Critical Issues: History of Art, Theory and Criticism 58.352/201
Dr. John X. Christ


Critical Issues image

Syllabus of Lectures


COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course provides a thematic examination of a series of issues that have played central roles in the study of modern art from the late nineteenth century through the present day. While some of these topics such as abstraction and the avant-garde have been fundamental to the study of modern art, others are more specific, including globalization and site-specificity. These issues are examined in relation to their instrumental roles in shaping the formal and social concerns that have guided the practice of artists and critics.

Complex texts by notable art historians, critics and theorists are assigned alongside readings intended for the less experienced student of modern art. These more accessible readings, however, provide far more than mere background information; they each represent a pointed attempt to straightforwardly present a complex theoretical approach or historical issue.

As a primary component of this course, students are expected to discuss and provide written responses to directed questions on the assigned readings. Additionally, a 5-7 page paper will be due at the conclusion of the semester.

Required Texts:
Steve Edwards and Paul Wood, eds. Art of the Avant-Gardes. London: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 2004.
Paul Wood, ed. Varieties of Modernism. London: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 2004.
Nato Thompson and Gregory Sholette, eds. The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004.
Additional readings will be on reserve and/or distributed.

Grades will be determined based upon the following assignments and criteria:
assignments 50%
paper 35%
class participation 15%

NOTE ON PLAGIARISM: Be careful never to copy directly or directly adapt from another author without crediting the source. General sources must be listed in a bibliography; any direct quotation or paraphrase must be footnoted. Any unacknowledged copying will receive and F for the course.

Readings due on the date assigned on syllabus.

25 January Introduction: Modernity, Modernism, Postmodernism

1 February Formalism versus the Social History of Art
Readings: Clement Greenberg, “Towards a Newer Laocoon”
Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” (AMC)
T.J. Clark, “On the Social History of Art”
T.J. Clark, “Introduction,” The Painting of Modern Life (AMC)

8 February Approaches to Cubism
Readings: Chapters 5-7, Art of the Avant-Gardes
Rosalind Krauss, “In the Name of Picasso” (AMC)

15 Feb. The Avant-Garde
Readings: Chapters 10-13, Art of the Avant-Gardes
Gregory Sholette, “Interventionism and the Historical Uncanny” The Interventionists

22 February Finding Meaning in Abstract Art
Readings: Chapter 8, Art of the Avant-Gardes
Chapters 3-5, Varieties of Modernism

1 March What Ever Happened to Beauty?: The Readymade and Conceptual Art
Readings: William Camfield, “Marcel Duchamp's Fountain: Aesthetic Object, Icon, or Anti-Art?”
Michael Leja, “Humbugs for Highbrows”
Charles Harrison, “Conceptual Art, the Aesthetic and the End(s) of Art”

8 March Modern Art and Mass Culture
Readings: Barbara Zabel, “Stuart Davis's 'Tobacco Pictures'”
Thomas Crow, “Saturday Disasters: Trace and Reference in Early Warhol”
Chapters 10-11, Varieties of Modernism


22 March The Gendering of Modern Art
Readings: T.J. Clark, “Preliminaries to a Possible Treatment of 'Olympia' in 1865” (AMC)
Griselda Pollock, “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity” (AMC)
Anna Chave, “New Encounters with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon...”
Websites pertaining to contemporary feminist art (to be emailed)

29 March Identity Politics
Readings: W.E.B. DuBois, excerpts from The Souls of Black Folk
Edward Said, excerpts from Orientalism (AMC)
The following projects from The Interventionists
William Pope.L, The Black Factor
William Pope.L, Member
Ruben Ortiz-Torres, Garden of Earthly Delights
Ruben Ortiz-Torres, Hats
Krzysztof Wodiczko, Dis-Armor
Tana Hargest, New Negrotopia

5 April Beyond the Object
Readings: Chapter 7, Varieties of Modernism
Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood”
Chapter 9, Varieties of Modernism

12 April Art and Activism
Readings: Chapter 12, Varieties of Modernism
The Interventionists: Users' Manual for the Creative Disruption of Everyday Life


26 April Site-Specificity
Readings: Thomas Crow, “Site-Specific Art: The Strong and the Weak”
Miwon Kwon, excerpts from One Place After Another

3 May Globalization
Readings: Niru Ratnam, “Art and Globalization”
David Harvey, “The Art of Rent: Globalization and the Commodification of Culture”
Allan Sekula, Fish Story (subject to availability)

10 May Presentations
Papers Due