can be, and has been, a dominant art, one all the others
tend to imitate to their own detriment, perversion, and loss of
integrity. From the early 17th century to the last third of the
19th, he says that the dominant art was literature. What he
calls modernism is the effort on the part of artists to reject that
mimesis and work only with the unique, inimitable characteris-
tics of each individual, singular, art. He says that this emphasis
on uniqueness is central to the creation of the best and most
significant art of the period between 1875 and 1940—in paint-
ing, from Cézanne to the advent of Abstract Expressionism.
For Greenberg and his generation—and at least one further
generation—the confusion was confusion within the depictive
arts. Even if literature or theatre were the models for paint-
ers and sculptors, the imitations were executed as paintings or
sculptures. A painter did not put on a play in a gallery and claim
it was a ‘painting’, or a ‘work of art’. The painter made a paint-
ing that, unfortunately, suppressed its own inherent values as
painting in trying to create the effect a staged scene of the
13 12
same subject might have had. For Greenberg, this was a severe
confusion.
But if that was a severe confusion in 1940, or 1950, or even
1960, it is not a severe confusion after that. After that we have
a new order of confusion of the arts, a new dimension of it, be-
cause the mimesis, the blending and blurring of distinctions, is
not confined to occurrences within depiction, even though they
are taking place on the terrain called ‘contemporary art’, a ter-
rain discovered, settled, and charted by the depictive arts.
The development of this dispute was at the centre of critical
discourse between the early 1950s and the later 1960s, at which
point the proponents of the new movement-based forms become
dominant. In 1967, Michael Fried radicalized Greenberg’s argu-
ments and staged the last and best stand in defense of the
canonical forms. This was of course his famous essay Art and
Objecthood, where he introduced the term ‘theatricality’ to ex-
plain the condition brought about by the rise of the new forms.
The term made explicit the fact that the radical breach with the
canonical forms is not effected by some unheralded new type
of art but comes with brutal directness from theatre, music,
dance, and film. Fried’s argument may have had its greatest ef-
fect on his opponents rather than his supporters, for it revealed
to them with an unprecedented intensity and sophistication
both the stakes in play and the means by which to play for
them. The development of the new forms exploded and acceler-
ated just at this moment, amidst the clamour of criticism of Art
and Objecthood.
Fried’s accomplishment is founded on his close reading of the
internal structure of painting and sculpture. His contestation
with Minimal Art is framed in those terms. Yet implicit within
his argument are at least two other aspects, two moments of
transition between the criteria of the depictive arts and those
of the emergent movement.
The first of these is of course the Readymade. The Readymade
is the point of origin in the history of the attempt to displace
the depictive arts. Yet it has an unusual relation to depiction,
one not often commented upon.
The Readymade did not and was not able to address itself to
depiction; its concern is with the object, and so if we were to
classify it within the canonical forms it would be sculpture. But
no-one who has thought about it accepts that a Readymade is
sculpture. Rather it is an object that transcends the traditional
classifications and stands as a model for art as a whole, art as a
historical phenomenon, a logic, and an institution. As Thierry
de Duve has so well demonstrated, this object designates itself
as the abstraction ‘art as such’, the thing that can bear the
weight of the name ‘art as such’. Under what de Duve calls the
conditions of nominalism, the name ‘art’ must be applied to any
object that can be legitimately nominated as such by an artist.
Or, to be more circumspect, it is the object from which the name
art cannot logically be withheld. The Readymade therefore
proved that an arbitrary object can be designated as art and
that there is no argument available to refute that designation.
Depictions are works of art by definition. They may be popular
art, amateur art, even entirely unskilled and unappealing art,
but they are able to nominate themselves as art nonetheless.
They are art because the depictive arts are founded on the mak-
ing of depictions, and that making necessarily displays artistry.
The only distinctions remaining to be made here are between
‘fine’ art and ‘applied’ art, or ‘popular’ art and ‘high’ art, between
‘amateur’ art and ‘professional’ art, and, of course, between
good art and less good art. Selecting a very poor, amateurish,
depiction (say a businessman’s deskpad doodle) and presenting
it in a nice frame in a serious exhibition might be interesting,
but it would not satisfy the criteria Duchamp established for
the Readymade. The doodle is already nominated as art and the
operation of the Readymade in regard to it is redundant.
Moreover, a depiction—let’s say a painting—cannot simply
be identified with an object. It is the result of a process that
has taken place upon the support provided by an object, say a
15 14
canvas, but that has not thereby created another object. The
depiction is an alteration of the surface of an object. In order
that the alteration be effected, the object, the support must
pre-exist it. Therefore any selection of a Readymade in this case
could concern only the object that pre-existed any alteration or
working of its surface. The presence of this second element—
the depiction—cannot be relevant to the logical criteria for an
object’s selection as a Readymade, and in fact disqualifies it.
Duchamp never selects any object bearing a depiction as a
Readymade. Any time he chose objects bearing depictions
(these are usually pieces of paper), he altered them and gave
them different names. The three most significant examples are
Pharmacie, a colour lithographic print of a moody landscape,
selected in 1914, and the pair of stereoscopic slides, Stereoscopie
à la main (Handmade Stereoscopy), from 1918, both of which are
designated as ‘corrected’ Readymades; and the famous LHOOQ
from 1919, which Duchamp called a ‘rectified Readymade’. But
these terms have little meaning. The works in question are sim-
ply not Readymades at all. They are drawings, or paintings, or
some hybrid, executed on a support that already has a depiction
on it. Pharmacie, for example, could stand as a prototype for the
paintings of Sigmar Polke.
Since a depiction cannot be selected as a Readymade, depic-
tion is therefore not included in Duchamp’s negation. This is not
to say that the depictive arts are not affected by the subversion
carried out in the form of the Readymade; far from it. But any
effect it will have on them is exerted in terms of their exemp-
tion from the claims it makes about art, not their inclusion.
They are exempt because their legitimacy as art is not affected
by the discovery that any object, justly selected, cannot be de-
nied the status of ‘instance of art’ that was previously reserved
exclusively for the canonical forms. This new ‘inability to deny
status’ adds many things to the category art, but subtracts none
from it. There is addition, that is, expanded legitimation, but
no reduction, no delegitimation.
The Readymade critique is therefore both a profound suc-
cess and a surprising failure. It seems to transform everything
and yet it changes nothing. It can seem ephemeral and even
phantom. It obliges nobody to anything. Duchamp himself re-
turns to craftsmanship and the making of works, and there’s
no problem. Everything is revolutionized but nothing has been
made to disappear. Something significant has happened, but
the anticipated transformation does not materialize, or it ma-
terializes incompletely, in a truncated form. The recognition of
this incompleteness was itself one of the shocks created by the
avant-garde. That shock was both recognized and not recog-
nized between 1915 and 1940.
The failed overthrow and the resulting reanimation of paint-
ing and sculpture around 1940 set the stage for the more radical
attempt inaugurated by Cage, Kaprow, and the others and cul-
minating in conceptual art, or what I will call the ‘conceptual
reduction’ of the depictive arts. This is the second element con-
cealed within Art and Objecthood.
‘Reduction’ was a central term at the origins of conceptual art;
it emerged from the new discourses on reductivism set off by
Minimal art in the late 1950s and early 60s. Painting and sculp-
ture were both to be reduced to a new status, that of what Don
Judd called ‘specific objects’, neither painting nor sculpture but
an industrially produced model of a generic object that would
have to be accepted as the new essential form of ‘art as such’.
Now, 40 years later, we can see that Judd, along with his col-
leagues Dan Flavin and Carl Andre, are clearly sculptors, despite
their rhetoric. Others—Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, Terry
Atkinson, Mel Ramsden, Michael Baldwin, Sol Lewitt—took up
that rhetoric, and were more consistent. They pushed the argu-
ment past ‘specific objects’—or ‘generic objects’—to the ‘generic
instance of art’, a condition beyond objects and works of art,
a negation of the ‘work of art’, the definitive supercession of
both object and work. Object and work are superceded by their
replacement with a written explication of why the written ex-
17 16
plication itself cannot be denied status as a generic instance
of art—and furthermore why logically and historically, this
text not only cannot be denied such status, but is in fact the
only entity that can authentically possess it, since it alone has
become, or remained, art while having ceased to be a specific
‘work of art’. This reduction renders everything other than it-
self a member of a single category, the category of less histori-
cally and theoretically self-conscious gestures—mere works of
art. From the new judgment seat of strictly linguistic concep-
tual art, all other modes or forms are equally less valid. All are
equivalent in having fallen short of the self-reflexive condition
of the reduction.
The substitution of the work by a written text stakes its claim,
however, under very specific conditions. The text in question
can concern itself with only a single subject: the argument it
makes for its own validity. The text can tell us only why and
under what conditions it must be accepted as the final, defini-
tive version of the ‘generic instance of art’ and why all other
kinds of art are historically redundant. But it cannot say any-
thing else. If it does, it becomes ‘literature’; it becomes ‘post-
conceptual’.
I am only going to note in passing here that, of course, this
attempt at delegitimation was no more successful than the pre-
vious one. But that is not what is significant about it. The con-
ceptual reduction is the most rigorously-argued version of the
long critique of the canonical forms. All the radical proposals of
the avant-gardes since 1913 are summed up in it.
All those proposals demanded that artists leap out of what
has always been called ‘art’ into new, more open, more effec-
tively creative relationships with the ‘lifeworld’, to use Jürgen
Habermas’ term for it. This leap necessarily involves repudiat-
ing the creation of high art, and inventing or at least model-
ling new relations between the creative citizen—who is now
not an artist—and the lifeworld. The neo-avant-garde of the
1950s distinguishes itself from the earlier avant-garde in that
it is more concerned with this social and cultural modelling
than it is with artistic innovation as such. Concern with artis-
tic innovation presumes that such innovation is required for a
reinvention of the lifeworld, but the conceptual reduction has
shown that this is no longer the case, since the era of meaning-
ful artistic innovation has concluded, probably with the death
of Jackson Pollock in 1956.
Therefore, the argument continues, those people who would
have been artistic innovators in the past now have a new field
of action and a new challenge. They are no longer obliged to
relate to the lifeworld via the mediation of works of art; they
are now liberated from that and placed directly before a vast
range of new possibilities for action. This suggests new, more
inventive, more sensitive forms of cultural activity carried out
in real lifeworld contexts—the media, education, social policy,
urbanism, health, and many others. The ‘aesthetic education’ to
be undergone by these people will impel them beyond the nar-
row confines of the institutions of art and release their creativ-
ity in the transformation of existing institutions and possibly
the invention of new ones. This of course is very close to the
ideas of the ‘counterculture’ generated at almost the same mo-
ment, and the conceptual reduction is one of the key forms of
countercultural thinking.
And yet, despite the rigour of the conceptual reduction and the
futuristic glamour of the challenge it posed, few artists crossed
that line it drew in the sand, few left the field of art to inno-
vate in the new way in other domains. From the early 70s on, it
seems that most artists either ignored the reduction altogether,
or acquiesced to it intellectually, but put it aside and continued
making works. But the works they made are not the same works
as before.
Since there are now no binding technical or formal criteria
or even physical characteristics that could exclude this or that
object or process from consideration as art, the necessity for art
19 18
to exist by means of works of art is reasserted, not against the
conceptual reduction, but in its wake and through making use
of the new openness it has provided, the new ‘expanded field’.
The new kinds of works come into their own mode of histori-
cal self-consciousness through the acceptance of the claim that
there is a form of art which is not a work of art and which leg-
islates the way a work of art is now to be made. This is what the
term ‘post-conceptual’ means.
The reduction increased the means by which works can be
created and thereby established the framework for the vast pro-
liferation of forms that characterizes the recent period. The
depictive arts were based upon certain abilities and skills and
those who did not possess either had little chance of acceptance
in art. The critique of those abilities, or at least of the canonical
status of those abilities, was one of the central aspects of the
avant-garde’s attack on the depictive arts, and conceptual art
took this up with great enthusiasm. The Readymade had already
been seen as rendering the handicraft basis of art obsolete, and
conceptual art extended the obsolescence to the entire range
of depictive skills. The de-skilling and re-skilling of artists be-
came a major feature of art education, which has been trans-
formed by two generations of conceptual and post-conceptual
artist-teachers.
The reduction enlarged the effect of the Readymade in vali-
dating a vast range of alternative forms that called for different
abilities, different skills, and probably a different kind of art-
ist, one that Peter Plagens recently called the ‘post-artist’. In
keeping with the utopian tenor of avant-garde categories, this
new kind of artist would not suffer the limitations and neuro-
ses of his or her predecessors, trapped as they were in the craft
guild mentality of the canonical forms.
The closed guild mind values the specifics of its métier, its
abilities, skills, customs, and recipes. The proponents of the
distinction and singularity of the arts always recognize métier
as an essential condition of that distinction, and they might
argue that it is one that can also have a radical and utopian
dimension, as a space of activity that can resist the progressive
refinements of the division of labour in constantly-modernizing
capitalist and anti-capitalist societies.
The proliferation of new forms in the post-conceptual situ-
ation is unregulated by any sense of craft or métier. On the
contrary, it develops by plunging into the newest zones of the
division of labour. Anything and everything is possible, and
this is what was and remains so attractive about it.
By the middle of the 1970s the new forms and the notion of
the expanded field had become almost as canonical as the older
forms had been. Video, performance, site-specific interventions,
sound works, music pieces, and variants of all of these evolved
with increasing rapidity and were rightly enough considered to
be serious innovations. The innovations appeared not as music
or theatre properly speaking but as ‘an instance of a specificity
within the context of art’. They were ‘not music’, ‘not cinema’,
‘not dance’.
The other arts make what I will call a ‘second appearance’
then, not as what they have been previously, but as ‘instances
of (contemporary) art’. It appears that in making this second
appearance they lose their previous identity and assume or gain
a second, more complex, or more universal identity. They gain
this more universal identity by becoming ‘instances’, that is,
exemplars of the consequences of the conceptual reduction. For,
if any object (or, by obvious extension, any process or situation)
can be defined, named, considered, judged, and valued as art by
means of being able to designate itself as a sheer instance of
art, then any other art form can also be so defined. In making
its ‘second appearance’, or gaining a second identity, the art
form in question transcends itself and becomes more significant
than it would be if it remained theatre or cinema or dance.
The visual arts was the place where the historical process and
dialectic of reduction and negation were taken the furthest,
21 20
where the development was most drastic and decisive. The
avant-gardes of the movement arts were more subdued. There
are many reasons for this; suffice for the moment to say that
none of them had any internal need to reach the same point
of self-negation as did the depictive arts. The negation-pro-
cess of the depictive arts established a theoretical plateau that
could not be part of the landscape of the other arts. Each of
the performing arts was closed off by its own structure from
the extension, radicalization, or aggravation, of self-critique.
They can be said to remain inherently at the pre-conceptual-art
level. This is no criticism of them, simply a description of their
own characteristics.
Still, aspects of the dynamic of self-negation made their pres-
ence felt in the movement arts from the beginning of the 1950s
at least. This process brought the movement arts closer to the
avant-garde of what was then still the depictive arts and opened
passages through which influence and ideas could move, in both
directions. Almost all the new phenomena between 1950 and
1970 are involved in this crossbreeding. As the movement arts
are affected by radical reductivism—and Cage’s concert displays
this clearly—their forms are altered enough that they begin to
resemble, at least in some vague, suggestive way, radical works
of depictive art. The silence of Cage’s concert resembles, in this
sense, the blankness of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings
from the same years.
These affinities brought out the notion that an event could
have the same kind of artistic status as an object; in this pe-
riod the notion of the event as the essential new form of post-
conceptual art crystallized and became decisive. And the event
is, by nature, an ensemble of effects if not a ‘confusion’ of them.
Movement outside the frame of depiction, out from the atelier,
gives new possibilities of form to the domain of momentary oc-
currences, fugitive encounters, spontaneous flashes of insight,
and any other striking elements caught up in the flow of the
everyday and of no value or effect when abstracted from that
flow as representation. They can only be sensed, or repeated, or
made visible as some form of event, in which their contingency
and unpredictability are preserved, possibly intensified, pos-
sibly codified.
The advent of the movement arts has also been a major factor
in the project of blurring the boundaries between high art and
mass culture. This is normally identified with Pop Art, as if the
depictive arts themselves had the means to carry it out. But
the depictive arts do not have those means because they have
no distinct mass cultural forms. Mass culture produces millions
of depictions of all kinds, but they are just that—depictions
functioning in different contexts. They are not a different art
form, just a different level or register of the depictive arts. Pop
artists were obviously not the first to recognize this; what they
did was to emphasize more strongly than anyone had previously
that audiences and even patrons of art in a modern, commercial
society may very well prefer the popular and vernacular ver-
sions of depiction to the more complex, more introverted, forms
of ‘high art’. Pop Art restaged the threatening possibility of the
popular forms of depiction overwhelming the high ones, some-
thing Greenberg had warned about in Avant-Garde and Kitsch in
1939. But, despite this, Pop Art, as depiction, is irrelevant to
the development of new forms of neo-avant-garde art and of a
new fusion of high art with mass culture. And this is true of
even the most extreme version of Pop, Warhol’s.
Anything new in this regard is imported from the movement
arts and from the creative or organizational structures of the
movement arts and the entertainment and media industries
based upon them. Warhol’s mimesis of a media conglomerate was
more significant here than were his paintings or prints. Warhol
did not cross the line drawn by the conceptual reduction, but he
moved laterally along it, and did so at the moment the line was
being drawn, or even before it was drawn. But he wasn’t very
interested in extending his practice into the realms advocated
by the radical counterculture. Quite the opposite. Warhol moved
23 22
into the crowded and popular domains of mass entertainment
and celebrity, the engines of conformity. This is why he has
been identified as the radical antithesis to artistic radicalism.
The process of blurring the boundaries between the arts, be-
tween art and life, and between high and low, takes place as a
struggle between two equally valid versions of the neo-avant-
garde and countercultural critique—the radical, emancipatory
version, and the Warhol version. So it is not surprising that we
can see aspects of the challenge set by the conceptual reduction
operating in both.
Warhol’s mimesis of a media conglomerate is a model not just
for lifting the taboo on the enjoyments of conformism in a pros-
perous, dynamic society. Partly because it was so wildly suc-
cessful, it was also a model for any sort of mimetic relationship
to other institutions, popular or otherwise.
If Warhol could imitate a media firm, others coming after him
could imitate a museum department, a research institute, an
archive, a community service organization, and so on—that is,
one could develop a mimesis, still within the institution of art,
of any and every one of the potential new domains of creativ-
ity suggested by the conceptual reduction, but without thereby
having to renounce the making of works and abandon the art
world and its patronage.
Since the early 1970s, a hybrid form, an intermediary struc-
ture, has evolved on the basis of the fusion of Warhol’s factory
concept with post-conceptual mimesis. Artists were able to re-
main artists and at the same time to take another step toward
the line drawn in the sand. Instead of disappearing from art
into therapy, communitarianism, anthropology, or radical peda-
gogy, they realized that these phenomena, too, can make their
own second appearance within, and therefore as, art. Within
the domain of second appearance, artists are able to try out this
or that mimesis of extra-artistic creative experimentation.
In the past 15 or 20 years, they have refined and extended the
reflection on the challenge to abandon art. It is as if, in moving
along the boundary, negotiating the patronage provided by the
art economy, or the art world, in combination with probing the
actual effects of their mimesis in the world nearly outside the
art world, they are attempting gently to erase that line, or even
to move it slightly on the institutional terrain. This is the art of
the global biennales—the art of prototypes of situations, of an
institutionalized neo-situationism.
The biennales and the grand exhibitions—now among the
most important occasions on the art calendar—are themselves
becoming prototypes of this potentiality, events containing
events, platforms inducing event-structures—tentative, yet
spectacular models of new social forms, rooted in community
action, ephemeral forms of labour, critical urbanism, decon-
structivist tourism, theatricalized institutional critique, an-
archic interactive media games, radical pedagogies, strategies
of wellness, hobbies and therapies, rusticated technologies of
shelter, theatres of memory, populist historiographies, and a
thousand other ‘stations’, ‘sites’, and ‘plateaus’.
This is a new art form and possibly the final new art form
since it is nearly formless. It promises the gentle, enjoyable dis-
solution of the institution of art, not the militant liquidation
threatened by the earlier avant-gardes.
I am not here to make predictions. But, through the gentle
process of mimesis and modeling, the prototypes may become
more and more mature, more complex, and more stable. They
will still be called ‘art’, since there is no means to deny them
that name if they elect to be known by it. But they may begin
to function as autonomous nomads, moving from festival to fes-
tival. Whatever purpose they might have may become institu-
tionalized. The resulting institution could have an ‘art look’: if
a gallery can resemble a wellness centre, then a wellness centre
may come to look like an installation piece, and even be expe-
rienced as one. Then it would not be as if anyone renounced
art, but that art itself became diffuse, and lost track of its own
boundaries, and lost interest in them.
25 24
The critique of the depictive arts has always concentrated
on the question of the autonomy of art, and the corollary of
autonomy—artistic quality. Autonomous art has been mocked
as something ‘outside of life’ and indifferent to it. The avant-
gardes’ critique cannot be reduced to this mockery—but in de-
manding the breaching of the boundedness of the canonical
forms, the avant-gardes have failed—or refused—to recognize
that autonomy is a relation to that same world outside of art. It
is a social relationship, one mediated, it is true, by our experi-
ence of a thing, a work of art, but no less social therefore than
a get-together at a community hall. Defenders of autonomous
art—‘high art’—claim that when works of art attain a certain
level of quality, their practical human utility expands exponen-
tially and becomes incalculable, unpredictable, and undefinable.
They argue that it is not that autonomous art has no purpose,
something that is commonly said about it, but that it has no
purpose that can be known for certain in advance. Not even
the greatest scholar of art can know what the next individual
is going to discover in his or her experience of even the best-
known work of art. He could not have predicted that Duchamp
would want to deface the Mona Lisa as he did. The autonomy of
art is grounded on the quality it has of serving unanticipated,
undeclared, and unadmitted purposes, and of serving them dif-
ferently at different times.
This is frustrating for those who have purposes, no matter how
significant those purposes may be. Often, the more compelling
the purpose, the greater the frustration and the more intense
the objection. But for there to be works that can be depended
on to serve a known purpose, the quality that makes the works
autonomous must disappear and be replaced with other quali-
ties. And there are thousands of other qualities. Just as there
are now thousands of works displaying those qualities.
For 100 years, the programmes of critique have targeted the
‘problem of autonomous art’ in the name of those wider domains
of creativity, whether called the proletarian revolution, the de-
mocratized public sphere, the post-colonial polis, the ‘other’, or
the ‘multitude’. But as long as the dispute took place within the
boundaries of the depictive arts, it was impossible to dispose of
the principle of artistic quality. Subversions of technique and
skill are permanent routines by now, and they are just as per-
manently bound by the criteria they challenge and with which
they must all eventually come to terms. And the most irritating
thing about these subversions is that the most significant of
them are accomplished by artists who cannot but bring forward
new versions of autonomous art, and therefore new instances
of artistic quality. The canonical forms of the depictive arts
are too strong for the critiques that have been brought to bear
on them. As long as the attempts to subvert them are made
from within, they cannot be disturbed. As soon as the artist in
question makes the slightest concession to the criteria of qual-
ity, the criteria as such are reasserted in a new, possibly even
radical way.
This was the dilemma faced 50 years ago by those who, for all
their by now famous reasons, were determined to break what
they saw as the vicious circle of autonomy, subversion, achieve-
ment, and reconciliation. They recognized that their aims could
never be achieved within the métiers and the canon. Once again
they attempted the complete reinvention of art. They cannot
be said to have failed, since they discovered the potential of
the second appearance of the movement arts, the movement
arts recontextualized within contemporary art as if they were
Readymades.
In this recontextualization, the aesthetic criteria of all the
métiers and forms could be suspended—those of both the move-
ment arts and the depictive arts. The criteria of the movement
arts are suspended because those arts are present as second ap-
pearance; those of the depictive arts, because they could never
be applied to the movement arts in any case.
So ‘performance art’ did not have to be ‘good theatre’; video
or film projections did not have to be ‘good filmmaking’, and
27 26
could even be better if they were not, like Warhol’s or Nauman’s
around 1967. There was, and is, something exhilarating about
that. The proliferation of new forms is limitless since it is stim-
ulated by the neutralization of criteria. The new event-forms
might be the definitive confusion—or fusion—of the arts. An
event is inherently a synthesis, a hybrid. So the term ‘confusion
of the arts’ seems inadequate, even obsolete. Now art develops
by leaving behind the established criteria. The previous avant-
gardes challenged those criteria, but now they do not need to
be challenged; they are simply suspended, set aside. This de-
velopment may be welcomed, or lamented, or opposed, but it is
happening, is going to continue to happen; it is the form of the
New. This is what artistic innovation is going to continue to be,
this is what artists want, or need, it to be.
This shows us that the canonical forms are no longer the site
of innovation. Moreover, in comparison to the new forms, it
now appears that they might never really have been, at least
not to the extent claimed by the familiar histories of the avant-
garde.
Burdened by their own notions of quality, the depictive arts
have been able to question their own validity only in order to
affirm it. To practice these arts is to affirm them or fail at them,
even though that affirmation may be more dialectical than most
negations. The emergence in the past 30 to 50 years, of a con-
temporary art that is not a depictive art has revealed the depic-
tive arts as restricted to this negative dialectic of affirmation.
This is the price paid for autonomy.
Contemporary art, then, has bifurcated into two distinct ver-
sions. One is based in principle on the suspension of aesthetic
criteria, the other is absolutely subject to them. One is like-
wise utterly subject to the principle of the autonomy of art,
the other is possible only in a condition of pseudo-heteronomy.
We can’t know yet whether there is to be an end to this interim
condition, whether a new authentic heteronomous or post-au-
tonomous art will actually emerge. Judging from the historical
record of the past century, it is not likely. It is more likely that
artists will continue to respond to the demand to transcend
autonomous art with more of their famous hedging actions, in-
venting even more sophisticated interim solutions. We are prob-
ably already in a mannerist phase of that. This suggests that
‘interim mimetic heteronomy’—as awkward a phrase as I could
manage to produce—has some way to go as the form of the New.
It may be the form in which we discover what the sacrifice of
aesthetic criteria is really like, not as speculation, but as expe-
rience, and as our specific—one could say peculiar—contribu-
tion to art.
Jeff Wall was born in 1946 in Vancouver, Canada, where he currently
lives and works. He studied art history at the University of British
Colombia in Vancouver (1964–70) and undertook postgraduate stud-
ies at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London (1970–3). Since the mid
seventies, he has acquired international recognition with his trans-
parent colour photographs mounted in lightboxes. In these works he
deconstructs the pictorial traditions of Western painting, cinema
and documentary photography, while acknowledging the heritage
of conceptual art and other critical movements. Parallel to his stu-
dio practice, Jeff Wall has become known as the author of many
influential essays on art, such as Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel (1984),
‘Marks of Indifference’: Aspects of Photography in, or as, Conceptual
Art (1995), and Monochrome and Photojournalism in On Kawara’s Today
Paintings (1996).
28
Summarizing and responding to Jeff Wall’s formidable essay,
Depiction, Object, Event, is a daunting task and I am honored
to have been asked here today. My comments will be brief and
I hope that my schematic rendering of his complex argument,
and the questions it raises, will not do it a disservice, but will
provide a foundation for our forthcoming discussion.
Wall’s genealogy of modern, modernist and contemporary
art provides an original framework for understanding the
ways in which current experimental forms or practices relate
to and diverge from issues that have been central to artists,
critics, and historians since the onset of modernism in the
mid-nineteenth century. His account identifies and traces
one of the most striking paradoxes in the history of art: the
modernist attempt to arrive at the ‘essence’ of a medium
(which we now associate almost exclusively with art critic
Clement Greenberg’s quasi-militant advocacy of ‘flatness’ as
the essence of painting), so drastically reduced its parameters
that it led not to a more intense focus on medium-specificity
(say, to painting that is only about the forms of painting) and
greater artistic autonomy, as one might have expected, but to
the development of new, inherently non-specific mediums, a
collapse of distinctions between mediums, and, eventually, to
the intermediality characteristic of so much artistic produc-
tion today.
This move from specific to general instances of art, this ef-
facement of differentiation he describes, entailed a disavowal
Response
Vivian Rehberg
of all claims to artistic autonomy—the notion that artworks
are detached from everything outside themselves—and a
repudiation of the separation of art from the ‘real lifeworld’,
issues that had been key to the avant-garde project since the
early twentieth century. For Wall, the resulting discursive-
ness has been instrumental in forming our present condition
(of ‘interim mimetic heteronomy’), in which nothing can be
denied status as art, and in which aesthetic criteria are no
longer challenged but instead have been suspended.
From the outset, Wall’s paper acknowledges its debt to an
Anglo-American appraisal of Clement Greenberg’s legacy,
especially to Michael Fried’s important 1967 critique of the
irredeemable theatricality of Minimal Art, Art and Object-
hood. However, he makes an important distinction: the term
‘medium’, while ubiquitous in most other accounts of that
legacy, is so conspicuously absent from Wall’s assessment
that one can only think his omission deliberate. Rather than
focusing on medium, Wall shifts the discussion to another
level by foregrounding a dialectic of depiction and anti-
depiction within the ‘canonical forms’ of painting, sculpture,
the graphic arts, and photography. That he has managed to
convincingly historicize critical debates around the so-called
confusion of the arts from the 1940s to the present—while
avoiding the term Rosalind Krauss recently grappled with as
‘critical toxic waste’ in her short study of ‘art in the age of
the post-medium condition’—is a major achievement.
Wall asserts, after Fried, that the final assault on the au-
thority of the canonical forms did not result from innovation
within those forms, but came from outside their frame—from
theater, music, dance, and film, which were not organized in
the same way around the dialectic of depiction and anti-de-
piction. Yet, he takes the argument a crucial step further by
uncovering two ‘moments of transition’ in which a withdrawal
from the depictive arts is staged. The first occurs in the early
decades of the twentieth century with Duchamp’s Readymade,
which comes to stand for a wholesale questioning of art as
31 30
such. The second occurs later, when conceptual artists reduce
art to texts that declare their status as art as such, while
negating the work of art. According to the conceptual reduc-
tion, the work of art is nothing but a “proposition presented
within the context of art as a comment on art”, as Joseph
Kosuth held. Importantly, as Wall reminds us, the Readymade
and the conceptual reduction not only force us to reconsider
the formal components and qualities of artworks, they simul-
taneously undermine the pervasive and historically grounded
notion that exceptional skill, artistic competence, and even
process, figure as criteria for aesthetic evaluation. In this
way, these moments of transition deeply impact our relation-
ship to the canonical forms.
Wall’s discussion of the Readymade centers on its relation-
ship to depiction. In a complex passage, which I hope we can
return to in the discussion, Wall maintains that the Ready-
made did not and could not address itself to depiction. This
is because a depiction, unlike a Readymade, cannot simply
be identified with an object, but rather results from a process
that has taken place upon the support provided by an object
(film, a canvas, a block of stone, a medium?). Wall asserts
that Readymades are not depictions, and depictions cannot
be selected as Readymades. However, Duchamp’s signature, as
R. Mutt, on his legendary white porcelain urinal (titled Foun-
tain) from 1917, or his inscriptions on other mundane objects
like a snow shovel, were for him non-negligible aspects of the
identification and identity of the object as a Readymade.
I wonder then, if the domain of the Readymade is the object,
and if a depiction is an alteration on the surface of an object,
how does one, must one, differentiate marks on the surface of
Readymades from depictions? If these alterations on the sur-
face of objects do count as depictions, does that strengthen
or blunt the subversive charge of the Readymade?
I do not want to linger on this question now. In any event,
the answer will not radically challenge the thrust of Wall’s
important contention that the Readymade does not reduce
the field of art, but expands it. The point he makes is crucial:
the negative logic of an ‘inability to deny status’ to any given
object—either through the Readymade or through the advent
of conceptual art—does not, contrary to popular wisdom,
overthrow the canonical forms, it does not render them obso-
lete. The canonical forms are still part of an increasingly vast
visual vocabulary, there are still people who explore those
forms and call themselves artists, and a variety of institu-
tions and thriving markets continue to support them and
ensure their visibility. The Readymade, he says, is a revolu-
tion that seems to transform everything, but fundamentally
changes nothing.
The Readymade and the conceptual reduction do, however,
neutralize innovation, which was once at the core of an
avant-garde project that held that artworks had the power
to mediate relationships between subjects and the world. If
anyone can be an artist and nothing can be denied status as
art, then it makes sense, as Wall indicates, that some art-
ists would pursue projects that would lead them into new
realms of action and even, as the original avant-garde artists
predicted, to leave the realm of art. Wall points to another
paradox and I think it is important to quote him here: “The
new kinds of works [in the wake of the conceptual reduction]
come into their own mode of historical self-consciousness
through the acceptance of the claim that there is a form of
art which is not a work of art and which legislates the way
a work of art is now to be made.” Wall is referring to any
number of practices from the 1970s including video, perfor-
mance, installation, and sound works. It was the art context
described above that enabled these then non-canonical forms
to distinguish themselves from what they would have been in
a movie theater, on a stage, on the radio.
And at this point, Wall reveals another crucial moment
of transition that is key for understanding where we find
ourselves today: it is the moment when the other arts make a
second appearance in the cultural field as ‘instances of (con-
33 32
temporary) art’. Wall does not read this second appearance
in qualitative terms as pastiche or farce, but as a productive
instance of crossbreeding that conferred artistic status on
the movement arts and influenced the depictive arts. How-
ever, since after the Readymade and the conceptual reduction
there can be no meaningful artistic innovation and no new
art form produced from within the depictive arts, all new
artistic developments would henceforth have to come from
the outside.
It is for this reason that Andy Warhol’s Pop art cannot be
considered innovative on pictorial grounds. On the other
hand, his canny imitation of a media conglomerate, his
‘factory’, opened the floodgates, encouraging artists to toe
the line between art and non-art by establishing mimetic
relationships with any number of institutions or structures
without ever relinquishing the production of art. The fusion
of the factory concept with post-conceptual mimesis, Wall
claims, leads to a culture of the second appearance, a situ-
ation in which anything that elects to call itself art may be
known as art, and which is constituted by what he, I think
generously, refers to as a proliferation of ‘new’ forms.
Ultimately, this form of New non-depictive contemporary
art is accompanied by what he calls the ‘gentle dissolution
of the institution of art’. Anything is possible within the
domain of the second appearance—artists can imitate cooks,
tour guides, teachers, but they still need some sort of institu-
tional frame to display and legitimize their mimesis of extra-
artistic experimentation. While there is no time to consider
the question in depth here, Wall’s text indicates that it would
be worth tracing a genealogy of structures for display in or-
der to explore how a similar mimetic drive has impacted their
conventions. For as the museum has shifted from a reposi-
tory for autonomous art to a multi-faceted, economy-driven
corporation, exhibition organizers, like artists, have sought
alternatives by adopting similarly mimetic relationships to
structures like schools, archives, libraries, and nightclubs.
Early in his text, Wall states that prior to the confusion of
the arts, which Clement Greenberg deplored, “[a] painter did
not put on a play in a gallery and claim it was a ‘painting’,
or a ‘work of art’.” These boundaries are no longer so clear
and institutions (which are flexible enough to cope with the
demands of depictive and non-depictive art alike), have duly
embraced the mimetic principle, offering up the possibility
that they are not institutions but some other form of inter-
mediary structure.
Wall points out that this current exaggeration of postmod-
ern interdisciplinarity and intermediality is characterized
by a wholly contradictory relationship to aesthetic criteria—
with the depictive arts still dependent on aesthetic criteria,
and the new forms (events, hybrids) capable of suspending
criteria altogether. In Wall’s account, the aesthetic criteria
associated with the movement arts or those specific to the
depictive arts cannot apply to these new forms. As a result,
recent debates over the crisis in art criticism could be inter-
preted as registering dissatisfaction with precisely this state
of affairs. Since the nature of these new pseudo-heterono-
mous art forms, which are frequently promoted by curato-
rial projects that imitate those forms, suspends questions of
artistic quality, a radical revision of the critical art discourse
could follow. While there is undoubtedly a proliferation of
new formats for writing on art, especially on the internet,
the lack of entirely new aesthetic criteria for evaluating
the new art forms seems to pose a special problem for the
art critic, whose only recourse is to revert to old criteria or
criteria which, according to Wall, do not apply to art. This,
naturally, is criticized by proponents of the new forms as old-
fashioned, irrelevant, or even reactionary. Needless to say,
paralysis can result.
All of this would seem rather gloomy, but Wall concludes
that the stalemate between autonomous art subject to aes-
thetic criteria and pseudo-heteronomous art dependent on
their suspension is a temporary one. It may, at the very least,
35 34
acquire historical value by providing us with insight into
what happens when a properly aesthetic sphere disappears.
Some would say, in any case, that the present situation is
simply an unavoidable side effect of the logic of globalized
late capitalism, the image-saturation of the public sphere, the
ubiquity of mass media, and the loss of artistic mediation,
which has been replaced by more ‘immediate’ experiences.
Wall is careful not to make judgments or predictions. How-
ever, one might read them as implicit in his own commitment
to exploring problems of depiction within photography, and
its stylistic or technical relationship to painting and cinema.
In the face of these givens, it is worth asking the following
questions:
1 How can we critically and productively interact with this
opposition between autonomous and pseudo-heteronomous
art? Must one choose sides or is it possible to envisage a third
way, perhaps from within those forms?
2 How might we construct meaningful relationships to both
of these realms of visual culture, as artists, historians, view-
ers, critics… as subjects?
Vivian Rehberg is a Paris based art historian and critic who
writes regularly for Frieze and Artforum.com, as well as a
founding editor of the Journal of Visual Culture. She was cura-
tor of contemporary art at ARC/Musée d’Art moderne de la ville
de Paris from 2001 to 2004. Her current research focuses on
the misadventures of Realism after the Second World War. She
is also preparing a special issue of the Journal of Visual Culture
on exhibitions and curatorial practice.
Camiel van Winkel Several questions were raised by Vivian and
the first thing we need to solve, I think, is the issue of Duchamp’s
signature. Jeff, do you consider Duchamp’s signature a depiction on
the surface of the Readymade, and if so, what does that do to your
analysis?
Jeff Wall No, I’m sorry, I don’t. Writing is not depiction. The term
depiction is a very old term for a very well known practice. It means
‘picturing things’. Writing is not picturing things. Writing is writ-
ing. So you can write on anything you like, but it does not become
a depiction. Duchamp’s signature on the Readymade is no different
than a signature or an inscription on a painting. A signature is not a
depiction of a name, it is writing.
Vivian Rehberg The notion that writing is not a depiction could
be debated, for example, with regard to the relationship between
depiction and description. For Duchamp, anyway, the relationship
between writing and depiction is more complex, since the signature
or writing functions as a crucial component of the Readymade; the
act of writing on the surface designates the object a Readymade.
You defined a depiction as an alteration of the surface of an object,
that does not create another object. Isn’t the Readymade, which
bears a signature or inscription that alters the surface of the object,
the same thing?
JW I’m sorry, but that doesn’t hold up. Description and depiction
are different things. The history of the Readymade bears this out.

Di scussi on
37
CvW A more general point that was raised concerned the lack of
criteria for aesthetic judgment in the current situation. Without
proper criteria, is it still possible to maintain a critical attitude
towards the diversity of artistic practices that confront us today?
JW It may be possible to develop criteria of judgement for the new
pseudo-heteronomous forms. I am not here to project what they
might be. I have just tried to suggest that the starting point for
considering them is the suspension of the criteria that have existed
inside the depictive arts. For example, what is called perform-
ance comes with the unspoken claim that it is not-theatre. What
is implied is: “do not judge this by the criteria one would bring to
theatrical art”. Theatre makes a sort of phantom appearance, in or
as contemporary art. The aesthetic criteria proper to theatre are
suspended, but at the same time the criteria proper to the depictive
arts are similarly suspended. This double suspension is the starting
point.
CvW Vivian, do you see any new sets of criteria arising?
VR That’s a problem I am confronted with a lot as an art historian
and critic. No, I do not know yet what new criteria there might
be. I do think however that the situation is slightly more complex
than it has been described, as many of these new hybrid forms are
exhibitions rather than simply art works. These exhibitions involve
depiction and movement all at once, so whatever the criteria would
be, they would also have to be hybrids in order to come to terms
with that complexity. Take a project like Utopia Station at the Venice
Biennial of 2003: it existed in a temporal frame and in a spatial
frame, it involved performance and film, but also photography and
painting, it involved all sorts of depictions and even texts. So what-
ever the critic wanted to do with those forms individually, the only
access one had to them was through the vector of the exhibition,
through the representation that the exhibition made of those forms.
So we end up writing exhibition criticism rather than art criticism.
JW It may be depressing to think that the depictive arts are cir-
cumscribed the way I have described them. I do not find it depress-
ing, but I can imagine it could be taken that way by someone want-
ing to innovate the arts in ways that seem to be precluded now. It
may be frustrating that what we call Western art turns out to be so
limited, that it does not have the capacity to inform life across the
horizon of our experience, to replace the mundanity of the world
with something more beautiful and satisfying. Art can only do that
by suggestion—through representation. Pseudo-heteronomy as I call
it is partly an expression of that frustration. It is an expression of
discontent, it is the hope that one could somehow by artistic means
escape the circle of the arts. It may be the necessary form in which
traditional or canonical forms can survive and even reflect upon
themselves, as a phantom form of aesthetic education. Pseudo-heter-
onomy may be simply the way in which we cope with the disappoint-
ment about what the arts are, especially after centuries of extremely
elevated, even utopian expectations raised by the avant-garde.
CvW So that explains your use of the word ‘interim’: the situation
we’re in is not an endpoint; at some point it may change and evolve
into something else.
JW I tried to suggest slightly seriously—not totally seriously—how
art might vanish or at least transform itself, unnoticed, by simply—
gently—forgetting some of its boundaries. I seriously doubt that
would happen, as I said. That interim is a period of uncertainty in
which predictions are difficult to make. The historical length of that
period is unknown.

CvW So what about the notion of innovation? You describe pseudo-
heteronomy as the definitive ‘form of the New’. Does that mean that
innovation has remained a valid criterion?
JW Yes, innovation is always going to be valid because there will
always be new people coming along who will interpret things dif-
ferently. It is a spontaneous response of new people to any cultural
and artistic situation. Whether the depictive arts are capable of the
kind of innovation that was projected upon them by the avant-garde
is another matter. In hindsight we might recognize the limita-
tions of the depictive arts on that score. Any real innovation in
39 38
the relationship between art and culture may very well come from
other practices. The depictive arts may simply concentrate on their
own problem of quality and become less concerned with ‘culture’. Of
course, that leaves open the possibility that instances of high qual-
ity in the depictive arts themselves feel ‘new’.
CvW In your lecture you mentioned the importance of aesthetic
education, even for artists venturing outside the artistic domain.
Neo-avant-garde artists were trained as artists in the canonical
forms, which later allowed them to develop more interactive and
evasive forms of activity outside the formal realm of art. If that still
applies today, what are the implications for art education? What
position should art schools take regarding the issues of de-skilling
and re-skilling?
JW The figures we now identify as the innovators of the past forty
or fifty years—Joseph Beuys, or Robert Smithson, for example—
made their break with the canonical forms after having been edu-
cated in them. The intensity of their innovations and the striking
quality of their work, with its emotional resonance, result from their
struggle with the dialectic of affirmation that I talked about. You
need to be a certain kind of person to succeed in breaking out of
that circle; you have to have dredged up a lot of feelings, attitudes,
learning, and skill, and that will somehow show in the art. As the
innovations they created became canonical and normative, and
formed the basis for art education, the nature of the struggle obvi-
ously changed. There no longer exists a tension with the canonical
forms of the depictive arts, as these have fundamentally evaporated
from the educational horizon. The real focus in an intense conflict
can only be the validity of criteria. You need to have a settled sense
of criteria for a rebellion to occur. So it may not be possible for
young artists to come into conflict on that same level of intensity.
I am not saying it is impossible, because new situations emerge and
people will always find ways to make trouble for themselves regard-
less of the situation they’re in. But I suggest that the suspension of
criteria creates a kind of cool, open field for everybody in which you
can do your own thing and move in your own direction and have an
increased sense of artistic freedom—which is very good, but which
may also involve a weakening or disintegration of the conflict that
for centuries has formed artists in the West.
CvW Are you saying that what is happening at art schools today is
no longer relevant?
JW I do not really know what is happening at art schools in any
great detail. I am just forcing myself to generalise here, saying that
if a conflict over valid criteria is foreclosed or suspended, the educa-
tional process changes. The so-called authority figure will no longer
be able to impose criteria, not even experimentally.
CvW And then the only remaining option would be to explain
students how there used to be an authority-figure, a father-figure to
rebel against…?
JW In a ‘once upon a time’ version…
VR I just want to make the point that, at least in France, even if
art schools are still divided into departments of painting, sculp-
ture, installation art, multimedia etcetera, the aesthetic criteria of
those canonical forms are being debated and contested on a daily
basis. People who teach art students know the extent to which the
nomadic impulse structures their aesthetic attempts.

CvW Vivian, the last question you phrased in your talk was how we
might be able to construct meaningful relationships with the ‘split’
scene of artistic production, as viewers and as subjects.
VR My question concerned the possible response to that hopeful
condition set out by the suspension of criteria that Jeff described.
Up till now, we haven’t really addressed the position of the audience,
the spectator or the participant in relation to this bifurcation of
contemporary art.
JW The experience for the spectator is still new. It is being formu-
lated and taking place today, because the phenomena we are talking
about are pretty recent, and ‘the shock of the new’ is probably still
41 40
a factor. That is, we do not necessarily know yet how we feel about
having aesthetic experiences that apparently cannot be formulated
in the way the depictive arts traditionally demanded. We have
experiences that resemble aesthetic experiences yet that cannot be
judged aesthetically by the means we know and have developed as
a culture. People are having this experience and are attempting to
articulate a language for it that is slowly and rather tortuously com-
ing into being.
I want to make it clear that in presenting this lecture I was not
trying to draw a distinction of significance between the depictive
arts and the others, even if I am clearly a depictive artist myself.
I may have my criticism of this or that, but that is not the point. I
do not want to create a polarity between the depictive arts and the
zone of traditional certainty on the one hand and the new forms
as a zone of innovative uncertainty on the other, and take sides.
It would be unproductive and uninteresting to take sides. A sus-
pension of judgement on this point is probably more productive. If
on the one hand we are obliged to work in terms of autonomy and
aesthetic criteria and on the other we have to respond to pseudo-
heterenomous examples or ‘instances’ of art, we will have to find
some way of doing both. This is partly stimulated by something
Camiel said in his book The Regime of Visibility: that in the post-
conceptual situation we’re in today, it is necessary to turn one’s
criteria around—and to continue turning them around. There is a
relationship between those things. The bifurcation creates a zone
that cannot be settled upon. At least not yet.

Colophon
Colofon
The Hermes Lecture is an initiative of the Research Group of Fine Art of
the art academy AKV|St. Joost (Avans University) and Hermes Business
Network
.
De Hermeslezing is een initiatief van het lectoraat beeldende kunst
van AKV|St. Joost (Avans Hogeschool) en Hermes Business Netwerk.

Hermes Lecture Foundation
.
Stichting Hermeslezing
Recommending Committee
.
Comité van aanbeveling Hanja Maij-Weggen,
Marlene Dumas, Chris Dercon, Jan Dibbets, Hendrik Driessen,
Charles Esche, Board
.
Bestuur Hans Brens, Hans Cox, Rob Coppens,
Jules van de Vijver, Camiel van Winkel
Hermes lecture 2006
.
Hermeslezing 2006
Organization
.
Organisatie Hans Brens, Hans Cox, Ellen Caron,
Rens Holslag, Annemarie Quispel, Camiel van Winkel, with thanks to
.
met dank aan Herman Lerou, Rudo Hartman, Vera Bekema
Publication
.
publicatie
Editing
.
Redactie Camiel van Winkel, Translation
.
Vertaling
Leo Reijnen, Graphic design
.
Ontwerp Tom van Enckevort,
Pri nti ng
.
Druk BibloVanGerwen
ISBN-10 90-76861-11-0
.
ISBN-13 978-90-76861-11-1
©
2006 Hermes Lecture Foundation and the authors
Stichting Hermeslezing en de auteurs
Hermes Lecture Foundation
.
Stichting Hermeslezing
AKV| St. Joost Art Academy, Avans University,
Onderwijsboulevard 256, 5223 DJ ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands,
www.hermeslezing.nl
The Hermes Lecture 2006 was supported by the Mondriaan Foundation and
the Province of Noord-Brabant
.
De Hermeslezing 2006 is tot stand gekomen
met steun van de Mondriaan Stichting en de Provincie Noord-Brabant.
The Hermes Lecture is a biennial lecture about the
position of the visual artist in the cultural and
social field. It takes place in ’s-Hertogenbosch and
is a collaboration between entrepreneurs’ network
Hermes and the Research Group of Fine Arts at the
art academy AKV|St. Joost, Avans University.
De Hermeslezing is een tweejaarlijkse lezing over
de positie van de kunstenaar in het culturele en
maatschappelijke spanningsveld. De lezing vindt
plaats in ’s-Hertogenbosch en is een samenwerking
tussen Hermes, een netwerk van ondernemers, en
het lectoraat beeldende kunst van AKV|St. Joost,
Avans Hogeschool.
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siicuiiic uirµisiiziic

Depiction, Object, Event

J W Depiction. Event . Object.

Camiel van Winkel 7 47 Introduction Inleiding Jeff Wall 12 52 Depiction. gebeurtenis Vivian Rehberg 30 72 37 80 Response Reactie Discussion Discussie .Contents Inhoud Hans Brens. object. Event Afbeelding. Object.

Avans University. an entrepreneurs’ network in ’s-Hertogenbosch—that. the first Hermes Lecture was held in the late-modernist setting of the Provinciehuis in ’s-Hertogenbosch. is committed to establishing contacts between art and the business world—and the Research Group of Fine Arts at the art academy AKV |St. internationally active artist about the position of the visual artist in the cultural and social field. The idea for organizing it came from a collaboration between Hermes. describing the state of contemporary art. among other goals. Object. and also to reaffirm this 7 . Event. The Research Group. Here. as well as a condensed version of the public discussion that concluded the event. to a capacity crowd.I nt roduc t ion Hans Brens Camiel van Winkel On Sunday 29 October 2006. Vivian Rehberg’s response to it. The publication before you contains the unabridged text of the lecture. Joost. Jeff Wall delivered his paper entitled Depiction. The Hermes Lecture is a biennial lecture by a distinguished. The Hermes Lecture aims to promote the development of the critical and theoretical discourse on art. conducts research into the cultural position and function of the visual artist. headed by Camiel van Winkel. also based in ’s-Hertogenbosch.

Depiction. Artists and curators appropriate these activities without actually having to leave the institutional domain of art. a ‘pseudo-heteronomy’. sculpture. These ‘canonical forms’ are still thriving. including various forms of economic and social activity. by the way. written especially for this occasion. in spite of all efforts by artists to subvert them from within. is an original and thought-provoking interpretation of developments in the art of the last century that have culminated over the past two decades in an alleged fusion of art and life. They are seen as fully-fledged service providers who meet all the requirements of professional entrepreneurship and contribute to the growing prosperity of the community with their creative expertise. art. drawing. in Wall’s term. Event. Today. but they thrive as a separate sector within contemporary art. or rather as. aesthetic criteria are only valid within the classic disciplines—painting.discourse. the graphic arts. Object. makes a reasonable case for assuming that such convictions continue to have an effect. Jeff Wall’s text. Rather than discussing their own work. By contrast. pseudo-heteronomous art forms lies in the very fact that they have managed to neutralize these aesthetic 9 . in its place in the public domain—a place it still held so explicitly in the days of Zola and Baudelaire. as Wall states. There are no criteria available to judge the quality of these creative expressions. The notion that artists are employable in all sorts of social domains is related to the belief that orthodox-modernist 8 dogmas—such as the autonomy of the arts and the ban on mixing media—have been permanently left behind on the battlegrounds of history. For the Hermes Lecture we will invite artists who have demonstrated their capacity for theoretical reflection at the highest level. that in the course of the twentieth century has become rather a specialist affair. if only by the void they left in their wake. a mimetic operation that leaves the institutional art context fully intact. they will be invited to address more general issues such as the social responsibility of the artist. artists are often regarded as the trendsetting members of a ‘creative class’ that is fully integrated within the tertiary sector of the global economy. as a genre with its own laws and standards. at (the transformation of) its own object. We could not have wished for a more distinguished speaker to give the first lecture than Jeff Wall. and the future of the visual arts as a critical discipline with its own intellectual tradition. make their ‘second appearance’ in. however. the success of the alternative. The heteronomy of contemporary art is. Even in its most extrovert moments the innovative power of art is primarily directed inwards. the relationship between art and mass culture. because. One of Wall’s theses is that the fusion of art and non-art is in a sense an illusion. Non-artistic phenomena. and photography.

Joost. but simply set aside. staff and students at AKV | St. the Mondriaan Foundation. are entailed in the social trend of ‘the artist as a service provider’. without venturing into speculations about the future. . challenged or stretched. the members of the Recommending Committee of the Hermes Lecture.criteria for themselves. What risks. he sketches the current ‘bifurcation’ of two different versions of contemporary art as a temporary situation. and the Province of Noord Brabant. It is everyone’s prerogative to ponder the implications of his argument. if we neglect the ambivalent history preceding this development? And how should art schools deal with the legacy of the avant-garde and the indeterminate state of the aesthetic judgement? On behalf of the Hermes Lecture Foundation we would like to thank all those individuals and institutions who helped to make this lecture possible or contributed to its success: the members and the board of Hermes. the management. The criteria are no longer tested. for instance. Jeff Wall pointedly does not pass any judgment on this fact.

sculpture. music. John Cage. Greenberg published his essay Towards a Newer Laocoon in 1940. A painter did not put on a play in a gallery and claim it was a ‘painting’. They came to recognize that there was something about the depictive arts that would not permit another art form or art dimension to evolve out of them. This was. The depictive arts do not admit movement. From the early 17th century to the last third of the 19th. that phenomenon we call both ‘modernist’ and ‘avant-garde’. and photography. pre-eminently Clement Greenberg. one all the others tend to imitate to their own detriment. and cinema. its own modernism. He says that this emphasis on uniqueness is central to the creation of the best and most significant art of the period between 1875 and 1940—in painting. its own demands for the fusion of art and life. Cage’s piano concert. Obje c t. Movement is the province of other arts—theatre. In it he wrote. singular. and has been. in each era. Even if literature or theatre were the models for painters and sculptors. inimitable characteristics of each individual. he says that the dominant art was literature. first presented in 1952. art. Each of these arts also has its own avant-garde. The quality and nature of that suggestion has been one of the main criteria of judgment of quality in those arts. is. depiction and its negation within the regime of depiction. a dominant art. Movement in them has always been suggested. the imitations were executed as paintings or sculptures. “There has been. there can be. such a thing as a confusion of the arts. twelve years before Cage’s concert. But in the 1950s. and loss of integrity.Dep ic t ion. 4’33”. the graphic arts. unfortunately. perversion. The painter made a painting that. originated in terms of the arts of depiction and. opposed by proponents of the canon. dance. The new challenge to western art would be advanced in terms of movement and the arts of movement. for the hundred years beginning in 1855. and its own high and low forms. I will call these the ‘canonical forms’. or a ‘work of art’. painting. can be seen as the first explicit statement of this challenge. They sensed that the depictive arts could not be displaced by any more upheavals from within. The forms of the depictive arts are drawing. suppressed its own inherent values as painting in trying to create the effect a staged scene of the 13 . or George Maciunas.” He argues that. The self-criticism of art. I am thinking here of Allan Kaprow. These of course are what were called the ‘fine arts’ to distinguish them from the ‘applied arts’. any more radical versions of depiction or anti-depiction. What he calls modernism is the effort on the part of artists to reject that mimesis and work only with the unique. from Cézanne to the advent of Abstract Expressionism. not presented directly. For Greenberg and his generation—and at least one further generation—the confusion was confusion within the depictive arts. turned precisely to the movement arts. E v ent Jef f Wall 12 Modern and modernist art is grounded in the dialectic of depiction and anti-depiction. We judge the depictive arts on how they suggest movement while actually excluding it. remained within their framework. and will be. of course. those who took up and radicalized the pre-war avant-garde convic- tion that art could evolve only by breaking out of the canonical forms.

amateur art. As Thierry de Duve has so well demonstrated. Selecting a very poor. Fried’s accomplishment is founded on his close reading of the internal structure of painting and sculpture. Yet it has an unusual relation to depiction. amateurish. They are art because the depictive arts are founded on the making of depictions. the name ‘art’ must be applied to any object that can be legitimately nominated as such by an artist. Michael Fried radicalized Greenberg’s arguments and staged the last and best stand in defense of the canonical forms. even though they are taking place on the terrain called ‘contemporary art’. Under what de Duve calls the conditions of nominalism. His contestation with Minimal Art is framed in those terms. Depictions are works of art by definition. this was a severe confusion. amidst the clamour of criticism of Art and Objecthood. where he introduced the term ‘theatricality’ to explain the condition brought about by the rise of the new forms. for it revealed to them with an unprecedented intensity and sophistication both the stakes in play and the means by which to play for them. Moreover. is not confined to occurrences within depiction. between ‘amateur’ art and ‘professional’ art. and so if we were to classify it within the canonical forms it would be sculpture. But if that was a severe confusion in 1940. two moments of transition between the criteria of the depictive arts and those of the emergent movement. the thing that can bear the weight of the name ‘art as such’. a depiction—let’s say a painting—cannot simply be identified with an object. They may be popular art. a new dimension of it. a terrain discovered. This was of course his famous essay Art and Objecthood. In 1967. at which point the proponents of the new movement-based forms become dominant.14 same subject might have had. The Readymade is the point of origin in the history of the attempt to displace the depictive arts. between good art and less good art. After that we have a new order of confusion of the arts. say a 15 . and an institution. or ‘popular’ art and ‘high’ art. or even 1960. dance. depiction (say a businessman’s deskpad doodle) and presenting it in a nice frame in a serious exhibition might be interesting. Yet implicit within his argument are at least two other aspects. it is not a severe confusion after that. of course. The Readymade did not and was not able to address itself to depiction. the blending and blurring of distinctions. The doodle is already nominated as art and the operation of the Readymade in regard to it is redundant. The Readymade therefore proved that an arbitrary object can be designated as art and that there is no argument available to refute that designation. it is the object from which the name art cannot logically be withheld. Fried’s argument may have had its greatest effect on his opponents rather than his supporters. because the mimesis. a logic. Or. Rather it is an object that transcends the traditional classifications and stands as a model for art as a whole. The development of this dispute was at the centre of critical discourse between the early 1950s and the later 1960s. The first of these is of course the Readymade. this object designates itself as the abstraction ‘art as such’. The term made explicit the fact that the radical breach with the canonical forms is not effected by some unheralded new type of art but comes with brutal directness from theatre. But no-one who has thought about it accepts that a Readymade is sculpture. and that making necessarily displays artistry. even entirely unskilled and unappealing art. and charted by the depictive arts. For Greenberg. The development of the new forms exploded and accelerated just at this moment. one not often commented upon. settled. The only distinctions remaining to be made here are between ‘fine’ art and ‘applied’ art. or 1950. but they are able to nominate themselves as art nonetheless. its concern is with the object. but it would not satisfy the criteria Duchamp established for the Readymade. and. to be more circumspect. music. It is the result of a process that has taken place upon the support provided by an object. and film. art as a historical phenomenon.

we can see that Judd. Joseph Kosuth. They pushed the argument past ‘specific objects’—or ‘generic objects’—to the ‘generic instance of art’. Others—Lawrence Weiner. a colour lithographic print of a moody landscape. could stand as a prototype for the paintings of Sigmar Polke. The three most significant examples are Pharmacie. a negation of the ‘work of art’. for example. Stereoscopie à la main (Handmade Stereoscopy). or paintings. Painting and sculpture were both to be reduced to a new status. no delegitimation. Therefore any selection of a Readymade in this case could concern only the object that pre-existed any alteration or working of its surface. from 1918. far from it. But these terms have little meaning. justly selected. This is not to say that the depictive arts are not affected by the subversion carried out in the form of the Readymade. expanded legitimation. But any effect it will have on them is exerted in terms of their exemption from the claims it makes about art. depiction is therefore not included in Duchamp’s negation. but the anticipated transformation does not materialize. but subtracts none from it. both of which are designated as ‘corrected’ Readymades. are clearly sculptors. Since a depiction cannot be selected as a Readymade. This is the second element concealed within Art and Objecthood. The presence of this second element— the depiction—cannot be relevant to the logical criteria for an object’s selection as a Readymade. Pharmacie. Something significant has happened. and in fact disqualifies it. It can seem ephemeral and even phantom. selected in 1914. or what I will call the ‘conceptual reduction’ of the depictive arts. or it materializes incompletely. The recognition of this incompleteness was itself one of the shocks created by the avant-garde. The Readymade critique is therefore both a profound success and a surprising failure. Now. the object. and the famous LHOOQ from 1919. It seems to transform everything and yet it changes nothing. along with his colleagues Dan Flavin and Carl Andre. It obliges nobody to anything.16 canvas. not their inclusion. Duchamp himself returns to craftsmanship and the making of works. That shock was both recognized and not recognized between 1915 and 1940. in a truncated form. 40 years later. the definitive supercession of both object and work. Object and work are superceded by their replacement with a written explication of why the written ex- 17 . They are exempt because their legitimacy as art is not affected by the discovery that any object. ‘Reduction’ was a central term at the origins of conceptual art. it emerged from the new discourses on reductivism set off by Minimal art in the late 1950s and early 60s. but no reduction. which Duchamp called a ‘rectified Readymade’. They are drawings. Any time he chose objects bearing depictions (these are usually pieces of paper). or some hybrid. that is. Duchamp never selects any object bearing a depiction as a Readymade. This new ‘inability to deny status’ adds many things to the category art. neither painting nor sculpture but an industrially produced model of a generic object that would have to be accepted as the new essential form of ‘art as such’. the support must pre-exist it. that of what Don Judd called ‘specific objects’. Terry Atkinson. he altered them and gave them different names. and were more consistent. cannot be denied the status of ‘instance of art’ that was previously reserved exclusively for the canonical forms. and there’s no problem. Mel Ramsden. Everything is revolutionized but nothing has been made to disappear. and the pair of stereoscopic slides. The works in question are simply not Readymades at all. and the others and culminating in conceptual art. despite their rhetoric. In order that the alteration be effected. Kaprow. a condition beyond objects and works of art. The depiction is an alteration of the surface of an object. Sol Lewitt—took up that rhetoric. There is addition. Michael Baldwin. The failed overthrow and the resulting reanimation of painting and sculpture around 1940 set the stage for the more radical attempt inaugurated by Cage. but that has not thereby created another object. executed on a support that already has a depiction on it.

This reduction renders everything other than itself a member of a single category. Therefore. they are now liberated from that and placed directly before a vast range of new possibilities for action. All the radical proposals of the avant-gardes since 1913 are summed up in it. The neo-avant-garde of the 1950s distinguishes itself from the earlier avant-garde in that it is more concerned with this social and cultural modelling than it is with artistic innovation as such. under very specific conditions. since the era of meaningful artistic innovation has concluded. art while having ceased to be a specific ‘work of art’. the necessity for art 19 . despite the rigour of the conceptual reduction and the futuristic glamour of the challenge it posed. urbanism. The substitution of the work by a written text stakes its claim. I am only going to note in passing here that. however. The text in question can concern itself with only a single subject: the argument it makes for its own validity. more open. it becomes ‘postconceptual’. But the works they made are not the same works as before. From the new judgment seat of strictly linguistic conceptual art. the category of less historically and theoretically self-conscious gestures—mere works of art. All those proposals demanded that artists leap out of what has always been called ‘art’ into new. this attempt at delegitimation was no more successful than the previous one. From the early 70s on. it seems that most artists either ignored the reduction altogether. But that is not what is significant about it. This leap necessarily involves repudiating the creation of high art. since it alone has become. those people who would have been artistic innovators in the past now have a new field of action and a new challenge. This suggests new. but put it aside and continued making works. and inventing or at least modelling new relations between the creative citizen—who is now not an artist—and the lifeworld. more sensitive forms of cultural activity carried out in real lifeworld contexts—the media. But it cannot say anything else. If it does.18 plication itself cannot be denied status as a generic instance of art—and furthermore why logically and historically. Since there are now no binding technical or formal criteria or even physical characteristics that could exclude this or that object or process from consideration as art. more effectively creative relationships with the ‘lifeworld’. and many others. The conceptual reduction is the most rigorously-argued version of the long critique of the canonical forms. Concern with artistic innovation presumes that such innovation is required for a reinvention of the lifeworld. but is in fact the only entity that can authentically possess it. to use Jürgen Habermas’ term for it. and the conceptual reduction is one of the key forms of countercultural thinking. this text not only cannot be denied such status. They are no longer obliged to relate to the lifeworld via the mediation of works of art. few artists crossed that line it drew in the sand. This of course is very close to the ideas of the ‘counterculture’ generated at almost the same moment. The text can tell us only why and under what conditions it must be accepted as the final. health. social policy. the argument continues. And yet. all other modes or forms are equally less valid. or acquiesced to it intellectually. few left the field of art to innovate in the new way in other domains. probably with the death of Jackson Pollock in 1956. education. All are equivalent in having fallen short of the self-reflexive condition of the reduction. but the conceptual reduction has shown that this is no longer the case. of course. or remained. it becomes ‘literature’. The ‘aesthetic education’ to be undergone by these people will impel them beyond the narrow confines of the institutions of art and release their creativity in the transformation of existing institutions and possibly the invention of new ones. more inventive. definitive version of the ‘generic instance of art’ and why all other kinds of art are historically redundant.

The reduction increased the means by which works can be created and thereby established the framework for the vast proliferation of forms that characterizes the recent period. 21 . not against the conceptual reduction. The critique of those abilities. On the contrary. ‘not cinema’. and conceptual art extended the obsolescence to the entire range of depictive skills. the art form in question transcends itself and becomes more significant than it would be if it remained theatre or cinema or dance. site-specific interventions. or more universal identity. was one of the central aspects of the avant-garde’s attack on the depictive arts. considered. and this is what was and remains so attractive about it. music pieces. by obvious extension. not as what they have been previously. Video. This is what the term ‘post-conceptual’ means. this new kind of artist would not suffer the limitations and neuroses of his or her predecessors. The proponents of the distinction and singularity of the arts always recognize métier as an essential condition of that distinction. skills. if any object (or. and they might argue that it is one that can also have a radical and utopian dimension. judged. and recipes.20 to exist by means of works of art is reasserted. more complex. They were ‘not music’. The depictive arts were based upon certain abilities and skills and those who did not possess either had little chance of acceptance in art. it develops by plunging into the newest zones of the division of labour. different skills. then any other art form can also be so defined. For. In making its ‘second appearance’. any process or situation) can be defined. The new kinds of works come into their own mode of historical self-consciousness through the acceptance of the claim that there is a form of art which is not a work of art and which legislates the way a work of art is now to be made. that is. The other arts make what I will call a ‘second appearance’ then. The innovations appeared not as music or theatre properly speaking but as ‘an instance of a specificity within the context of art’. which has been transformed by two generations of conceptual and post-conceptual artist-teachers. as a space of activity that can resist the progressive refinements of the division of labour in constantly-modernizing capitalist and anti-capitalist societies. or at least of the canonical status of those abilities. trapped as they were in the craft guild mentality of the canonical forms. The proliferation of new forms in the post-conceptual situation is unregulated by any sense of craft or métier. The visual arts was the place where the historical process and dialectic of reduction and negation were taken the furthest. In keeping with the utopian tenor of avant-garde categories. but in its wake and through making use of the new openness it has provided. but as ‘instances of (contemporary) art’. The de-skilling and re-skilling of artists became a major feature of art education. and conceptual art took this up with great enthusiasm. and valued as art by means of being able to designate itself as a sheer instance of art. The reduction enlarged the effect of the Readymade in validating a vast range of alternative forms that called for different abilities. ‘not dance’. By the middle of the 1970s the new forms and the notion of the expanded field had become almost as canonical as the older forms had been. or gaining a second identity. sound works. They gain this more universal identity by becoming ‘instances’. It appears that in making this second appearance they lose their previous identity and assume or gain a second. named. and variants of all of these evolved with increasing rapidity and were rightly enough considered to be serious innovations. and probably a different kind of artist. The Readymade had already been seen as rendering the handicraft basis of art obsolete. exemplars of the consequences of the conceptual reduction. The closed guild mind values the specifics of its métier. the new ‘expanded field’. Anything and everything is possible. one that Peter Plagens recently called the ‘post-artist’. customs. its abilities. performance.

Warhol moved 23 . the blankness of Robert Rauschenberg’s White Paintings from the same years. or repeated. Pop artists were obviously not the first to recognize this. They can be said to remain inherently at the pre-conceptual-art level. Pop Art restaged the threatening possibility of the popular forms of depiction overwhelming the high ones. And this is true of even the most extreme version of Pop. radicalization. This is normally identified with Pop Art. at least in some vague. just a different level or register of the depictive arts. something Greenberg had warned about in Avant-Garde and Kitsch in 1939. or aggravation. Anything new in this regard is imported from the movement arts and from the creative or organizational structures of the movement arts and the entertainment and media industries based upon them. forms of ‘high art’. fugitive encounters. Warhol did not cross the line drawn by the conceptual reduction. Quite the opposite.22 where the development was most drastic and decisive. Warhol’s mimesis of a media conglomerate was more significant here than were his paintings or prints. Almost all the new phenomena between 1950 and 1970 are involved in this crossbreeding. gives new possibilities of form to the domain of momentary occurrences. These affinities brought out the notion that an event could have the same kind of artistic status as an object. commercial society may very well prefer the popular and vernacular versions of depiction to the more complex. Still. But the depictive arts do not have those means because they have no distinct mass cultural forms. The silence of Cage’s concert resembles. Movement outside the frame of depiction. This process brought the movement arts closer to the avant-garde of what was then still the depictive arts and opened passages through which influence and ideas could move. or even before it was drawn. an ensemble of effects if not a ‘confusion’ of them. but they are just that—depictions functioning in different contexts. possibly codified. spontaneous flashes of insight. as depiction. The avant-gardes of the movement arts were more subdued. And the event is. The advent of the movement arts has also been a major factor in the project of blurring the boundaries between high art and mass culture. aspects of the dynamic of self-negation made their presence felt in the movement arts from the beginning of the 1950s at least. This is no criticism of them. Warhol’s. out from the atelier. radical works of depictive art. in which their contingency and unpredictability are preserved. Each of the performing arts was closed off by its own structure from the extension. what they did was to emphasize more strongly than anyone had previously that audiences and even patrons of art in a modern. or made visible as some form of event. is irrelevant to the development of new forms of neo-avant-garde art and of a new fusion of high art with mass culture. more introverted. simply a description of their own characteristics. despite this. Mass culture produces millions of depictions of all kinds. There are many reasons for this. as if the depictive arts themselves had the means to carry it out. but he moved laterally along it. Pop Art. suffice for the moment to say that none of them had any internal need to reach the same point of self-negation as did the depictive arts. in this sense. and did so at the moment the line was being drawn. suggestive way. by nature. in both directions. As the movement arts are affected by radical reductivism—and Cage’s concert displays this clearly—their forms are altered enough that they begin to resemble. The negation-process of the depictive arts established a theoretical plateau that could not be part of the landscape of the other arts. But. They can only be sensed. But he wasn’t very interested in extending his practice into the realms advocated by the radical counterculture. and any other striking elements caught up in the flow of the everyday and of no value or effect when abstracted from that flow as representation. of self-critique. in this period the notion of the event as the essential new form of postconceptual art crystallized and became decisive. They are not a different art form. possibly intensified.

not the militant liquidation threatened by the earlier avant-gardes. platforms inducing event-structures—tentative. moving from festival to festival. rooted in community action. anthropology. and so on—that is. The biennales and the grand exhibitions—now among the most important occasions on the art calendar—are themselves becoming prototypes of this potentiality. but that art itself became diffuse. popular or otherwise. or radical pedagogy. yet spectacular models of new social forms. still within the institution of art. and a thousand other ‘stations’. populist historiographies. ‘sites’. Since the early 1970s. in combination with probing the actual effects of their mimesis in the world nearly outside the art world.24 into the crowded and popular domains of mass entertainment and celebrity. an archive. and more stable. It is as if. they have refined and extended the reflection on the challenge to abandon art. Within the domain of second appearance. a community service organization. since there is no means to deny them that name if they elect to be known by it. takes place as a struggle between two equally valid versions of the neo-avantgarde and countercultural critique—the radical. This is why he has been identified as the radical antithesis to artistic radicalism. Instead of disappearing from art into therapy. theatres of memory. and even be experienced as one. then a wellness centre may come to look like an installation piece. Artists were able to remain artists and at the same time to take another step toward the line drawn in the sand. a hybrid form. and lost track of its own boundaries. they are attempting gently to erase that line. events containing events. the prototypes may become more and more mature. artists are able to try out this or that mimesis of extra-artistic creative experimentation. they realized that these phenomena. and ‘plateaus’. hobbies and therapies. strategies of wellness. But they may begin to function as autonomous nomads. critical urbanism. in moving along the boundary. too. and between high and low. or the art world. theatricalized institutional critique. rusticated technologies of shelter. This is the art of the global biennales—the art of prototypes of situations. and therefore as. But. and lost interest in them. They will still be called ‘art’. more complex. negotiating the patronage provided by the art economy. between art and life. I am not here to make predictions. This is a new art form and possibly the final new art form since it is nearly formless. it was also a model for any sort of mimetic relationship to other institutions. In the past 15 or 20 years. communitarianism. dynamic society. Warhol’s mimesis of a media conglomerate is a model not just for lifting the taboo on the enjoyments of conformism in a prosperous. art. Then it would not be as if anyone renounced art. radical pedagogies. If Warhol could imitate a media firm. Partly because it was so wildly successful. one could develop a mimesis. ephemeral forms of labour. but without thereby having to renounce the making of works and abandon the art world and its patronage. of an institutionalized neo-situationism. It promises the gentle. emancipatory version. anarchic interactive media games. the engines of conformity. a research institute. and the Warhol version. enjoyable dissolution of the institution of art. deconstructivist tourism. So it is not surprising that we can see aspects of the challenge set by the conceptual reduction operating in both. The process of blurring the boundaries between the arts. Whatever purpose they might have may become institutionalized. or even to move it slightly on the institutional terrain. an intermediary structure. can make their own second appearance within. of any and every one of the potential new domains of creativity suggested by the conceptual reduction. The resulting institution could have an ‘art look’: if a gallery can resemble a wellness centre. has evolved on the basis of the fusion of Warhol’s factory concept with post-conceptual mimesis. others coming after him could imitate a museum department. 25 . through the gentle process of mimesis and modeling.

the programmes of critique have targeted the ‘problem of autonomous art’ in the name of those wider domains of creativity. and unadmitted purposes. their practical human utility expands exponentially and becomes incalculable. And the most irritating thing about these subversions is that the most significant of them are accomplished by artists who cannot but bring forward new versions of autonomous art. undeclared. So ‘performance art’ did not have to be ‘good theatre’. Autonomous art has been mocked as something ‘outside of life’ and indifferent to it. He could not have predicted that Duchamp would want to deface the Mona Lisa as he did. it is true. subversion. because they could never be applied to the movement arts in any case. For 100 years. possibly even radical way. or the ‘multitude’. the aesthetic criteria of all the métiers and forms could be suspended—those of both the movement arts and the depictive arts. and of serving them differently at different times. Not even the greatest scholar of art can know what the next individual is going to discover in his or her experience of even the bestknown work of art. but that it has no purpose that can be known for certain in advance. a work of art. It is a social relationship. But as long as the dispute took place within the boundaries of the depictive arts. Just as there are now thousands of works displaying those qualities. and reconciliation. The autonomy of art is grounded on the quality it has of serving unanticipated. The canonical forms of the depictive arts are too strong for the critiques that have been brought to bear on them. and therefore new instances of artistic quality. since they discovered the potential of the second appearance of the movement arts. and the corollary of autonomy—artistic quality.26 The critique of the depictive arts has always concentrated on the question of the autonomy of art. the criteria as such are reasserted in a new. no matter how significant those purposes may be. and undefinable. one mediated. They cannot be said to have failed. it was impossible to dispose of the principle of artistic quality. But for there to be works that can be depended on to serve a known purpose. Once again they attempted the complete reinvention of art. the quality that makes the works autonomous must disappear and be replaced with other qualities. Subversions of technique and skill are permanent routines by now. In this recontextualization. the greater the frustration and the more intense the objection. the post-colonial polis. the more compelling the purpose. This was the dilemma faced 50 years ago by those who. the movement arts recontextualized within contemporary art as if they were Readymades. video or film projections did not have to be ‘good filmmaking’. As soon as the artist in question makes the slightest concession to the criteria of quality. the avant-gardes have failed—or refused—to recognize that autonomy is a relation to that same world outside of art. achievement. for all their by now famous reasons. they cannot be disturbed. The avantgardes’ critique cannot be reduced to this mockery—but in demanding the breaching of the boundedness of the canonical forms. were determined to break what they saw as the vicious circle of autonomy. They argue that it is not that autonomous art has no purpose. Defenders of autonomous art—‘high art’—claim that when works of art attain a certain level of quality. They recognized that their aims could never be achieved within the métiers and the canon. and they are just as permanently bound by the criteria they challenge and with which they must all eventually come to terms. whether called the proletarian revolution. something that is commonly said about it. unpredictable. This is frustrating for those who have purposes. and 27 . And there are thousands of other qualities. but no less social therefore than a get-together at a community hall. The criteria of the movement arts are suspended because those arts are present as second appearance. the ‘other’. As long as the attempts to subvert them are made from within. the de- mocratized public sphere. Often. those of the depictive arts. by our experience of a thing.

like Warhol’s or Nauman’s around 1967. not as speculation. something exhilarating about that. One is based in principle on the suspension of aesthetic criteria. Burdened by their own notions of quality. Jeff Wall has become known as the author of many influential essays on art. such as Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel (1984). Canada. a hybrid. . has bifurcated into two distinct versions. he has acquired international recognition with his transparent colour photographs mounted in lightboxes. inventing even more sophisticated interim solutions. An event is inherently a synthesis. Judging from the historical record of the past century. the other is absolutely subject to them. the depictive arts have been able to question their own validity only in order to affirm it. and as our specific—one could say peculiar—contribution to art. or lamented. it is not likely. In these works he deconstructs the pictorial traditions of Western painting. So the term ‘confusion of the arts’ seems inadequate. The previous avantgardes challenged those criteria. This is the price paid for autonomy. but it is happening. Moreover. or as.28 could even be better if they were not. He studied art history at the University of British Colombia in Vancouver (1964–70) and undertook postgraduate studies at the Courtauld Institute of Art. This suggests that ‘interim mimetic heteronomy’—as awkward a phrase as I could manage to produce—has some way to go as the form of the New. This is what artistic innovation is going to continue to be. set aside. they are simply suspended. To practice these arts is to affirm them or fail at them. even obsolete. This shows us that the canonical forms are no longer the site of innovation. This development may be welcomed. is going to continue to happen. Since the mid seventies. where he currently lives and works. It is more likely that artists will continue to respond to the demand to transcend autonomous art with more of their famous hedging actions. One is likewise utterly subject to the principle of the autonomy of art. ‘Marks of Indifference’: Aspects of Photography in. or need. then. at least not to the extent claimed by the familiar histories of the avantgarde. but as experience. the other is possible only in a condition of pseudo-heteronomy. It may be the form in which we discover what the sacrifice of aesthetic criteria is really like. The emergence in the past 30 to 50 years. Contemporary art. but now they do not need to be challenged. and Monochrome and Photojournalism in On Kawara’s Today Paintings (1996). or opposed. it is the form of the New. Parallel to his studio practice. in comparison to the new forms. cinema and documentary photography. of a contemporary art that is not a depictive art has revealed the depictive arts as restricted to this negative dialectic of affirmation. it to be. this is what artists want. The new event-forms might be the definitive confusion—or fusion—of the arts. We are probably already in a mannerist phase of that. it now appears that they might never really have been. while acknowledging the heritage of conceptual art and other critical movements. even though that affirmation may be more dialectical than most negations. whether a new authentic heteronomous or post-autonomous art will actually emerge. London (1970–3). We can’t know yet whether there is to be an end to this interim condition. There was. Now art develops by leaving behind the established criteria. and is. The proliferation of new forms is limitless since it is stimulated by the neutralization of criteria. Jeff Wall was born in 1946 in Vancouver. Conceptual Art (1995).

From the outset. Wall shifts the discussion to another level by foregrounding a dialectic of depiction and antidepiction within the ‘canonical forms’ of painting. in which nothing can be denied status as art. Event. the resulting discursiveness has been instrumental in forming our present condition (of ‘interim mimetic heteronomy’). he takes the argument a crucial step further by uncovering two ‘moments of transition’ in which a withdrawal from the depictive arts is staged. Yet. However. but will provide a foundation for our forthcoming discussion. and photography. and. especially to Michael Fried’s important 1967 critique of the irredeemable theatricality of Minimal Art. a collapse of distinctions between mediums. eventually. Depiction. and in which aesthetic criteria are no longer challenged but instead have been suspended. Art and Objecthood. sculpture. Wall asserts. For Wall. critics. to painting that is only about the forms of painting) and greater artistic autonomy. while ubiquitous in most other accounts of that legacy. modernist and contemporary art provides an original framework for understanding the ways in which current experimental forms or practices relate to and diverge from issues that have been central to artists. the graphic arts. My comments will be brief and I hope that my schematic rendering of his complex argument. issues that had been key to the avant-garde project since the early twentieth century. that the final assault on the authority of the canonical forms did not result from innovation within those forms. That he has managed to convincingly historicize critical debates around the so-called confusion of the arts from the 1940s to the present—while avoiding the term Rosalind Krauss recently grappled with as ‘critical toxic waste’ in her short study of ‘art in the age of the post-medium condition’—is a major achievement.R es pon s e Viv ian Rehberg 30 Summarizing and responding to Jeff Wall’s formidable essay. will not do it a disservice. The first occurs in the early decades of the twentieth century with Duchamp’s Readymade. Wall’s paper acknowledges its debt to an Anglo-American appraisal of Clement Greenberg’s legacy. as one might have expected. entailed a disavowal of all claims to artistic autonomy—the notion that artworks are detached from everything outside themselves—and a repudiation of the separation of art from the ‘real lifeworld’. but came from outside their frame—from theater. after Fried. Object. so drastically reduced its parameters that it led not to a more intense focus on medium-specificity (say. His account identifies and traces one of the most striking paradoxes in the history of art: the modernist attempt to arrive at the ‘essence’ of a medium (which we now associate almost exclusively with art critic Clement Greenberg’s quasi-militant advocacy of ‘flatness’ as the essence of painting). this effacement of differentiation he describes. is a daunting task and I am honored to have been asked here today. music. which comes to stand for a wholesale questioning of art as 31 . and historians since the onset of modernism in the mid-nineteenth century. but to the development of new. to the intermediality characteristic of so much artistic production today. which were not organized in the same way around the dialectic of depiction and anti-depiction. Rather than focusing on medium. is so conspicuously absent from Wall’s assessment that one can only think his omission deliberate. This move from specific to general instances of art. inherently non-specific mediums. he makes an important distinction: the term ‘medium’. and the questions it raises. and film. dance. Wall’s genealogy of modern.

he says. the Readymade and the conceptual reduction not only force us to reconsider the formal components and qualities of artworks. It was the art context described above that enabled these then non-canonical forms to distinguish themselves from what they would have been in a movie theater. as the original avant-garde artists predicted. Importantly. And at this point. differentiate marks on the surface of Readymades from depictions? If these alterations on the surface of objects do count as depictions. cannot simply be identified with an object. However. In this way. a canvas. contrary to popular wisdom. figure as criteria for aesthetic evaluation. Mutt. and sound works. Wall’s discussion of the Readymade centers on its relationship to depiction. The Readymade. unlike a Readymade. Wall asserts that Readymades are not depictions. which I hope we can return to in the discussion. must one. the work of art is nothing but a “proposition presented within the context of art as a comment on art”. The second occurs later. overthrow the canonical forms. the answer will not radically challenge the thrust of Wall’s important contention that the Readymade does not reduce the field of art. Wall reveals another crucial moment of transition that is key for understanding where we find ourselves today: it is the moment when the other arts make a second appearance in the cultural field as ‘instances of (con- 33 . on his legendary white porcelain urinal (titled Fountain) from 1917. on the radio. a block of stone. however. installation. but expands it. that some artists would pursue projects that would lead them into new realms of action and even. and depictions cannot be selected as Readymades. as Wall indicates. does that strengthen or blunt the subversive charge of the Readymade? I do not want to linger on this question now. a medium?). or his inscriptions on other mundane objects like a snow shovel. as R. there are still people who explore those forms and call themselves artists. to leave the realm of art. and if a depiction is an alteration on the surface of an object. on a stage. The canonical forms are still part of an increasingly vast visual vocabulary. which was once at the core of an avant-garde project that held that artworks had the power to mediate relationships between subjects and the world. The Readymade and the conceptual reduction do. as Wall reminds us. Wall maintains that the Readymade did not and could not address itself to depiction. neutralize innovation. while negating the work of art. If anyone can be an artist and nothing can be denied status as art.” Wall is referring to any number of practices from the 1970s including video. In any event. The point he makes is crucial: the negative logic of an ‘inability to deny status’ to any given object—either through the Readymade or through the advent of conceptual art—does not. artistic competence. I wonder then. but fundamentally changes nothing. but rather results from a process that has taken place upon the support provided by an object (film. performance. then it makes sense.32 such. how does one. According to the conceptual reduction. they simultaneously undermine the pervasive and historically grounded notion that exceptional skill. if the domain of the Readymade is the object. when conceptual artists reduce art to texts that declare their status as art as such. In a complex passage. This is because a depiction. is a revolution that seems to transform everything. were for him non-negligible aspects of the identification and identity of the object as a Readymade. and even process. it does not render them obsolete. these moments of transition deeply impact our relationship to the canonical forms. as Joseph Kosuth held. Duchamp’s signature. Wall points to another paradox and I think it is important to quote him here: “The new kinds of works [in the wake of the conceptual reduction] come into their own mode of historical self-consciousness through the acceptance of the claim that there is a form of art which is not a work of art and which legislates the way a work of art is now to be made. and a variety of institutions and thriving markets continue to support them and ensure their visibility.

have duly embraced the mimetic principle. Wall states that prior to the confusion of the arts. Wall claims. I think generously. The fusion of the factory concept with post-conceptual mimesis.34 temporary) art’. 35 . which are frequently promoted by curatorial projects that imitate those forms. It is for this reason that Andy Warhol’s Pop art cannot be considered innovative on pictorial grounds. and nightclubs. paralysis can result. according to Wall. opened the floodgates. a situation in which anything that elects to call itself art may be known as art. this form of New non-depictive contemporary art is accompanied by what he calls the ‘gentle dissolution of the institution of art’. In Wall’s account. like artists. archives. whose only recourse is to revert to old criteria or criteria which. tour guides. Since the nature of these new pseudo-heteronomous art forms. While there is no time to consider the question in depth here. Early in his text. and which is constituted by what he. While there is undoubtedly a proliferation of new formats for writing on art. since after the Readymade and the conceptual reduction there can be no meaningful artistic innovation and no new art form produced from within the depictive arts. On the other hand. his ‘factory’. For as the museum has shifted from a repository for autonomous art to a multi-faceted. the aesthetic criteria associated with the movement arts or those specific to the depictive arts cannot apply to these new forms. encouraging artists to toe the line between art and non-art by establishing mimetic relationships with any number of institutions or structures without ever relinquishing the production of art. leads to a culture of the second appearance. all new artistic developments would henceforth have to come from the outside. but as a productive instance of crossbreeding that conferred artistic status on the movement arts and influenced the depictive arts. Anything is possible within the domain of the second appearance—artists can imitate cooks. but they still need some sort of institutional frame to display and legitimize their mimesis of extraartistic experimentation. a radical revision of the critical art discourse could follow. Needless to say. do not apply to art. hybrids) capable of suspending criteria altogether. libraries.” These boundaries are no longer so clear and institutions (which are flexible enough to cope with the demands of depictive and non-depictive art alike). As a result. Wall does not read this second appearance in qualitative terms as pastiche or farce. exhibition organizers. This. but Wall concludes that the stalemate between autonomous art subject to aesthetic criteria and pseudo-heteronomous art dependent on their suspension is a temporary one. is criticized by proponents of the new forms as oldfashioned. Wall points out that this current exaggeration of postmodern interdisciplinarity and intermediality is characterized by a wholly contradictory relationship to aesthetic criteria— with the depictive arts still dependent on aesthetic criteria. “[a] painter did not put on a play in a gallery and claim it was a ‘painting’. suspends questions of artistic quality. or even reactionary. the lack of entirely new aesthetic criteria for evaluating the new art forms seems to pose a special problem for the art critic. at the very least. All of this would seem rather gloomy. refers to as a proliferation of ‘new’ forms. teachers. Ultimately. and the new forms (events. economy-driven corporation. Wall’s text indicates that it would be worth tracing a genealogy of structures for display in order to explore how a similar mimetic drive has impacted their conventions. It may. naturally. irrelevant. However. offering up the possibility that they are not institutions but some other form of intermediary structure. have sought alternatives by adopting similarly mimetic relationships to structures like schools. his canny imitation of a media conglomerate. which Clement Greenberg deplored. or a ‘work of art’. especially on the internet. recent debates over the crisis in art criticism could be interpreted as registering dissatisfaction with precisely this state of affairs.

You defined a depiction as an alteration of the surface of an object. I think. what does that do to your analysis? Jeff Wall No. it is worth asking the following questions: 1 How can we critically and productively interact with this opposition between autonomous and pseudo-heteronomous art? Must one choose sides or is it possible to envisage a third way. 37 . with regard to the relationship between depiction and description. The term depiction is a very old term for a very well known practice. I’m sorry. one might read them as implicit in his own commitment to exploring problems of depiction within photography. Isn’t the Readymade. Vivian Rehberg is a Paris based art historian and critic who writes regularly for Frieze and Artforum. critics… as subjects? D i s c u s s ion Camiel van Winkel Several questions were raised by Vivian and the first thing we need to solve. and the loss of artistic mediation. It means ‘picturing things’. that the present situation is simply an unavoidable side effect of the logic of globalized late capitalism. for example. the image-saturation of the public sphere. For Duchamp. is the issue of Duchamp’s signature. it is writing. Wall is careful not to make judgments or predictions. perhaps from within those forms? 2 How might we construct meaningful relationships to both of these realms of visual culture. She is also preparing a special issue of the Journal of Visual Culture on exhibitions and curatorial practice. and its stylistic or technical relationship to painting and cinema. Her current research focuses on the misadventures of Realism after the Second World War. the relationship between writing and depiction is more complex. since the signature or writing functions as a crucial component of the Readymade. She was curator of contemporary art at ARC/Musée d’Art moderne de la ville de Paris from 2001 to 2004. Writing is writing. Writing is not picturing things.acquire historical value by providing us with insight into what happens when a properly aesthetic sphere disappears. viewers. as artists. In the face of these givens. which bears a signature or inscription that alters the surface of the object. Viv ian Rehberg The notion that writing is not a depiction could be debated. as well as a founding editor of the Journal of Visual Culture. Jeff. A signature is not a depiction of a name.com. the ubiquity of mass media. However. that does not create another object. historians. So you can write on anything you like. The history of the Readymade bears this out. which has been replaced by more ‘immediate’ experiences. the same thing? JW I’m sorry. Duchamp’s signature on the Readymade is no different than a signature or an inscription on a painting. and if so. but it does not become a depiction. in any case. do you consider Duchamp’s signature a depiction on the surface of the Readymade. Description and depiction are different things. Writing is not depiction. but that doesn’t hold up. Some would say. anyway. I don’t. the act of writing on the surface designates the object a Readymade.

It may be frustrating that what we call Western art turns out to be so limited. by simply— gently—forgetting some of its boundaries. they would also have to be hybrids in order to come to terms with that complexity. CvW Vivian. Whether the depictive arts are capable of the kind of innovation that was projected upon them by the avant-garde is another matter. what is called performance comes with the unspoken claim that it is not-theatre. Without proper criteria. it is the hope that one could somehow by artistic means escape the circle of the arts. I am not here to project what they might be. It is a spontaneous response of new people to any cultural and artistic situation. What is implied is: “do not judge this by the criteria one would bring to theatrical art”. but also photography and painting. even utopian expectations raised by the avant-garde. CvW So that explains your use of the word ‘interim’: the situation we’re in is not an endpoint. I do not know yet what new criteria there might be. I do think however that the situation is slightly more complex than it has been described. CvW So what about the notion of innovation? You describe pseudoheteronomy as the definitive ‘form of the New’. JW I tried to suggest slightly seriously—not totally seriously—how art might vanish or at least transform itself. I do not find it depress- ing. in or as contemporary art. Pseudo-heteronomy as I call it is partly an expression of that frustration. that it does not have the capacity to inform life across the horizon of our experience. Does that mean that innovation has remained a valid criterion? JW Yes. it involved performance and film. These exhibitions involve depiction and movement all at once. Theatre makes a sort of phantom appearance. as many of these new hybrid forms are exhibitions rather than simply art works. In hindsight we might recognize the limitations of the depictive arts on that score. I seriously doubt that would happen. The aesthetic criteria proper to theatre are suspended. That interim is a period of uncertainty in which predictions are difficult to make. I have just tried to suggest that the starting point for considering them is the suspension of the criteria that have existed inside the depictive arts. as a phantom form of aesthetic education. So we end up writing exhibition criticism rather than art criticism. at some point it may change and evolve into something else. Take a project like Utopia Station at the Venice Biennial of 2003: it existed in a temporal frame and in a spatial frame. so whatever the criteria would be. it involved all sorts of depictions and even texts. innovation is always going to be valid because there will always be new people coming along who will interpret things differently. No. It is an expression of discontent. is it still possible to maintain a critical attitude towards the diversity of artistic practices that confront us today? JW It may be possible to develop criteria of judgement for the new pseudo-heteronomous forms. to replace the mundanity of the world with something more beautiful and satisfying. Art can only do that by suggestion—through representation. but at the same time the criteria proper to the depictive arts are similarly suspended. For example. as I said. the only access one had to them was through the vector of the exhibition. It may be the necessary form in which traditional or canonical forms can survive and even reflect upon themselves. Pseudo-heteronomy may be simply the way in which we cope with the disappointment about what the arts are. So whatever the critic wanted to do with those forms individually. The historical length of that period is unknown. JW It may be depressing to think that the depictive arts are circumscribed the way I have described them. This double suspension is the starting point. unnoticed. especially after centuries of extremely elevated. do you see any new sets of criteria arising? VR That’s a problem I am confronted with a lot as an art historian and critic. but I can imagine it could be taken that way by someone wanting to innovate the arts in ways that seem to be precluded now.CvW A more general point that was raised concerned the lack of criteria for aesthetic judgment in the current situation. through the representation that the exhibition made of those forms. Any real innovation in 38 39 .

not even experimentally. with its emotional resonance.the relationship between art and culture may very well come from other practices. and skill. CvW And then the only remaining option would be to explain students how there used to be an authority-figure. sculpture. because new situations emerge and people will always find ways to make trouble for themselves regardless of the situation they’re in. result from their struggle with the dialectic of affirmation that I talked about. Of course. Up till now. the aesthetic criteria of those canonical forms are being debated and contested on a daily basis. even if art schools are still divided into departments of painting. the spectator or the participant in relation to this bifurcation of contemporary art. So it may not be possible for young artists to come into conflict on that same level of intensity. multimedia etcetera. The real focus in an intense conflict can only be the validity of criteria. as these have fundamentally evaporated from the educational horizon. installation art. as viewers and as subjects. The intensity of their innovations and the striking quality of their work. CvW In your lecture you mentioned the importance of aesthetic education. CvW Are you saying that what is happening at art schools today is no longer relevant? JW I do not really know what is happening at art schools in any great detail. you have to have dredged up a lot of feelings. VR My question concerned the possible response to that hopeful condition set out by the suspension of criteria that Jeff described. which later allowed them to develop more interactive and evasive forms of activity outside the formal realm of art. As the innovations they created became canonical and normative. the nature of the struggle obviously changed. but which may also involve a weakening or disintegration of the conflict that for centuries has formed artists in the West. at least in France. It is being formulated and taking place today. JW The experience for the spectator is still new. I am not saying it is impossible. If that still applies today. open field for everybody in which you can do your own thing and move in your own direction and have an increased sense of artistic freedom—which is very good. The so-called authority figure will no longer be able to impose criteria. for example— made their break with the canonical forms after having been educated in them. But I suggest that the suspension of criteria creates a kind of cool. and ‘the shock of the new’ is probably still 40 41 . and formed the basis for art education. Neo-avant-garde artists were trained as artists in the canonical forms. People who teach art students know the extent to which the nomadic impulse structures their aesthetic attempts. that leaves open the possibility that instances of high quality in the depictive arts themselves feel ‘new’. we haven’t really addressed the position of the audience. and that will somehow show in the art. or Robert Smithson. what are the implications for art education? What position should art schools take regarding the issues of de-skilling and re-skilling? JW The figures we now identify as the innovators of the past forty or fifty years—Joseph Beuys. I am just forcing myself to generalise here. There no longer exists a tension with the canonical forms of the depictive arts. learning. a father-figure to rebel against…? JW In a ‘once upon a time’ version… VR I just want to make the point that. even for artists venturing outside the artistic domain. saying that if a conflict over valid criteria is foreclosed or suspended. the last question you phrased in your talk was how we might be able to construct meaningful relationships with the ‘split’ scene of artistic production. the educational process changes. You need to have a settled sense of criteria for a rebellion to occur. attitudes. The depictive arts may simply concentrate on their own problem of quality and become less concerned with ‘culture’. CvW Vivian. because the phenomena we are talking about are pretty recent. You need to be a certain kind of person to succeed in breaking out of that circle.

a factor. it is necessary to turn one’s criteria around—and to continue turning them around. People are having this experience and are attempting to articulate a language for it that is slowly and rather tortuously coming into being. I do not want to create a polarity between the depictive arts and the zone of traditional certainty on the one hand and the new forms as a zone of innovative uncertainty on the other. That is. A suspension of judgement on this point is probably more productive. There is a relationship between those things. we will have to find some way of doing both. We have experiences that resemble aesthetic experiences yet that cannot be judged aesthetically by the means we know and have developed as a culture. I want to make it clear that in presenting this lecture I was not trying to draw a distinction of significance between the depictive arts and the others. It would be unproductive and uninteresting to take sides. . If on the one hand we are obliged to work in terms of autonomy and aesthetic criteria and on the other we have to respond to pseudoheterenomous examples or ‘instances’ of art. I may have my criticism of this or that. and take sides. but that is not the point. This is partly stimulated by something Camiel said in his book The Regime of Visibility: that in the postconceptual situation we’re in today. even if I am clearly a depictive artist myself. At least not yet. we do not necessarily know yet how we feel about having aesthetic experiences that apparently cannot be formulated in the way the depictive arts traditionally demanded. The bifurcation creates a zone that cannot be settled upon.

hermeslezing. Camiel van Winkel Hermes lecture 2006 . Stichting Hermeslezing AKV | St. www. Rudo Hartman. Graphic design . Hermes Lecture Foundation . Vera Bekema Publication .Colophon Colofon The Hermes Lecture is an initiative of the Research Group of Fine Art of the art academy AKV|St. Charles Esche. Board . Organisatie Hans Brens. publicatie Editing . Jules van de Vijver. Redactie Camiel van Winkel . Joost (Avans University) and Hermes Business Network . Joost Art Academy. Hans Cox. . Chris Dercon. Avans University. De Hermeslezing 2006 is tot stand gekomen met steun van de Mondriaan Stichting en de Provincie Noord-Brabant. Druk BibloVanGerwen ISBN-10 90-76861-11-0 .nl The Hermes Lecture 2006 was supported by the Mondriaan Foundation and the Province of Noord-Brabant . Bestuur Hans Brens. De Hermeslezing is een initiatief van het lectoraat beeldende kunst van AKV | St. Jan Dibbets. Rens Holslag. with thanks to . Ellen Caron. Annemarie Quispel. Rob Coppens. Joost (Avans Hogeschool) en Hermes Business Netwerk. the Netherlands. met dank aan Herman Lerou. Onderwijsboulevard 256. 5223 DJ ’s-Hertogenbosch. ISBN-13 978-90-76861-11-1 © 2006 Hermes Lecture Foundation and the authors Stichting Hermeslezing en de auteurs Hermes Lecture Foundation . Comité van aanbeveling Hanja Maij-Weggen. Ontwerp Tom van Enckevort. Vertaling Leo Reijnen . Pr inting . Camiel van Winkel . Translation . Hans Cox. Marlene Dumas. Hermeslezing 2006 Organization . Hendrik Driessen. Stichting Hermeslezing Recommending Committee .

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en het lectoraat beeldende kunst van AKV|St. De lezing vindt plaats in ’s-Hertogenbosch en is een samenwerking tussen Hermes. Avans Hogeschool. .The Hermes Lecture is a biennial lecture about the position of the visual artist in the cultural and social field. De Hermeslezing is een tweejaarlijkse lezing over de positie van de kunstenaar in het culturele en maatschappelijke spanningsveld. Avans University. Joost. Joost. It takes place in ’s-Hertogenbosch and is a collaboration between entrepreneurs’ network Hermes and the Research Group of Fine Arts at the art academy AKV|St. een netwerk van ondernemers.

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