Review of Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, Daniel Buren, Pyramidal, haut-relief – A5, travail situé at Galerie Kamel Mennour

Attributed to Caravaggio, “Judith and Holofernes” (circa 1607) 1Installation view, photo courtesy Galerie Kamel Mennour

My art review of Caravaggio, Judith and Holofernes, Daniel Buren, Pyramidal, haut-relief – A5, travail situé at Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris has been published at Hyperallergic here:

The Unlikely Pairing of Caravaggio and Daniel Buren

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Review of Revolutionary Generation: French Drawings (1770-1815)

Jean-Francois-Pierre Peyron, “Study for Young Athenians ... (circa 1778)

My art review of Revolutionary Generation: French Drawings (1770-1815) from the Fabre Museum at the Musée Cognacq-Jay here:

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Talk delivered by Joseph Nechvatal at the DIGITAL DIVING: A “CUT AND PASTE” UPDATE: A PANEL DISCUSSION at The School of Visual Arts (SVA) on 2/27/2007

The Freer,1987,86x125Joseph Nechvatal, “The Freer” (1987) 86×125″ computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas

This talk was delivered by Joseph Nechvatal at the DIGITAL DIVING: A “CUT AND PASTE” UPDATE: A PANEL DISCUSSION at The School of Visual Arts (SVA) on 2/27/2007

I am delighted to have the opportunity this evening to contribute to the updating of the cut and paste aesthetic technique in the context of our current digital information age.

First however, please allow me to air a gentle complaint. The overly instrumental pigeonholing of me – and other artists – who work with computer technology as ‘digital’ artists who make ‘digital art’ must be examined. This labeling, however partially accurate and appropriate, seems to me also to allow a narrowing down of the broadest sense of art along identity formalist terms. In this sense it suggests a parallel to the history of feminist art – where women are alternatively proud and peeved at having their art narrowly characterized as such. Any art worthy of our time has many different stories to suggest and feelings to transmit. Not one.

Now that I have that off my chest, let us dive into the specificity of what I consider the relevant art of the information age, a primarily conceptual art of what I call “viractuality”, where the virtual and the actual intermingle – for art only exists conceptually, as one of our prior instructors here at SVA so brilliantly clarified: Joseph Kosuth.

Another esteemed SVA faculty member, art historian Donald Kuspit, has recently written in his essay The Matrix of Sensationsthat “there are more possibilities of freedom in digital art — that is, mental elements are freer to enter into various combinations and thus to be manipulated than in architecture, painting and sculpture.” This freedom is exactly why I made the conceptual and political decision to work with the powers of virtuality many years ago – and it is the specificity of these powers that I will first turn my attention to in the interests of affirming a new “truth to materials”.

“Truth to materials” in terms of digital art: what might that mean? For me it does not necessarily mean denying digital creation accomplished using the electronic flow of virtuality a physical and stable presence. But such a physical presence, to be genuine, would necessarily be accomplished consistent with numeric form and content and not a throwback to the handicraft practices of traditional art and craft.

Myself, I very much enjoy working with the digital in its predominant visual form, the immaterial abstract information of pixels and I like very much the world wide transportable dimension of the internet, where the digital data-stream travels at the speed of light. I also enjoy creating and showing electronic installations and electronic audio art. But I also like to see a large-scaled robotically painted composition just sitting still on an unchanging canvas so I can slowly and silently reflect on it and mentally, and perceptually move within the work in natural light at my leisure with customary bodily unrestrictions and with no time frame. For I believe that Nam June Paik was accurate when he said that to truly understand art one must live with it. But no faux naiveté authenticity needed here. No retro hand-painted photos of computer graphics please. So let’s get inside this so-called truth to digital materials and the associated truth to the historical circumstances in which we live, for here we can trace the difference between analog cut and paste and the new digital freedoms of manipulation Kuspit so praises and uses my digital paintings to illustrate.

It is widely understood that the practice of collage is the greatest achievements in art of the 20thcentury. That it is one of stellar achievements of Dadaism must never be forgotten and always celebrated. I will return to the relevance of Dada later when I will address the content and war context of our topic to current political realities.

As Brandon Taylor again reminds us in his new book Collage, traditionally the cut and paste practice creates what we know of as collage (a word which comes from the French word coller – which means to stick or glue) and thus is regarded as a work of visual art made from a juxtaposition assemblage of different forms – thus creating a new total. Use of this groundbreaking and novel technique made its dramatic appearance in art among the Cubists in the very early 20th century.

Now in the early 21stcentury, interesting digital images, which are made up of pixels, can begin to be created by using a bit of this technique, as sometimes mine do, but they also can be made up using a variety of input devices and techniques, such as drawing pads, digital cameras and scanners – or synthesized from non-image data such as sounds, electrical inputs, mathematical functions or three-dimensional geometric models. Typically however, the pixels are stored in computer memory as a raster image map, a two-dimensional array of small integers. But on an even deeper level, the digital image is primarily created using the processing of algorithms which enables the most radical type of composition and transformation – and here we divert substantially from the model of collaged juxtaposition which has become emblematic of Post-Modernist recontextualization and its unflattering association with pastiche.

For me the digitally constructed pixel image – in the act of its formation – is typically more involved with seamless maneuvers that penetrate, eat, superimpose, shift, blend, reproduce, dissolve, merge and meld. Thus the updated cut and paste is best understood today as data systems intersecting with other data systems – typical of what is called the mash-up.

Perhaps ironically, where the classic techniques of cut and paste ARE still very much involved is in hacking of the computer code itself. The computer’s instructions can be changed (hacked) by copying, cutting and pasting lines – or fragments of lines – of computer code and this cut and pasting of the language itself will instruct the computer program to do something differently – often unexpectedly so.

The code I am hacking here is used in the work I am doing which involves chance operations using viral inseminations into my consciously constructed images along the lines of what is call artificial life. I won’t get onto that here, but check it out.

Let’s now turn our attention briefly towards some of the promised issues of political relevance that a truth to digital materials reveals today. These are perplexing and demanding questions internal to the act of making and the world into with this act is directed and received.

The two ideas that spring to mind are emergence out of emergency.

The emergency is our current torturous state of terror, replete with its neo-con deceptions, cherry pickings, black ops, data minings and Constitution shreddings. In short, the use and abuse of disinformation, those falsities that are presented as facts to manipulate us psychologically and thus politically. In the information age, the problem of disinformation looms ever larger. Certainly it was this idea of ideological manipulation – and a counter project based on a problemization of the representational system – that first drew my interest towards the computer as both a subject and as a creative medium back in the Reagan era. Ahhhh, Morning in America. So again I wish to invoke the name of Dada in the interests of a war resisting art, an, of course, digital art that may inspire us to defy and revoke and investigate this war on terror via the ethical transparency of truth – for the emergency is that we live these days inside and amidst an abject disaster based on deceit.

By contrast, a generative art that allows for the emergence, not just of understanding and truth but also of critical thinking and new meanings, seems to me essential.

But finally, what cut and paste means in terms of our digital age to me now is the artistic understanding of the possibilities opened up to us by previous generations of artists, along with the possibilities of digital freedom – but a freedom which rejects culturally conservative creation.

Yes we live right now – and so we are swimming in a digital reality – and we will have to dive into it, risk and all, and the only lifeboat to help us along the way is also digitally constructed. I call it art.



Donald Kuspit, 2006. The Matrix of Sensations, Artnet.

Joseph Kosuth, 1991. Art After Philosophy and After: CollectedWritings, 1966-1990.Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press

Brandon Taylor, 2006. Collage, Thames & Hudson Ltd, p. 221

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Book review of The Love of Painting: Genealogy of a Success Medium by Isabelle Graw

guyton pages


My book review of The Love of Painting: Genealogy of a Success Medium by Isabelle Graw has been published at Hyperallergic here:

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Hyper-Body II (1988) at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Hyper-Body II, 1988 in LACMA storage

Here is a peek of my 96 x 120″ sleeping computer-robotic assisted acrylic on canvas painting Hyper-Body II (1988) in storage at Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Barbarian Demonology (1984)

The central part of this 11×14″ drawing Barbarian Demonology (1984) appears in Hyper-Body II (1988).

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Carolee Schneemann : Rest in Peace & Power


Rest in Peace & Power Carolee Schneemann

Nude on Tracks (1974) by Carolee Schneemann with photo by Charles Stein 2

Nude on Tracks (1974) by Carolee Schneemann (photo by Charles Stein)

Carolee Schneemann had a tremendous impact on me as a young artist during my first few years in New York City.

When I think about her piece “Nude on Tracks” (1974), photographed by Charles Stein, it reminds me of my first trip ever to Europe with her on a performance art tour in 1978. In a dusty old Belgium museum (Antwerp or Tournai) she performed a similar piece for me alone on top of a white, smooth, marble statue of a nobleman. No camera. The Museum was dim, dank and empty, as they used to be, and Carolee just slipped out of her cloths, handed them to me, and hopped onto the sculpture. She did it for herself, really, yet I was amazed and delighted to have been there to see it.

Carolee was a wonderful friend, artist and person. Her bodily bold sense of freedom has since then continued to nourish and inspire my art and writing. All poetic praise to brave smart sexy Carolee.

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Review of Percy Rainford: Duchamp’s “Invisible” Photographer

Le Surrealisme, meme, w Duchamp’s “Female Fig Leaf” (1950) (left) and original Rainford photograph

My book review of Percy Rainford: Duchamp’s “Invisible” Photographer by Michael R. Taylor has been published at Hyperallergic here

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