Latin American Art || The Museum

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


  • The MuseumShows of Force: Power, Politics, and Ideology in Art Exhibitions by Timothy W. Luke;Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display by Ivan Karp; Steven D.Lavine; Making and Effacing Art: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums by PhilipFisherReview by: Howard RisattiArt Journal, Vol. 51, No. 4, Latin American Art (Winter, 1992), pp. 103-106Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 09:00

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


    College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Art Journal.

    This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:00:54 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • lem is the constant wavering in her text between

    "1" and "we" as the speaking subject: "I do not

    wish, in the end, to hitch the picture to a mono- lithic reactionary or progressive position" (p. 112); "The argument I present here .. ." (p. 2); "My account differs from . . ." (p. 27). Then: "Indeed, if we sought to generalize about the principal differences between . .." (pp. 2-3); "This anal-

    ysis will permit us to conclude that . . ." (p. 26); "As our analysis has already suggested .." (p. 91).

    Clayson has written a book about women's

    bodies, and nowhere in her text is there an indica- tion that her work has been informed, either intel-

    lectually or emotionally, by the intense debates that have taken place in the feminist community over pornography. Nor is there any palpable sug- gestion in this book that a war has been raging in the courts and on the streets over women's

    bodies, as rightist fanatics and a Republican gov- ernment attempt to revoke a woman's right to abortion. Only in her introduction, in one brief

    sentence, does Clayson invoke the debate over abortion. Since she never returns to the subject, her initial statement reads only as a sop to feminist

    politics. It is my hunch that had Clayson in fact identified with any driving feminist question, she would not have had the trouble she did with her

    pronouns, and there would have been a feminist

    subjectivity in her book. Instead what we get are

    T. J. Clark's, Alain Corbin's, and Charles Bern- heimer's commentaries on the prostitutional dis-

    course, along with feminist writers and scholars

    deployed as experts, salting and peppering a be-

    nign art historical text. The reader has no idea what position, or values, the author means to

    present, nor in whose interest the discussion is mounted. All the research and insight Clayson has marshaled is turned into just so much information for our perusal.

    It is rare when a single author can provide the contradictions and conflicts embedded in a sub-

    ject and bring it to life in such a way that makes the reader appreciate its ultimate indeter-

    minateness.1 Dealing with Degas is my favorite

    among the books because of the variety of voices and attitudes speaking on the same material.

    The least interesting essays are the men's, and it's easy to understand why. They are either

    doing art-history-as-usual or, it seems to me, they are soliciting their feminist colleagues' approval. Their tone is routinely matter-of-fact: "a small

    group of paintings dating from. . ." (p. 81); "one

    of Degas' primary concerns in the 1870s. . . was

    " (p. 148); "the marked tendency towards

    ." (p. 194). Their voices fall so flatly amid the

    feminists because the issues hold no heat for

    them; they have nothing at stake. Women like

    Pollock, Dawkins, and Callen have everything at

    stake. Listen to Pollock: "The purpose of feminist

    analysis is to identify painting and drawings as social images in ways which do not inevitably lead us back to the celebration of art history's singular, creative subject, the artist in general, Degas in

    particular, and, as always, Man" (p. 26). And here is Callen, "As a feminist art historian I am con- cerned with how and why patriarchy pictures femininity and masculinity in order to contain women and to empower men" (p. 159). It's that

    simple. I do not, however, know why Pollock and

    Dawkins have to speak in the authoritarian, school-marmy voices they often use. I'm not ad-

    vocating that they check the anger that drives

    them, but that they turn it to something other than admonishment. I am thinking of a strategy invoked some years ago by the writer Adam Mich- nik, one of the leaders of the Polish Solidarity movement. He said forces for change would ac-

    complish more if their leaders acted as if they were

    already where they meant to be, with all their demands realized, rather than continuing to be- have as victims and treating their comrades and students as victims, too. The confidence gener- ated by the assumption of "as if" produced the

    complexity of pleasures and seeing suggested by Bershad's memorable piece on Woman with a

    Lorgnette; or Callen's dazzling analysis of the dis-

    jointed construction and tactility of Degas's pastels; and Dawkins's proud presentation of a

    speaking, desiring Alice Michel. It is my opinion that feminist writing is at its

    best today when it insists on the particularity of women's experiences and uses a direct and ob-

    viously partisan voice. Without disclaimer or

    apology, without the trappings of conventional

    authority, this voice, driven by political and psy- chological necessity, has helped to transform the old disinterested art history into a frankly embat- tled terrain-and into a place of new pleasures and tantalizing questions.

    Note 1. Julia Kristeva achieves this in "Stabat Mater" when she speaks in two distinct voices presented on the same page, side by side. In one column she writes as a theorist about mother- hood, in the other as a mother; see The Kristeva Reader, ed. Toril Moi (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 160-86. Jane Gallop, through her ribald wit, rage, and naked competitiveness, accomplishes the same in Reading Lacan (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1985) and The Daugh- ter's Seduction: Feminism and Psychoanalysis (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982). Linda Nochlin, also through humor and a wild flight of the imagination, accomplishes a certain intended instability in her essay "Courbet's Real Alle- gory: Rereading 'The Painter's Studio,'" in Sarah Faunce and Linda Nochlin, eds., Courbet Reconsidered (New York: Brooklyn Museum, 1988), 17-41.

    EU NI CE L I PTON is the author of Looking into Degas: Uneasy Images of Women and Modern Life. Her memoiri biography of Victorine Meurent, Alias Olympia, is forthcoming from Charles Scribners Sons.


    Timothy W. Luke. Shows of Force: Power, Politics, and Ideology in Art Exhibitions. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992. 258 pp. $37.95; $15.95 paper

    Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine, eds. Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991. 480 pp.; 85 black-and- white ills. $42.00; $15.95 paper

    Philip Fisher. Making and Effacing Art: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991. 267 pp.; 9 color ills., 37 black-and-white. $35.00

    hen Clement Greenberg wrote about self-criticality in relation to modern art in his 1963 essay "Modernist

    Painting," he was making a case for art as an autonomous sphere based on the unique aspects of individual artistic media.1 This article represents the culmination of Greenberg's attempt to disen-

    gage art theoretically from the realm of the politi- cal.2 Today we see a new kind of self-criticality, one that operates through a deconstructive mode, scrutinizing not artistic media but institutions in order to relocate art back into the wider world. It is this deconstructive mode of thought that under- lies the art of Cindy Sherman, Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, David Salle, David Hammons, and others, as well as the New Art History and New Art Criticism.

    That the deconstructive mode should also surface in three recent books in discussions of the museum as institution is not surprising, nor is the fact that all of the authors/editors come from fields other than art history or criticism. Timothy W Luke, author of Shows of Force, teaches politi- cal science at Virginia Polytechnic and State Uni-

    versity, while of the editors of Exhibiting Cultures, Ivan Karp is a curator in the Department of An-

    thropology at the Smithsonian Institution's Na- tional Museum of Natural History, and Steven D. Lavine, before becoming president of the Califor- nia Institute of Art, was professor of English at the

    University of Michigan. Philip Fisher, author of

    Making and Effacing Art, teaches English at Har-

    vard University.

    Deconstructive thinking reflects Marxian be- lief that superstructural institutions (law, politics,

    religion, and so forth) have hidden connections to

    the economic base. By exposing the hidden inter-

    connections between institutions and economics, the deconstructive mode attempts to reveal (de-

    construct) the way institutions (including mu-

    seums) function to keep power in place. To explain these relationships, the deconstructive mode rec-

    ognizes the precedence of context by using a

    cross-disciplinary approach that looks outward

    from one discipline toward radiating circles of dis-



    This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:00:54 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

  • 104

    ciplines. Practitioners of the deconstructive mode tend to consider it unnecessary to attend to any one discipline in a rigorously specialized way To do so would be to narrow one's vision, to risk, as it

    were, mistaking the tree for the forest. Just as it has liberated art historians and critics to tackle social questions, this attitude has encouraged people from outside the field to write about art.

    Luke's book consists of reviews of exhibitions that range from George Caleb Bingham's work to Robert Longo's. In many ways it provides the best

    example, from among the books under review, of the advantages of the deconstructive approach as well as its pitfalls. In his introduction, Luke


    This book is a collection of politically grounded critiques about art. It refuses, however, to fool around in polite metatheoretical terms [as art writers do?] with abstract questions surrounding "the politics of aesthetics" or "the aesthetics of

    politics." Instead, it subversively reexamines how cultural mythologies and political power are ex-

    pressed in the showing of artworks by museums.

    Hence, these studies relentlessly ask how particu- lar displays of artwork can be seen as political texts rife with conflicted rhetoric about the ideo-

    logies of the present (p. 1, emphasis added).

    Luke goes on to dismiss art critics in general and "a lot of art writing in the 1980s and 1990s" for not asking: "What is this power [of artworks]? How is it expressed? What are its limits? Why does it work?" "Such direct political questions," writes


    are rarely raised much less addressed or answered ... because many art critics almost never thread

    their way out of the rhetorical sloughs of more formalist or historical styles of aesthetic criticism.

    Trapped in the muck of inappropriate categories, very few art writers escape with useful insights from the discursive ooze of genre, style, or school that bogs down their search for the political di- mensions in art. Rather, they tend to chase both real politics and serious aesthetics farther back into the swamps of formal analysis until both of these subjects simply slip under the surface of

    deadly metatheoretical quicksand (p. 1).

    Unfortunately, because Luke's book doesn't make

    good his claims, these statements unintentionally

    appear arrogant, ponderous, and inflated, if not

    wholly inaccurate. Not knowing the work in re-

    lated fields is one of the dangers of cross-

    disciplinary studies. If Luke were more familiar with the work of art writers such as Benjamin Buchloh, T J. Clark, Eva Cockcroft, Thomas Crow, Serge Guilbaut, Max Kozloff, Rosalind Krauss, Donald Kuspit, Lucy Lippard, Linda Nochlin, Sidra Stich, among others, I doubt he would have made such claims. Nor would he identify Frederic

    Remington with the Impressionists (p. 33) and mischaracterize Greenberg's position by assert-

    ing, "As Greenberg frequently claimed, a painting is nothing but a flat, bounded object that must make a convincing three-dimensional impression out of the emptiness of a two-dimensional plane" (pp. 33-34).

    At a time when carefully reasoned argu- ments buttressed by substantial factual data are needed to demonstrate just how cultural values and aspirations are formed and manipulated, Luke

    resorts, for the most part, on a by now all too familiar practice of innuendo and unsupported supposition to indict corporate capital. Examples of such polemical rather than scholarly argument abound in his book. Atthe beginning of his discus- sion of the 1990 Bingham exhibition at the Na- tional Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., he states

    that, given the tendency of big corporations and

    major banks

    to define "the general welfare" as the economic and cultural interests of their middle class and

    upper middle class clients [ignoring their upper class clients?], who bravely continue to purchase corporate products of dubious worth and leave their personal fortunes on deposit with crumbling American banks, these [corporate] "good works"

    frequently take the shape of subsidies for cultural

    spectacles to soothe the mental mutilations that these same customers endure in the jungle world of contemporary American markets (p. 9, em-

    phasis added).

    How can anyone take such a blanket statement

    seriously? One has only to think of life-saving medical and pharmaceutical products made by many corporations to call this statement into

    question. Farther along in the text, reviewing the Fred-

    eric Edwin Church exhibition (also at the National

    Gallery), Luke extols what he feels is Church's vision of nature as benign and benevolent, sup-

    porting Luke's own view that, "Nature does not

    dominate humans in cruel struggles which are red

    in tooth and claw" (p. 50). Yet, if this is true, what of...


View more >