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marquisedemerteuil's picture

Is Richard Stone out of his mind?

Hey Prof. Grobstein,

I don't know what's up with this met conservator Richard Stone saying that art historians don't collaborate. Hasn't he heard of October, like anyone who has studied any art history at all? October was (I'm not sure if it still exists, I know it was pretty big in the 80s and 90s) a magazine of criticism created by some of the most creative and brilliant historians of contemporary art of the last few decades: Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin HD Buchloh, Hal Foster. (I'm actually not a hundred percent positive. I may be missing names, but I'm pretty sure these names are right.) This "movement" is extolled by some and criticized by others. These four people got together and wrote a controversial, ambitious (a prof here calls it "overambitious), highly theoretical textbook on art since 1900, devoting a few pages to the major happenings of each year. At the beginning of the second volume of the book, each historian writes about how a different method of art history has affected the criticism and work of the century. So it's not all "co-written" but it's certainly collaborative! And I don't think October is alone. There is a reason art historians, like professors of any kind, have colleagues.

Take this: “Collaboration is regarded by many in the humanities as equivalent to playing tennis with the net down, somehow an unsporting activity." What does this even mean? Unsporting? Tennis? Wouldn't it be more 'sportsmanlike' to work with someone else? Stone needs to retire.

On the one hand, I'm willing to disagree with someone who has more authority than I do, but on the other, this guy is a conservator. I've worked in museums. I know what conservators do. They stand in a little room and iron and fix stuff. They don't have to know art history in the same way an art historian or curator or even student would. So I find it suspect on the part of the writer that he didn't ask someone with more knowledge how he or she felt. He should have at least gotten another perspective to balance this cooky one. That's better reporting, right? Why should I trust some guy who makes illogical statements?

Many artists are not interested in authenticity issues like this one. For example, Sherrie Levine has a photograph work in which she takes one of Walker Evans' famous depression photographs, Migrant Mother, and develops the negative herself. She calls it "A Work by Walker Evans by Sherrie Levine." So to whom does it belong? Some people can tell the difference between this and an actual Evans, but what difference does that make? She challenges the idea of authenticity that we're challenging in class, and the patriarchal tradition of art history. Plenty of other artists play interesting games along these lines, too. In fact, since we're talking about Pollock, his contemporary Willem De Kooning got one of his drawings (with Pollock's permission), erased it, and hung it in a museum, calling it "Erased Pollock by Willem De Kooning." So what did Kooning do? Our society wants artists to have authority by having technique -- we can't do what they do, so we can respect them for their knowledge in their field and trust their taste. (Again, this is society with scientists!) Artists see through this and take it away from people, much to their dismay. This is a reason why people unfairly criticize modern and contemporary art.

What would Zadie Smith have to say about Sherrie Levine? Since Levine just blows up someone else's photograph to create her "own" work how can Levine's "authentic self" appear through her art? I would assume Smith would extend her maxims on literature to art...though not necessarily.


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