Rosalind Krauss’s Brain: The Combative Academic Is Back With a New Book

An extended recovery from an aneurysm is transformed into a critical treatise

Ms. Krauss is once again picking her opponents: French critic and curator Nicolas Bourriaud, the theorist of relational aesthetics, work that involves social interactions or site-specific events, and, more so, Catherine David, the curator of the Documenta X exhibition held in Kassel, Germany, in 1997. They are, Ms. Krauss says, proponents of work that lack these underlying rules, these reasons for being.

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Ms. David and her assistant Hortensia Völckers become characters of a sort in Under Blue Cup, their appearances in videos about Documenta serving as a means for Ms. Krauss to describe the works she detests, like a piece by artists Carsten Höller and Rosemarie Trockel that consists of a space filled with pigs.

“For me, one of the most important things about the book is the writing,” Ms. Krauss said. “Part of coming back from the stroke was relearning how to write.” She read Dickens’ Bleak House. “I kept thinking, how does he produce that satisfaction in description?” she said. “He keeps inventing characters that sort of pop out from behind a mailbox or whatever.”

Towards her own characters, Ms. Krauss is respectful, even as she lashes out. “Catherine David has become the antagonist to this book’s crusade,” she writes at one point, and adds later, “She is likable, intelligent, articulate: a worthy adversary, I think.”

Recently, these sorts of heated public disagreements, which once characterized the work of Ms. Krauss and the October writers, have become far less frequent. “They were a kind of revolutionary, vanguard party with very high visibility,” Mr. Karmel said. “But now you don’t hear about big battles because they are a big part of the establishment—they don’t need to fight it, because they are it.”

But that eminence has strict limits. “If you look at the art world, some of it has to do with October, but a lot of it has nothing whatsoever to do with their taste,” Mr. Carrier told us. “In the larger culture, it’s the curators and the museums that matter. It would be a joke to think that a journal with a circulation of a few thousand, if that, held that much power.” (Its circulation numbers less than 2,000.) These days, as the art market grows ever larger and more powerful, collectors and dealers may hold more sway than critics, academic or otherwise.

Most of the artists that Ms. Krauss highlights in her new work are, like her, deep into their careers. “I’m now teaching a seminar on this thing that I call the post-medium condition,” Ms. Krauss, said, when we asked about her students’ interests. “They will be presenting work, and I hope some of them will be coming up with their own sense of younger artists.”  Though she does not visit galleries as regularly as she once did—“It’s embarrassing,” she said—she recently went to Gagosian to see Richard Serra’s huge new steel sculptures. He’s an artist she has supported for 40 years. “I love those works,” she said. “I think they are a certain continuation of my most favorite of Richard’s works, which is called Clara-Clara.”

She also attended Christian Marclay’s 24-hour film The Clock when it appeared at Paula Cooper Gallery earlier this year, sitting for hours in the dark gallery one afternoon. “Did you see it?” she asked. “Wasn’t that divine?” She tilted her head toward the ceiling. “Divine.”


Rosalind Krauss’s Brain: The Combative Academic Is Back With a New Book