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New Left Review 76, July-August 2012


Sven Lütticken

DIALECTIC OF DIONYSUS

The seemingly self-explanatory category of ‘artists’ writings’ covers a wide variety of practices and has undergone substantial historical transformations. [1] Fraternité Avant Tout: Asger Jorn’s Writings on Art and Architecture, 1938–1958, edited by Ruth Baumeister, translated by Paul Larkin and Ken Knabb, 010 Publishers: Rotterdam 2011, €34.50, paperback, 304 pp, 978 90 6450 760 1 Early twentieth-century modern artists often produced treatises that attempted to legitimize unprecedented forms through plodding attempts at dialectical exposition (Mondrian) or exhortatory symbolist-futurist prose (Malevich). In a step that was to have profound consequences, Duchamp used his notes not for explanation but for exploration, making them into an integral part of his practices. In the 1960s and 1970s, conceptual artists such as Dan Graham and Robert Smithson developed the essay as an artistic form in its own right, using the magazine as a medium. Contemporary artists such as Paul Chan and Hito Steyerl, though they have abandoned the conceptualist impulse to designate texts or ‘magazine pieces’ as artworks, continue to write essays as part of their artistic practice.

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