Art Historian Rosalind Krauss Is Not a Fan of Conceptual Art, Installation Art, Serial Commas

The Brooklyn Rail has an amazing interview between art historians Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois on the topic of Ms. Krauss’s new book, Under Blue Cup, which we wrote about back in October. It’s a big time for the art historian: her work is also the subject of a distinguished scholar session at the upcoming College Art Association conference in Los Angeles.

It’s a long interview, and the whole thing is worth reading, especially because it provides a glimpse at how the two thinkers and colleagues—they have worked together on the journal October, which Ms. Krauss helped found in the 1970s—have evolved over the years. (Full disclosure: this writer took a class with Ms. Krauss many years back.)

While October is often seen as being driven by a single monolithic ideology, the Rail article nicely reveals how its associates have diverged in their thinking over the years. Under Blue Cup, for instance, is, in part, an attack on conceptual art (“I have always found it immensely boring,” Ms. Krauss tells Mr. Bois) and the loss of medium specificity (or “technical support,” as she puts it), in contemporary art, which she sees coming out of Duchamp. Installation art is a paramount example of this loss of specificity.

Mr. Bois suggests that their friend Benjamin H. D. Buchloh may not be too pleased with Under Blue Cup:

“I think that there are parts of the book that are going to be shocking to him or that at least he’ll be critical about, which are your continuous critiques of conceptual art. Especially because when you do that, you mainly discuss Joseph Kosuth, who for Benjamin is just a small figment of conceptual art, and not at all a real agent in that story (in fact, that led to a polemic between the two, which was published in October as far as I remember)”

The two also tussle over Sophie Calle. Mr. Bois says that he sees her basically as a writer rather than an artist: “All the other installations of hers that I had seen before, I felt were a bit stodgy and not necessary.” Ms. Krauss, though, has an answer. Read the interview to learn about it.

Under Blue Cup has an unusual autobiographical streak running through it, following Ms. Krauss’s recovery from a brain aneurysm at the same time that it addresses issues of the medium. She shares that writing in that personal way was at first embarrassing to her, and so she looked for role models. “Who writes well autobiographically?” she asked herself. Gertrude Stein. Here’s a choice passage:

“Krauss: Again I sort of analyzed, how does she do it? One of the ways is that her prose is paced so that it drops all punctuation. I dropped serial commas, and I like the staccato of that—you don’t have X comma Y comma Z comma and something else. It just flows between these various nouns. Of course my editor at MIT Press put them all back. The copyeditor. He restored them, and I begged him not to do it. I said, ‘I like the way this prose is like Gertrude Stein’s.'”

“Bois: And in the end, who won?”

“Krauss: Well of course he did. The copyeditor has the last word. I tried to take them out again.”

“Bois: Too bad, that would have been quite striking.”