Michael Brenson with David Levi Strauss and Phong Bui

Portrait of Michael Brenson by WIlliam Lamson

One Saturday afternoon in February, Rail publisher Phong Bui drove up the Hudson Valley to High Falls, New York to visit our consulting editor David Levi Strauss in his library, where they both sat down to talk to art critic Michael Brenson (also a neighbor) about his life and work.

Phong Bui (Rail): Could we begin with your background? When and how did your interest in art come about?

Michael Brenson: I was born into it, really. My father, Theodore Brenson, a Latvian by birth, became an abstract painter a few years after he came to this country in 1941. He was around the Abstract Expressionists and showed with many of them in three of the five Ninth Street shows. I grew up in a studio. You could smell the paint, which had a physicality and texture that I guess I breathed from pretty much the time I was born. And although I didn’t think much about art growing up, I went to many museums and accompanied my father to panel discussions and never reacted against it. So it was really always a part of me.

Later in college, at Rutgers, while an English major, I took an art history course each of my sophomore, junior, and senior years. After graduation I took a menial job at Huntington Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art on Columbus Circle. After a few months, I knew I wanted to be involved with ideas professionally and decided to go to graduate school in art history, which led to a Ph.D. from John Hopkins University.

David Levi Strauss: You often stress that the role of an art critic, not unlike the artist, is that of a creative individual who follows his or her own calling as a vocation rather than as a career oriented ambition. When did that realization come about?

Brenson: I’ve never thought ahead but always lived, for better or for worse, from moment to moment. I’ve tried to live in a way that made sense, which required a certain relationship to the moment, a certain struggle to make my way each day and still understand what I was doing, and to assume that within that immersion in the moment was purpose and meaning. As soon as I got my Ph.D., I left the academic world and left the country for France. I had a need to be on my own, to find a language that seemed real to me, to figure things out in my own terms, and maybe that’s a little bit closer to the ways in which artists do things. I never wanted to be part of a movement or a group, or of the ways in which other people around me thought or wrote despite the enormous sympathy I have with many artists and writers and other friends. Living in Paris, having to survive with no money, really starting from scratch at age 32, helped make this immersion in the moment part of my everyday life. In Paris, I got so much pleasure out of simple things—cafes, markets, streets, getting from here to there. I felt there was a truth in that.

Rail: Given the fact that you started out with your dissertation on Giacometti and then wrote many seminal essays on a number of sculptors, from David Smith, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Gillian Jagger, and Martin Puryear to Maya Lin, Mel Edwards, Juan Muñoz and many others, would it be fair to make a broad distinction that your continuity of passion and mind have a great investment in the writing of sculpture rather than any other medium? Didn’t your contact with Giacometti’s work while you were in Paris form your worldview in art? After all, you got to know the family well, especially his brother Diego.

Brenson: True. I knew Diego fairly well and spent parts of nine summers in their Stampa home in the mountains in Italian Switzerland—A most important experience which will one day require its own words. My sense of the importance of where an artist is coming from and that most of the good ones are rooted in a particular place crystallized in Stampa. My belief in the importance of the physicality and histories of place has grown and no amount of Internet and cell technology will change it. To get back to your other question, although I was always interested in sculpture and for my research on Giacometti looked at sculpture from all over the world, from pretty much all times and places, for a long time I was not more interested in it than painting. It began to take over about ’86 or ’87 or ’88, and then for various reasons I became more interested in sculpture than in any other media. It was a gradual process.

Levi Strauss: You write about sculpture in a way that pays attention to its physicality, to the labor of it, and the dance. I guess because of my working class background, I’ve always thought of artists and writers as workers, first, and this goes double for sculptors. I think your specific approach to criticism, the way you handle language, draws you inexorably to sculpture. You just can’t stay away from it.

Brenson: I think you’re right. As you’re speaking I’m trying to make a distinction between the physical work of sculpture and the physical work of painting. I have certainly felt intensely connected to a way of approaching the world that for me started with Cézanne. But I do think that’s true, I think for the sculptors whom I’ve most cared about the process itself becomes the primary means through which they figure out who they are and what they’re doing and find a form and then in the physical object or the substantiation of thought put something in the world that exists in the same space we’re in. It’s not on the wall but something that lives down here with us. It has the capacity to make other demands as a result of that. It has a different way of asking and accompanying and enduring, and of taking on the issue of survival, which for my generation, shaped by World War II, was crucially important.

Levi Strauss: Absolutely, to make a place to be in the world. I don’t want to go too far with these generalizations about the difference between writing about painting and sculpture, because they break down pretty quickly. There are critics who write about painting in the tradition of the New York School poets writing about painting, and it’s different than the way you write about sculpture. The language meets the work in a different place, from a different angle.

Brenson: Is there a sculptural style, something comparable to the New York School? The great modernist sculptors, Brancusi, Duchamp-Villon, Gonzalez, Giacometti, Smith, are pretty idiosyncratic. Is that partly why there haven’t been that many people who have written well on sculpture? Even in its best moments sculpture has been relegated to a somewhat lonely secondary position. At any rate, the relation of process and writing is a problem we all face, and you’ve got to follow the process, you can’t short-circuit it, you can’t just say at a certain point, “Well, I’m going to stop there.” You have to go to the end, or what seems at that point like the time to deliver it. I’ve written enough so that I know what’s involved and very often I wish that it did not involve so much, but it does…

Levi Strauss: Because you think it can’t continue to be this hard, to take this much, every time; that there must be an easier way.

Brenson: Yes, and I think that the kinds of discoveries or insights we’re looking for, they don’t come easily. You have to work for them; you have to earn them. Artists know this, they know there’s a certain practice, and process they have to follow. If they don’t follow it, they’re not going to get there. I don’t know whether this is something critics in general feel. Certainly with age, I’ve become more insistent on time. That for nine years at The New York Times I was able to write under constant deadline, basically averaging 2500 words a week, seems inconceivable to me now. During the years in which I was starting to write, there were many moments when it was so damn hard, and the difficulties never go away, but I have more trust now that when I enter the process I will keep finding and finding and eventually emerge with something that will be worthy of putting in other peoples’ hands.

Levi Strauss: That’s very familiar to me; the risk, every time, that you won’t be able to do it, to make something worthy, or even come out of it more or less intact. Gret watches me go through this time and again (as I know Sharon watches you), and says, you know, you’ve done this a thousand times now, and you always make it. You live through it, you don’t crack up, you don’t kill anyone. Why is it always like the first time for you? Why do you have to go through that every time? Why must it always feel like this one will be the one that you don’t survive?

You talk about working from inside, and you say this is different from what most people think of as art criticism, which is writing from outside. What you’re talking about requires openness and a willingness to relinquish control before the actual writing takes place. It also takes time, and that seems to me to be a key to your approach. When you’re attracted to something and have an experience with it, you’re willing to take the time to get beyond judgment based on agreed upon criteria, to actually go all the way into it. Like you say, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know what you’re going to come up with, or whether it’s going to turn into anything. Is that what you mean by writing from the inside rather than the outside?

Brenson: Yes, I think so. I actually brought a couple of things. This is Nancy Princenthal’s recent article on art criticism in Art in America, which she called “Art Criticism Bound to Fail,” which as an idea, with all the respect I have for Nancy, jarred me, because even if I know that as writers we cannot exhaust or get to the bottom of what we’re writing about, I don’t feel critical writing as a failure. Nancy writes, “The guiding question shouldn’t be, why write criticism, but why make art?” It reminded me of this statement by Clement Greenberg that I keep coming back to at the end of his 1964 essay on David Smith. He says: “I am not able to talk about the content of Smith’s art because I am no more able to find words for it than for the ultimate content of Quercia’s or Rodin’s art, but I can see that Smith’s felicities are won from a wealth of content, of things to say; and this is the hardest, and most lasting, way in which they can be won. The burden of content is what keeps an artist going and the wonderful thing about Smith is the way that burden seems to grow with his years instead of shrinking.” Greenberg talks about the “burden of content” being the artist’s burden, not the critic’s. Since he can’t talk about ultimate content, he’s not going to engage content at all. I come back to this content issue because I think it’s one that blocks critics; it’s an issue with which criticism keeps hitting a wall. I have to examine why I write criticism. Even I know there’s no such thing as “ultimate content,” I have to ask myself, “What is this work about?”

Levi Strauss: What is it about, and what am I about? What does this have to do with us?

Brenson: “What is the content of the work?” “What is it trying to speak?” “What am I looking at?” “What is it doing here?” “What am I doing here, with it?” These are questions that lead into a different relationship with art and yourself than ones you would have if you insisted, throughout the critical process on distance. They’re also questions that seem to me, ultimately, to undo, or at least radically challenge, the notion of critical authority, which has become an increasing problem for me within the crisis of unaccountable authority in Bush’s America. If questions of the art’s content and mine open up, then you find yourself in these spaces of open-endedness and unknowing, and you’re forced to encounter certain things about yourself and what you don’t know. It seems to me if you believe it is important to go there, you can’t assume this stance of critical objectivity. This position of being outside, tossing off judgments from which virtually no one can learn. Given that our first responsibility is toward the reality that we’re trying to write about, one of the challenges becomes being able to internalize our personal search within the process of entering that other reality because other people want either to read about the art and the artists. The criticism is interacting with or they want an engagement with that interaction…Criticism keeps hitting against limits that are self-imposed. It has got to go toward those limits rather than accepting them. If not it will remain defensive, and also fundamentally conservative. What are those limits, and how do we find new ways to talk about what we’re doing, that open up in unexpected directions.

Rail: There’s a wonderful opening sentence in the first chapter of William Barrett’s Irrational Man: The story told (by Kierkegaard) of the absent-minded man, so abstracted from his own life that he hardly knows he exists until, one fine morning, he wakes up to find himself dead. Those who are familiar with your work feel there is a pervasive existential concern that you do care for the betterment of art criticism as we all feel in the larger context of human growth, but does that kind of thinking have any kind of presence any more?

Brenson: There’s a great deal at stake in it for me. Just as there’s something at stake for artists in the making of art. There’s a point where the activities come together. I’m not doing my job if what’s at stake for me does not intersect with and enable me to understand better what it is I’m writing about.

Levi Strauss: That requires constant questioning of the accepted criteria, and this is of course anathema to the New Criterion people. In the introduction to your book Acts of Engagement: Writings on Art, Criticism, and Institutions, 1993-2000 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2004), you write, “The fear of losing control—or of not being as much in control as the conventions of criticism demand—contributes to the posturing and self-importance that have stereotyped art critics for generations.” When you are constantly questioning the criteria, you are undercutting your own authority and control. Consequently, you really don’t know what’s going to happen until it happens, in the writing.

Brenson: You’re dealing with a certain kind of unknown, but how do I understand what I’m trying to understand? I’m trying to prepare a lecture on “David Smith: Primitivism, Magic and Myth” [presented at the Guggenheim Museum February 21, 2006], and in the course of the preparation I’ve come across a whole lot of accepted truths about Abstract Expressionism, identity, self-expression, primitivism, and so on. I think the assumption is that we know all that and are beyond that. We don’t even have to think about it anymore, but I don’t know all that. I do have to think about it. In order for me to understand what’s going on in Smith’s work, I feel like I have to go back into that moment and, for myself, almost start from scratch. So, I’m probably going to say things that are pretty rudimentary for some people. But, if I don’t go back and try to figure out for myself the work before critics and scholars started taking for granted that they knew what it was, I won’t understand anything. Whenever I look at anything I care about, even art I’ve seen 100 times, each time it feels somewhat or largely unknown to me. It’s an odd way to be perhaps. It means I’m constantly feeling on the edge of ignorance, or perhaps over it.

Levi Strauss: As if you’re seeing it fresh, for the first time.

Brenson: Yes, I understand what Giacometti said again and again about each day feeling he was looking at the world for the first time. You’re going over territory that others have gone through before, but if you just accept that territory as a given you can’t get anywhere. It does sometimes feel like trying to lift off or get under all this stuff and trying to arrive at a point where it begins to make sense, and in order to do that, you have to be willing to trust what draws you to the subject in the first place—to follow these instincts or intuitions that tell us it matters to write about a certain artist or idea, and start with that. I guess that’s another way of talking about writing from the inside, that whatever it is that attaches you to something and makes you want to go there, you have to trust that attachment and then find a way to get inside it, and there are all sorts of ways of getting inside it. You [Levi] seem to me to proceed with an amazing combination of reading around an artist or issue, and at the same time coming at it underneath and head on. What I’m saying about intuition is not that different from Greenberg as a starting point, but where I would differ from him is that at some point I’m going to question those intuitions and insights as well. They come from somewhere. They have histories. I want to know those histories. I might also learn that those intuitions are not that important, or that they’re reflections of my limitations. You have to trust those intuitions but you have to be willing to challenge them as well. They’re indispensable but not sacrosanct. This go-with-your-gut approach has clear political and market implications in Karl Rove’s America. Critics need to be aware of this.

Levi Strauss: Yes. “Trust but verify.”

Rail: But Michael, all of what you’re talking about was more or less irrelevant in the ‘80s. The notion of doubt and the tragic, which stems from existential philosophy, along with Marxist “ideology,” was rejected by the Post-structuralists, like a clean break from previous tradition in art history, philosophy or anything else. It was replaced by the new embrace of the small events, everyday incidents that are situational, contingent and temporary while making no claim about universal truth, stability, and so on. But on one hand, in the ‘80s, when your writings were very visible, there was Reagan/ Thatcher’s inflated economy that coincided with the beginning of multiculturalism, which opened up a new possibility. Artists from other places in the world, especially from the Far East, Africa, and Latin America, who come here and don’t feel the need to emulate western establishment aesthetics. Instead, they bring with them their own cultural heritage and iconography. On the other hand, there was this constant demand for novelty, spoon-fed sensationalism or short-lived pleasure that manifests in so many works that we see out there, which doesn’t leave much time for contemplation, certainly not the length of time a work of art requires. What are your thoughts on this matter?

Brenson: Maybe I should mention that I was at John Hopkins at the moment when Post-structuralism really entered the States. Derrida, Lyotard, Marin, Michel Serres all had connections with Hopkins in the 60s. Its French department seemed to me the most exciting part of the university. A whole set of questions was built into me then, including an awareness of the truthfulness of questioning so radical that it can throw your entire being into question, and with that a certain distrust and wariness of institutions that I had grown up with as a child of European refugee parents who remained outsiders in America. When I was at The Times I started at a certain point to systematically question the way institutions were doing things. Why were they showing this and not that? It may have become fully formed around ’87. Why was the system preoccupied then with Jeff Koons, Ashley Bickerton, Meyer Vaisman and Peter Halley rather than all the other artists who were worthy of attention? The entire art world system of confirmation seemed to me, and not just to me, thrown into question then. So when the multicultural moment arrived around 1989, it made perfect sense to me that there were all these other realities out there that were worthy of attention, and questioning American institutions in ways in which they had to be questioned. The 1989-94 years were extraordinarily rich in the history of exhibitions. With Gingrich’s Contract With America and the rise of privatization, many of those questions were squashed and the way was paved for American blindness in Iraq and for a broad American mentality that believes that we as a country do not need to know about realities out there and how different they are and the demands those differences make. In ’89,’90,’91,’92, despite all the excesses of political correctness it seemed that an awareness of these differences—and the amazing opportunities they provided as well as demands—was here to stay.

Levi Strauss: One of the most persistent subjects in your work has been the relation between artistic imagination and institutional culture. In fact, your work over the last 15 years constitutes one of the most trenchant institutional critiques we’ve had. In the acknowledgements in Acts of Engagement, you wrote that you are, “eager to continue working with institutions even after deciding to maintain a distance from every form of institutional power.” When you talk about the various institutions that you’ve worked with, I really get the sense that you mean certain people within these institutions (Arch Gillies at the Warhol Foundation, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto at the Rockefeller Foundation, Norton Batkin at the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard, people at the Getty Research Institute, etc.) who made things possible. But you also say further on that, “These are the writings of someone who knows full well the importance of institutions but who struggles constantly with the suspicion, not yet a belief, that institutionalization is death,” and elsewhere you decry the “institutional surveillance” of artists that’s taken over. Where do you see the relation now between institutions and artistic imagination, and how far has it shifted?

Brenson: Certainly more artists are being pushed into institutional situations. Things cost more money; the NEA doesn’t exist, so there’s not a power base of funding for alternative means. I mean there’s not even a memory anymore within most young artists that there were ever other possibilities. They’re being pushed more and more into a particular system without questioning it. Working within that system depends on how you can make it work for you and whether you have the consciousness that can continually allow you to think about it from within. As an artist, you have to want to be really clear about who you are and what you are doing and how the system is using you and what interests it serves, and how you want to use it and what interests, values, people, beliefs, you want to serve. These questions were always there, well before Minimalism and Conceptual Art. They were certainly there with David Smith—he had a terrible problem with museums, which is one reason he put all those sculptures outside in the fields. When I was talking about institutions, I was talking about foundations and universities but mostly about museums. All have good people in them. I’ve worked with many museums and when individuals in them—like Arch, Tomás, Norton and Arthur Gibbons, also at Barr – stand behind me and enable me to do something in their spaces that I believe in, I feel grateful and am totally respectful of them.

Rail: So what you meant is the politics shifted. In the past you could be political, but it was based on idealism, and now politically it is based on economy and efficiency.

Brenson: Some individuals and institutions may allow us to speak what we want and be what we most want to be. For the most part though, I think that artists, all of us, have to be pragmatic. There are always conditions. You take what’s given. You treat what comes along as opportunities with their own demands that can push growth and be used in certain ways. Having to function pragmatically while maintaining what you believe in and what you want to say is a great challenge. But for those who succeed, the rewards are that they can speak to a larger world because the art world is more international, museums are more hospitable and plugged in economically. Institutions want visitors. So do artists, who I think are more interested than museums in audiences as citizens and publics. There are possibilities here. As you know, one thing most artists now grow up wanting, at least the generations born under privatization, is to reach more people.

Levi Strauss: Another question that’s focused your attention over the years is that of audience. You’ve talked about how, when you were writing regularly for the Times, you knew who your audience was, because they were very vocal and responsive. But since then, writing essays for books and catalogues, you’ve been less sure of who your audience is, because you hear less from them. This is important because of the nature of your writing. One gets the sense, reading your essays, that you are speaking directly to me, the reader. To do that as a writer, you have to have a clear sense of who’s out there, but this is something you can’t know because you’re writing to bring this reader into existence.

Brenson: The questions you raise are basic to writers—whom we are writing for, and what we want from them and how different voices get internalized within us as we are writing. One of the benefits of journalism is that you always have to write with the assumption that people are going to read it. The Times did not allow you to take anything for granted. Sometimes this was exasperating but it meant that I was constantly obliged to take ideas and issues that were complicated to me and try to open them up. By doing so, I frequently found they were less clear to me than I had thought. There was always this assumption that you were speaking to different kinds of people who would actually be interested if you took the trouble to reach out to them, people who would be interested in anything interesting.

Which comes back to the physicality that you’re talking about. I think I always wanted to make clear in the writing my need for a connection with the reader but increasingly I have wanted to do this in my own terms. I have a faith now that the writing will find its audience whether now or in 20 years. In such a scripted institutional moment, when so much writing is cut off, mis-edited, badly edited, disrupted or forced to exist in a frame that is not its own, there is a powerful need for communicative speech. Forms of speaking that, whatever they are, people can relate to. Clearly this is part of what’s driving blog culture, but that’s not my culture. I still need the materiality of paper and books still need the social process in which words on their passage into the world feel the pressure of other bodies and minds.

Rail: When I think about criticism at its best, I think about the generosity and the clarity that can be conveyed from either the sheer power of lyrical description that a sensitive reader can visualize and relate to, or the accessible realm of insightful analysis. Both can coexist as long as the synthesis comes together without falling into the complacency of rhetoric. Do you think that’s true?

Brenson: Any writer or critic that is invested in an issue and lets you into his or her process is likely to seem generous to some degree. Generosity elicits connection. If readers can feel a mind at work, feel a process of finding and opening up and letting people in, there can be a sense of a mutual project. Of something known best together, in the present but also down the road, regardless of disagreement. In the end, I think, maybe this kind of writing will be lyrical, but even if it is not, if it is primarily analytical, if there is that level of engagement where you can see an attempt to come to terms with an artist or a work of art regardless of the cost in authority and time. It has generosity, and there is a chance the journey will be joined.

Levi Strauss: There is another audience, as well. The one thing we writers can do for artists is to write well about their work. Writing about Juan Muñoz, you recall what he said to you after you’d written the catalogue essay “Sound, Sight, Statuary” on his work. He said that you’d gotten closer to the work than anyone else and that normally he didn’t like people to get that close to his work, because, “You will go on to other essays, but I will have to live the rest of my life with your words.” I think of this often. When I write an essay about an artist’s work, the first audience, the principal audience, is the artist. One has to be responsible to the work, and the artist will know if you have been or not. It matters because that writing is going to be associated with that work for a very long time, in some cases. Could you talk about the weight of that responsibility? I know that the weight of it must be on you now especially, as you write the life of David Smith!

Brenson: I am very aware that I am dealing with a life. This amazing thing—a life! Biography raises all sorts of questions to me of how do I deal with the work in the life, the life in the work, in a way that is respectful. Context is crucial. If you contextualize enough, and maybe we never understand the full complexity of “context.” What seems to be the most sensational or questionable forms of behavior begin to make sense because they are grounded in and reveal the larger culture. You raised the issue of responsibility, which to me manifests itself more profoundly in biography than in any other literary form. In recent years, tone has become very important to me. The tone in which we say things; the tone in which we write, and to get to the right tone often takes time. Maybe I can do it more easily in conversation but in writing it may only manifest itself in the end. If I have the right tone it means that few glib judgments are made, and it means that however sharp or direct, I am not defensive, and it means that the writing has a chance to communicate an energy that is moving beyond the text, outward, toward the subject and reader, toward possibility. However concentrated, it’s not an energy that closes in or closes down on itself. That, too, is a problem with a lot of criticism; it kind of locks in on itself and becomes its own narcissistic point of orientation. You can’t do anything with that . . . .

Levi Strauss: You can take it or leave it.

Brenson: Yeah, but, except on rare occasions, that’s not interesting to me. So how do you write in a way that opens up a different sense of possibility, and that possibility can be given in the tone, which is always a reflection of an attitude toward reality and being. On some levels we can do so much as critics. I don’t know why critics are always complaining about wanting more power, but maybe I belong to a generation that is too uncomfortable with power, that believes power is only justified when used against power.

Levi Strauss: I think it is more and more important that there be resistance to the dominant culture, and that now, because of the distraction level, if you can manage to slow things down, and get into a different speed, it has a big effect. As you said, people still do need contact and agency, and they are still looking for it. It’s just not much in evidence most of the time. In this “post-critical” political climate, the practice of criticism is illicit, and imperative.

Michael, you’ve often spoken to me about the lack of community amongst critics/people who write about art. Have you ever felt part of a community of critics? If not, how has that affected the way you work?

Brenson: There are organizations like AICA (the International Association of Art Critics). The question is whether I feel a sense of community with other critics. I have great respect for what a lot of critics do and are trying to do and some are very dear to me, but I would say that my alienation from the field of criticism has for some time been nearly complete. I feel very little personal connection with it. I feel more connection with virtually every other part of the art world—not just artists, art historians, and curators but also collectors and dealers. Criticism remains indispensable to the entire art field but to me much of it is stuck. What seems to stretch the boundaries of criticism doesn’t get called criticism. How do we who write about art deal with the world, let the world in? How do we contextualize what we do within the larger society, the larger system? How do we understand content? These questions obsess me. I have great admiration for certain dealers. They put themselves on the line for what they believe in. What Sean Kelly allowed Marina Abramovic to do in her 12-day “House with the Ocean View” performance in his gallery in 2002, what Marian Goodman does all the time. It’s not just their investment in their artists. It’s that the best dealers, like the best curators, have to understand and consider artists and themselves within the entire art and social system. When they succeed, and they have first-rate artists, they affect culture. If critics could do that, and do it with as much energy and purpose, maybe the questions of critical identity and critical power would take care of themselves.

That leads me to comment also in response to Levi that if we need to help provide ways of looking at things, we also need to inspire people to make things their own and to have more imaginative ways of knowing how to make things their own. If there are 460,000 people going to the Van Gogh drawing show, they’re looking for something. How can we write in a way that may help 100 or 200 of them, coming out of that show to take more seriously their experiences in it, and to understand the pleasure and value of extending that experience beyond the institutional apparatus that gave it to them and really allow that experience to be integrated into their lives? I think this is one of the great possibilities of criticism and it cannot be realized without a willingness to examine the responses that are so important to our own lives.

Among Michael Brenson’s recent publications include Visionaries and Outcasts: The NEA, Congress, and the Place of the Visual Artists in America (The New Press 2001), Acts of Engagements: Writings on Art, Criticism and Institutions, 1993–2002 (Rowman & Littlefield 2004). He is currently working on a biography of David Smith, which will be published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in 2008.


Phong Bui

David Levi Strauss

DAVID LEVI STRAUSS is the author of Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow (Aperture, 2014), From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual (Oxford University Press, 2010), Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics, with an introduction by John Berger (Aperture 2003, and in a new edition, 2012), and Between Dog & Wolf: Essays on Art and Politics (Autonomedia 1999, and a new edition, 2010). He is Chair of the graduate program in Art Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and he is on the faculty of the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.