SIXTY YEARS AGO, in Artforum’s very first issue, our founding editor, Philip Leider, threw down the gauntlet for art’s autonomy. “Art and artists will flourish when an admiring public buys paintings because they love them; if the myth that buying art is a good investment (in the Wall Street sense) is perpetuated, the result can only be disaster for both.” I took his words—from a blistering review of two 1961 publications on art and money—as an early expression of the magazine’s ethos, which made speculation a constitutive exclusion. The keyword for me here was not myth or disaster but love.
I thought for a while about giving our sixtieth-anniversary issue over to Artforum’s historic bête noire. Every magazine has its peculiar tensions that accentuate its vitality, and one of ours is the push-pull between our belief that financialization erodes art’s integrity and our potent participation in the establishment of meaning for a market. Wouldn’t it make sense to take the bull by the horns? The acceleration of precarity has made speculation the only relatable mode for grasping the future. The etiolation of “natural” resources is inspiring capital to invent new, ever more ludicrous frontiers for extraction (computers “mine” currency by processing blocks of transactions—my fingers went numb as I typed that). But as I spoke with writers, it became apparent that the question of speculation was shallow waters. What I heard instead was a desire to know why art or writing mattered at all in a moment when art had ceded so many of its powers to the terrene vicissitudes of money and blips in a news cycle. Surely there was something to make art special besides its rich rapport with capital, its vulnerability to ridicule.
So I returned to the archives. Art’s specialness has had plenty of foudroyant defenders in our pages. Among the most celebrated is Michael Fried, whose 1967 critique of Minimalism, “Art and Objecthood,” remains an enduring touchstone. Fried, like Leider, thought it necessary to stake a claim for art’s autonomy, to pursue his “desire to distinguish what is to me the authentic art of our time.” He did this, of course, by opposing art to what he calls theater, that condition that “lies between the arts,” which debases the work by exposing it to the mundane contingencies of subjectivity and duration.
Fried’s text is for me a kind of gospel, with all of gospel’s terrible eschatological promise. (His concluding words—“presentness is grace”—thrill in their conceptual economy.) I admire his reach for a dimension exoteric to time, his capacity for transvaluating alienation as a mode of reenchantment, even as I worry that celebrating instantaneousness over diachrony has helped make art a more attractive category for certain parasitic asset classes. And I think his essay is still generative, insofar as it establishes a blueprint for how to mount a strong theory for what matters in culture.
But as I read it for a fourth, seventh, ninth tenth time, I was struck more than usual by his paranoiac phrasings, pitched with the timbre of a House Un-American Activities prosecutor. Art’s very “survival” depends on its ability to “defeat” theater. In fact, it is the “overcoming” of theater that modernism finds most “exalting,” because theater “degenerates” and “corrupts” and “perverts” art. It’s perhaps no surprise that several years ago the art historian Christa Noel Robbins unearthed a March 16, 1967, letter from Fried to Leider: “I keep toying with the idea, crazy as it sounds, of having a section in this sculpture-theater essay on how corrupt sensibility is par excellence faggot sensibility. . . .”1
Love’s work is the proudly fey, local theorizing cultivated in the space abandoned by the hermeneutics of suspicion.
CRAZY AS IT SOUNDS, I think our most corrupt or faggot sensibility, which is perhaps to say sensibility itself, might orient us in this flaming sacred grove. What could we learn by pursuing those “mysterious attractions” that have not yet, as Sontag so deliciously put it a few years before Fried cast his die, “hardened into an idea”?
Faggot sensibility is a symphony of the estranged. I hear it very clearly in this issue when Wayne Koestenbaum and Bruce Hainley vibrate across Guillaume Dustan’s recently recovered video work: “An inner revolution must precede an outer revolution,” Hainley says when discussing Dustan’s Squat, 2002, in which the French writer-filmer educates his trick in the splenetic art of fisting. While I am dubious about the inexorable must, I agree that there is something revolutionary in exploring, with others, the pleasures of interiority. Revolutionary but also restorative.
A few years back, soon after I became Artforum’s editor, I told Hal Foster about my desire to nourish reparative critique. When we met again earlier this year to talk about the anniversary issue, he asked me to clarify. I couldn’t find the right words. But it didn’t matter because, as usual, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick had already found them for me:
[T]o read from a reparative position is to surrender the knowing, anxious paranoid determination that no horror, however apparently unthinkable, shall ever come to the reader as new; to a reparatively positioned reader, it can seem realistic and necessary to experience surprise. Because there can be terrible surprises, however, there can also be good ones. Hope, often a fracturing, even a traumatic thing to experience, is among the energies by which the reparatively positioned reader tries to organize the fragments and part-objects she encounters or creates.2
I call this practice love’s work, to hijack a phrase from Gillian Rose. (Sedgwick notes too that among Melanie Klein’s “names for the reparative process is love.”) It is the proudly fey, local theorizing cultivated in the space abandoned by the hermeneutics of suspicion. It is a sustained seeking of pleasure, the liberation of victuals from the grain stores of a culture—“even of a culture whose avowed desire has often been not to sustain them,” as Sedgwick puts it. And in this, I think it’s, importantly though certainly not exclusively, a minoritarian practice.
It is there in this issue in the responses to our questionnaire on those art and words that illuminate our contributors’ night skies. It is Foster’s diversion of a dystopian trajectory toward a utopian horizon in his “Antinomies,” as well as the web he spins when considering how Eva Hesse’s intensely affective art metabolizes anomic seriality on its way to the solidarity of the fused group. It is Koestenbaum and Hainley’s quantum fandom around Dustan. There’s love’s work in Huey Copeland and Janet Dees’s detailed specification of the acts of care in preparing an emotionally devastating exhibition. In David Joselit’s generative encounters with the radical proposals of the year’s grand exhibitions, and the calls for solidarity and self-reflection in Harry Burke’s and Forest Curriculum’s reviews of Documenta 15. In Olamiju Fajemisin’s careful reading of Arthur Jafa’s forceful wielding of intensities. In Johanna Fateman’s divination of Barbara Kruger’s astonishing detournements and Graham Bader’s exploration of human portraiture to renew our “epistemologies of community itself.” A throughline emerges, a commitment to ethics as a path to eudaemonia. This is the politics I came for.
Certainly one of the greatest joys of making a magazine is that we do it together. The “discerning eclecticism” that executive editor Elizabeth Schambelan affirms in her own essay emerges from not one mind but many. It is part of a tradition of criticism that, to cite Helen Molesworth via Schambelan, “renders the intimate public.” Artforum’s readers, writers, editorial staff, production team, agents, and publishers are engaged in an enduring colloquy. Intimacy—not interiority or subjectivity but that interpenetration that enjoins our beings to a world. “What lies between the arts,” to put it another way. The sacred is literally everywhere. Presentness might be grace, but communion
1. The full quote: “I keep toying with the idea, crazy as it sounds, of having a section in this sculpture-theater essay on how corrupt sensibility is par excellence faggot sensibility, and how even if the faggots didn’t kill Kennedy (and I love this guy Garrison for insinuating they did) they ought to be kicked out of the arts and forced to go work on Wall Street or something.” Robbins’s brave and brilliant framing of this quote appears in “The Sensibility of Michael Fried,” Criticism 60, no. 4 (Fall 2018): 429–54.
2. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think this Essay Is About You,” in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 146.