writing with art (rather than about art)

Consider how the Soane’s Museum, conceived as an “archive”, could inform your own practice of writing with art (rather than about art)?

What does that even mean?

And here lies the crux of my difficulties, I think. I am unable to understand this method of working, this very philosophical practice.

In the other courses we are dealing a lot with Jacques Derrida who seems to epitomizes this way of thinking. For instance, in the course ‘Philosophy and…’ we are reading the English translation of Che Cos’è la Poesia? (1988) published in A Derrida Reader1, and in the introduction to the piece the editor says:

As always, Derrida works to abolish the distance between what he is writing about . . . and what his writing is doing.

In this case he’s writing about “poetry, the poem, or as he will finally call it: the poematic”, and so his writing is being positioned as closing in on poetry itself.

It seems odd to me to describe writing as “doing” anything. Does writing “do” poetry or literature? It seems to be taking the activity away from the writer, the writing that the writer does becomes self-generating or generative of further writing.

The introduction carries on:

Reference without referent, this poem defines or describes itself even as it points beyond itself to the poetic in general.

These texts (inevitably?) make a lot of assumptions on the readers knowledge, or they make spectacular leaps of metaphor which leave you wondering just how much you were oblivious to in that little sentence.

As an example, here Derrida is referring to his response to the initial query—“ ‘Che cos’è la poesia?’ (What is poetry? or more literally, What thing is poetry?)”—he claims:

. . . the answer sees itself (as) dictated (dictation). I am a dictation, pronounces poetry, learn me by heart, copy me down, guard and keep me, look out for me, look at me, dictated dictation, right before your eyes: soundtrack, wake, trail of light, photograph of the feast in mourning.

. . . la réponse se voit dictée. Je suis une dictée, prononce la poésie, apprends-moi par coeur, recopie, veille et garde-moi, regarde-moi, dictée, sous les yeux: bande-son, wake, sillage de lumière, photographie de la fête en deuil.

Why those particular words stressed? What significance do the references to death have – “wake”, “photograph of the feast of mourning”? Why specifically a photograph of the feast of mourning? How do these relate to “soundtrack” or “trail of light”? Are they very personal things, or, if I was to read more Derrida, would they re-occur at significant points. Why do I need to know this?

For me, there is a touch of meaning, a fleeting glimpse in the corner of your eye of another world of content slipping by without your having the dexterity to turn and comprehend it in time. On the one hand it’s frustrating to be left straining at thin air in the wake of meaning, on the other there is such a nearness to it that you hope against hope for the leap of the electrical spark of comprehension, the short-circuit to take place.

  1. Peggy Kamuf ed., A Derrida Reader: Between the Blinds, Columbia University Press, New York, 1998

The Art of Art History

It occurred to me, driving home from Sainsbury’s with the weekly shop, that it could be said we’re not interested in art per se. All we’re dealing with is Art History, and talking about it as the Art of Art History1. Which strikes me as a paradoxical: we’re learning about these historians and how they viewed the progress of art but not looking at the art itself. Hegel theories get illustrated as an aside with examples of Art, when shouldn’t we look at the art to show how they generate Hegel’s theories? Perhaps the latter is easier, as—although the theories usually originate from artworks—they often become tenuous when applied back onto them. The theories by necessity deal with an ideal that rarely finds adequate expression in the world.

It’s tacitly understood, I think, that they (the tutors) are expecting us to take it to a next stage and apply what we’ve learned to art works and also to recognise these theories in other contexts, see how they’ve progressed and informed other theorists or artists. We are being taught Art History as a strictly historical sequence. Every theorist has their place in the sequence. With writings it’s perhaps much easier to deal with moves towards or away from previous writers. The matter of influence.

However, in the same way that Art History has found it hard to get away from the impression of a progression in art works (à la Hegel, Winckelmann) is it mistaken/distracting to judge Art History itself as progressing? If we are to talk of an “Art of Art History”, if it’s an Art then the same principles and developments that it theorizes can equally be applied back onto it. Indeed, if Art History is to be seen as another branch of Art then will the study of it take Art into new areas which will then become fodder for Art Historians.

Maybe Art History will be the revitalization of Art.

Of course, artists themselves have already started questioning art historical institutions. Andrea Fraser, Mark Dion, anyone who has been invited to curate an exhibition of works from an art institution’s collection have all rewritten the histories of these works in relation to each other. Is this different from if an Art Historian were to do something similar? Or would an Art Historian do something else with a similar effect/intention in mind? I think these days it’s an artificial distinction to make between Artists and Art Historians, the roles are interchangeable. This probably has some effect on the argument itself.

  1. Taken from Donald Preziosi ed., The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, OUP, Oxford, 1998, but also used to describe the course by the tutor, Astrid Schmetterling.

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SEMINAR—Framing Art—Fitzwilliam Museum


As part of this week’s seminar for the Framing Art course, we were asked to put together a short 5 minute presentation on “a significant visit to a museum” following on from a reading of texts by Zola1 and Déotte2. In the event the presentations didn’t take place, but rather than waste the work I’ll post the outline of my presentation here.


  • Hi, I’m Edward and I’m on the PGDip in Contemporary Art History.
  • This piece is about the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I lived and worked in Cambridge for 5 years prior to moving back to London to begin this course. The office in which I worked was just down the road from the Fitz but I only ever visited it twice in all the time I was there.
  • What I’m going to talk about is not my own significant visit, but someone else’s which focused attention on the potentially conflicting demands of display and conservation in the museum environment and is an interesting case study of the way in which a museum can put a bad experience to good use through the application of PR.

The Museum

  • In 1816, Richard, 7th Viscount Fitzwilliam, bequeathed his collection of works of art and library and the funds to house them to the University of Cambridge.
    • The collection included 144 pictures, including paintings by Titian, Veronese and Palma Vecchio.
    • 400 albums of engravings, including a series of Rembrandt etchings, apparently the finest in England at the time.
    • 130 Medieval manuscripts and a collection of autograph music by Handel, Purcell and other composers.
  • The Museum building opened in 1848 and was designed by George Batevi, a pupil of Sir John Soane, although he died before it was finished and the work was completed by Charles Cockerell, who also designed the present building of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
  • It’s built in a rather fine Neo-Classical design, looking very similar to the Tate Britain in fact.
    • Which was built some 50 years later in 1897.
  • If you ever visit Cambridge it’s well worth a visit.
  • To quote the website, the Museum now houses “a world-class collection of works of art and antiquities spanning centuries and civilisations.”
  • The range of work goes from Egyptian, Greek and Roman artefacts through to Impressionist paintings.

The Vases

  • What I’m going to focus on are five vases that entered the collection in 1948.
  • They’re Qing dynasty, made during the reign of Kangxi and date from the late 17th or early 18th century.
  • Three of the vases were put on display on a recessed window sill, half way up an imposing 1930s marble staircase and had been in that position for decades.
  • They were described as possibly some of the best known pieces on display because of this prominent position.

The Event

  • On the 25 January 2006, a visitor to the Museum slipped on a loose shoelace and fell down the stairs, bringing the vases crashing down as he tried to steady himself.
  • At the time the event was described as an accident and the visitor was allowed to leave, but in April he was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage.

The Issues

  • Leaving aside the criminal investigation, what interested me was the ongoing PR campaign following the breaking of the vases and how it has been used to justify the museum and present an image of their being on the ball after such a serious accident.
  • The public reaction at the time was exemplified by the BBC. In their TV report the same evening, they explicitly criticised the Museum for the display of the vases, saying: “Was it really a good idea to put them on a window sill?”
  • The Director responded in that same report that one of the things that they pride themselves on is that they have objects on display that are “almost within reach” and “accessible” to the public.
  • So here we have the requirements of the audience’s in conflict with conservation of the objects, two of the Museum’s major reasons for being.
  • I realise I’m making rather a tendentious connection here, but in a sense this event can be seen as a way in which the museum can end up serving both camps effectively.
  • Since the breakages, the Museum has begun using their website to post ongoing information and pictures about the progress of the repairs to the vases, with information about the way the aftermath of the event was handled, from the almost archaeological collection of the pieces of pottery to details of the conservator hired to undertake the repairs and her progress.
  • They have made something an event around it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t create a temporary exhibition around the eventual reinstatement of the vases.
  • It seems that a potentially disastrous event like this can be turned to good use by the Museum for the purposes of raising their profile with the ultimate aim of encouraging more visitors. And at the same time it can be used to promote their conservation activities in an populist way.
  1. Zola, Emile. L’Assommoire, transl. L. Tancock, Penguin, London, 1970, pp. 76–107.
  2. Déotte, Jean-Louis. “Rome, the Archetypal Museum and the Louvre, the Negation of Division” in Pearce, Susan ed., Art in Museum, Athlone Press, London, 1995, pp. 215–22

FAIR—Frieze—Zoo—Regent’s Park, London

Tree Pants

Peter Coffin Untitled (Tree Pants) 2006 Andrew Kreps Gallery
Frieze Art Fair Sculpture Park

Why do I do it? Why did I try and “do” both the Frieze and Zoo art fairs in one day? And while I had a bad cold too.

And what did I get out of it? The best I can say is that I saw some friends and some good pieces of work and I came to the conclusion that contemporary art is a bit of a mess at the moment (as a whole, individually and, apparently, conceptually).

Stupidly I left my camera at home, so I noted those pieces and galleries that interested me, with short descriptions to remind me of what they were, I tried to be careful when writing down the names of artists and their galleries, but some of my notes are unreadable now so I apologize for any mistakes. Here are those from Frieze, in the order that I saw them in:-

  • greengrassi
  • Heimo Zobernig at Meyer Kainer (Swarovsky round stones) (I was very interested in him while I was on my BA, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with his work)
  • Henrik Olesen at Meyer Kainer (Warburgian panels)
  • José Maria Siciliana at Chantal Crousel Eclipse, 2006 (Oil on beeswax)
  • Marcel Broodthaers also at Chantal Crousel (One of my favorite artists)
  • Richard Prince at Gladstone (very tall black frames with the photos near the top)
  • Galleria Massimo de Carlo (I found their hand-written signs quite cute, but later realised that many people were doing) (nice website though)
  • Amikam Toren at Anthony Reynolds Last Drawings (the unpicked wire from spiral bound books as a drawing material)
  • Kai Kaiji The more I work the poorer I am
  • Atelier van Lieshout Minimal steel with rod …
  • Jacco Oliver at Victoria Miro (projection of animated paintings)
  • Charles Sandison at Yvon Lambert (projection of rearranging words)
  • Tomas Baumann (loop of rope)
  • Jiri Kolanda (little boxes on wall)
  • Jennifer and Kevin McColl Scary Things 1 (landscape model and small cameras picking words in the landscape to make (random?) sentences)
  • Jean-Marc Bustamente Trophée II (metal panels with cut holes to reveal coloured plastic) (again someone I paid attention to on my BA)
  • Nathaniel Rackone (corrugated panels opening and closing)
  • Tobias Rehberger at Bärbel Grässlin Orlando
  • Herbert Hinteregger Untitled 2006 (coloured sponges)
  • Wade Guyton (reminded me of the large glass)
  • Silke Schatz at Wilkinson St Gertrud, Köln 2006 (architectural/CAD line drawings)
  • Martina Steckholzer 2pm, Gloria
  • Geletin Hau (aerial photo of bunny made out of fabric (?) in landscape)
  • Tomas Ruff JPEG G101 (heavily compressed photos) (an idea I had wanted to develop myself, see my early attempt on youtube, but it has more meaning when he does it)
  • James Welling IPGI, IXTD, IVGB, IRDI (photos)
  • Luisa Lamburi Untitled. Melnikov House 2005 (photos of the windows of the house)
  • Gregor Schneider 4538km 2006 (architectural photo)
  • Gregor Schneider Cube Berlin 2006 (photo)
  • Yuko Shiraishi at Annely Juda Fine Art (glass boxes, why are you so fascinating?)
  • Christina Iglesias (iron and cement sculpture leaning against wall)
  • Eric Baudelaire Marée, Foundations (photos of half-finished constructions)
  • Rosemarie Trockel at Sprüth Magers Lee (I wrote down Monika Sprüth, but that must be a mistake) (another favourite)
  • Galerie Micheline Szwajcer

And from Zoo:

  • Jan Bünnig at Nice & Fit Mirror Ball (a big ball of tree bark, with a chunky chain) (crazy!)

Now that might be read as a value judgement, i.e. Frieze = more of interest = better show, but it’s more about the ratio of galleries in Frieze versus Zoo.

Thoughts about Frieze

Generalizing massively, there seemed to be a concentration of works incorporating precious materials to the left as you went in (Zobernig for one) and cigarette smoke to the right (not works incorporating smoke, just the smoke). It was also busier to the right, but that may have been due to the comparative density of the stands – and there seemed to be a slope down from right to left? The air conditioning was pretty useless, thank goodness it wasn’t a sunny day otherwise it would have been even more of a sauna in there (my cold may have had some effect on my impression of the heat though – possibly it was also affecting my balance and hence the impression of the slope).

Thoughts on Zoo

Much smaller and more manageable, and more intimate as well, less pressurized. Zoo restricts itself to galleries that are under 5 years old, so neatly differentiates itself from Frieze. Plus it’s in the zoo, how cool is that? With your ticket you get access to wander round the animal enclosures. It would be too easy to make parallels between a zoo and the fair—although they would probably apply better to Frieze—so I won’t.

Zoo seems to have more of a concern with the actual art developments taking place that their galleries are showing. The fact that they have produced the book the new art for the event shows some sort of commitment to analyzing their content.

As a bonus, this year The Hut Project were commissioned to create a series of “guided art-tours” to take place during the fair, which they promptly subverted by presenting each tour as an artwork created collaboratively between The Hut Project and the artist taking the tour. Each tour costs the visitor £250 and you receive a certificate at the end as authentication. I was fortunate enough to be able to go for free as Ian Evans of The Hut Project is also on my course at Goldsmiths. I had the choice of a tour round the fair looking at the art or the zoo looking at the architecture taken by Rob Tufnell of Ancient and Modern.

It was late in the day and the zoo had just shut, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. With the lack of people and dusk falling the animals all seemed to get much more active. We visited the Lubetkin Penguin Pool, which now holds the porcupines (?!), the tunnel under the road which used to have murals by someone I forget (although they have recently been painted over), the aquarium with with it’s water tanks built above it in the shape of a mountain for the goats, the Cedric Price Aviary, and the Lubetkin gorilla house, now housing the lemurs.

COURSE—Framing Art—The Origins of Cultural Authenticity


  • Quatremère de Quincy, Antoine. Ethical considerations on the Presentation of Works of Art [1815], Arthème Fayard, Paris, 1989, pp. 15–48 (transl. Jean-Paul Martinon)
  • Hegel, G. W. F. The Philosophy of History, transl. by J. Sibree, Dover, 1956, pp. 16–20
  • Inwood, Michael. A Hegel Dictionary, Blackwell, London, 1992, extracts: pp. 27–8, 101–3, 110–2, 118–9, 242–3, 274–5

After the First Reading

I’m having real problems seeing the relevance of Hegel’s piece to the seminar’s subject, and consequently his relation to Quincy.

To recap, this week’s lecture and seminar is entitled “the Origins of Cultural Authenticity” and the notes talk about these texts as “key texts in the origin of museums” and that the session will “introduce the key areas of investigation into the study of museums” and look “at the theoretical foundations of the museum and its relationship to the writing of art history.” Later we are asked to consider the notion of destination and what religious or historical references does it call for.

As far as I can see, there is no direct discussion of museums in the Hegel text. Therefore, the concepts and ideas discussed in it must have a general application to the subject, if we are to accept that it is relevant, and we must assume so, otherwise there is a major flaw in the session, or some kind of cruel joke/test taking place.

The hook, the entrée, must be this concept of “destination.” So how does Hegel deal with this?

Notes from Re-reading

What is “Reason”? Obviously not ‘reasoning’, as I initially understood it. It comes across as a more physical thing. Also, there is an emphasis on movement, development: “destiny”, “ultimate” – “. . . implies that that design is destined to be realized.” “Reason” is not an application but an attribute – which is inherent in an object? This is what confused me, the transferral of human faculties to concepts or objects – need more info on this.

So, I understand the example of the Roman Empire as a product of understanding, but how does it follow that an empirical fact (“its collapse”) is a “work of negative reason”? Understanding produces the concept which is described (I think somewhat confusingly) as an existing entity which sounds physical (although I suppose the RE is only an idea, not of the empire as a physical thing and negative reason is a feature of this idea (“entity”) which causes it to collapse and speculative reason causes the development of a new order. This seems an odd way of describing it.

Definition of ‘entity’: “being, existence, the existence of a thing as contrasted with its attributes.”

Is it the concept that is the entity? Or the actual collection of people and objects that make up the RE? Does it matter? The collection of people can still have, as part of its nature, the seeds of collapse, as much as the concept can.

‘Design’ is ‘destiny’. It inevitably works itself out. Is ‘import’ potential and ‘realization’ actual?

On the stage on which we are observing it—Universal History—Spirit displays itself in its most concrete reality.

(the ‘stage’ of history)

. . . the shape which the perfect embodiment of Spirit assumes—the State.

. . . that all [qualities of Spirit] are but means for attaining Freedom;. . .

[Matter] strives after the realization of its Idea; for in Unity it exists ideally.

Does Matter become Spirit on attaining it’s ‘central point’ (essence, freedom?)?

Spirit is self-contained existence.

–freedom, self-consciousness?

. . . it may be said of Universal History, that it is the exhibition of Spirit in the process of working out the knowledge of that which it is potentially.. . . so do the first traces of Spirit virtually contain the whole knowledge of that History.

. . . it is the freedom of Spirit which constitutes its essence.

This consciousness arose first in religion, the in-most region of Spirit; but to introduce the principle into the various relations of the actual world, involves a more extensive problem than its simple implantation; a problem whose solution and application require a severe and lengthened process of culture.

[which seems quite patronising]

Culture is the process by which Spirit is brought to consciousness, and:

. . . the thorough molding and interpenetration of the constitution of society by it, is a process identical with history itself.

“. . . the Christian principle of self-consciousness—Freedom” as opposed to “. . . the principle of Freedom generally”?

The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom; a progress whose development according to the necessity of its nature, it is our business to investigate.

In the process before us, the essential nature of freedom—which involves in it absolute necessity—is to be displayed as coming to a consciousness of itself (for it is in its very nature, self-consciousness) and thereby realizing its existence. Itself is its own object of attainment, and the sole aim of Spirit.

First conclusion

I think I have a better understanding of Hegel’s argument. To address the question of ‘Destination’, for Hegel this works by the development of Spirit to self-consciousness, and freedom. And this, outside of religion, is done by Culture – hence art/museums perform a didactic function – in this case to progress Spirit.

Quatremère de Quincy?

So how does Quatremère de Quincy relate to Hegel and the session’s subject?

His piece begins by stating that “Everyone now believes in the idea that collecting works of art and presenting them in what we now call Cabinets or Museums is the secret behind the well-being of the arts”, but proceeds to suggest that this is in fact denuding the works of their meaning, reducing them to “dull artifacts” and that by so doing we have stifled the development of any future masterpieces.

. . . no one will question the fact that art has to carry on perpetuating itself; but this must be driven by its own nature, not by some self-referencing game.

Could this be a similarity to the working out of the Spirit in Hegel?

No one is able to judge a work of art except by reference to an abstract notion of perfection which never changes. No one can now identify mitigating circumstances that have led artists to modify their technique or legitimise mistakes which, at first, came across as weakness or lack of genius. When seen in museums, works of art no longer retain the context or the circumstances which produced precisely those characteristics which for centuries generated admiration and awe. [. . .]

To what wretched destiny do you condemn Art if its products are no longer tied to the immediate needs of society? [. . .] We must stop pretending that the artworks themselves are preserved in those depositories. Their material relics may have been transported there; but not the network of ideas and relationships that gave the works their lives.

Is QdeQ saying that by divorcing the works from their original contexts we are breaking their possibility of destiny? Or their possibility of being useful as culture and hence as a means to develop Spirit in Universal History?

As much as I now understand the texts much better, I really don’t see how they relate in anything but a superficial way. I’ll have one more go at it tonight and see if I receive the lightning bolt of knowledge.