in Features | 07 JUN 06
Featured in
Issue 100

Writing Survey (Part 3)

'What writing has most influenced the way you think about art?' Writers, artists and curators reveal the often surprising literary influences – from Theodor W. Adorno to Lester Bangs, Gertrude Stein and P.G. Wodehouse – that have shaped their thinking.

in Features | 07 JUN 06

Chrissie Iles Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Curator, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York Four texts had a deep impact early in my career. The first was cinematic. After my first visit to Berlin in 1984, which began an enduring love affair with Germany and German art, I was changed forever by Peter Handke’s poem ‘Lied vom Kindsein’ (Song of Childhood), in Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire (1987). Although the Wenders’ Berlin that I first knew has gone, Handke’s poem still echoes in my head as I walk its streets (and the recent Berlin Biennial), and re-opens that same existential reflectiveness on its, and our, past and future. A couple of years later I came to New York for the first time to work on a retrospective of Sol LeWitt’s structures, and stayed in his apartment in the Lower East Side. I discovered, on his bookshelves, his ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’ and Robert Smithson’s writings, both then out of print, and Lucy Lippard’s book on Eva Hesse. Now familiar, these texts were little known outside the inner circle of the art world then, and inaccessible in England. They were also, at the time, overshadowed by the mood of the 1980s, which I was steeped in. The ambition, radicality and sophistication of the texts was a revelation, and changed my thinking completely. Ronald Jones An artist and critic represented by Metro Pictures, New York and Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Konstfack in Stockholm. In absolutely no order: Jones Very, Essays and Poems (1886), Oscar Wilde, The Artist as Critic (1890), Novalis, Friedrich von Hardenburg, Aphorisms (1802), Francis Bacon, Essays (1601), James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (1941), Tobias Wolff, Bullet in the Brain (1997), Robert Lowell, Collected Poems (2003), Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (1513), Robert Pincus-Witten, Complete Works (1984), John Milton, Paradise Lost (1667), Molière, Tartuffe (1664), Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence (1973), Sun Tzu, On the Art of War, (First Published 1910), Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955), Jane Austen, Persuasion (1817), Eugène Ionesco, Rhinoceros (1958), Claude Lévi-Strauss, Le Cru et le cuit (The Raw and the Cooked, 1964), James Baldwin, The Price of a Ticket (1985), Jean-François Lyotard, Complete Works (1998), Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (1886), Aristophanes, The Birds (414 BC), Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems (1924), August Strindberg, The Dance of Death (1901), Dante, The Divine Comedy (1321), Tony Kushner, Angels in America (1992), Sir Thomas More, Utopia (1516), Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography (1928), Petrarch, Lyric Poems (Translated by Robert M. Durling, 1976) Samuel Beckett, Company (1979), August Wilson, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988), Elizabeth Bishop, Complete Poems (1969), Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage and Her Children (1939), Don DeLillo, White Noise (1986), Thomas Pynchon, V (1963), George Orwell, Collected Essays (2000), T. S. Eliot, Complete Poems and Plays (1952), Voltaire, The Lisbon Earthquake (1755), Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (1949), Erasmus, In Praise of Folly (1509), Lewis Carroll, Complete Works (1999), Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans (1925), Walter Benjamin, Illuminations (1968), Eudora Welty, Collected Stories (1960), Saint Augustine, City of God (426), Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC), Longinus, On the Sublime (First Century), Ezra Pound, The Cantos (1925-1968), Dylan Thomas, The Poems (2003), Stanley Kubrick, Complete Screenplays (1951-1999). Kasper König Director Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Kasper König has chosen a cartoon to represent his answer: E.O. Plauen’s popular ‘Father and Son’ comic series published in Berliner Illustrirte between 1934 and 1937. Plauen was the pen name of Erich Ohser, whose work was banned by the Nazis in 1934, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and committed suicide in prison. We have reproduced an episode from the series Warnendes Beispiel (Warning Example, 1934–7). Christy Lange Editorial assistant at frieze. I wouldn’t be writing about art today if it weren’t for my first art history teacher, Rosalind Krauss, and her totally intimidating and inspiring textbook, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (1985). After that, it was more a series of revelations about what writing could be: Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida (1982), Dave Hickey’s Air Guitar (1997), Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America (1999), Vice magazine’s ‘Fashion Dos and Don’ts’, Thierry de Duve’s essay in the catalogue for his exhibition ‘Voici’ (2001), emails from my friend Billy Silverman, David Batchelor’s Chromophobia (2000), articles about reality TV and reality TV stars, especially the website Television Without Pity, and all of Dennis Cooper’s books, especially Guide (1998). Tom Morton Contributing editor of frieze and curator of Cubitt, London. Plato’s Republic (c.370-5 BC), because the Athenian philosopher could find no place for art in his Utopian city-state. At 16, the book felt like a betrayal – if I couldn’t write, or paint, or dance, I didn’t want to part of Plato’s revolution. Later, I re-read Republic as a metaphor-heavy fiction. I’m still worrying away at what this implies about where art may lead us, and where a perfect world might live and grow. Joshua Reynolds’ Discourses on Art (1769-90), because it stresses (absolutely against Reynolds’ wishes) the impossibility of deriving a politics or ethics from something so inchoate as art. Reading it is like watching a champion pugilist expertly punch himself into a corner. Susan Sontag’s essay ‘Against Interpretation’ (1966), because its closing line – ‘In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art’ – makes criticism something worth doing. The 6th-century mystic Hassan I Sabbah’s dying words, ‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’, quoted in William S. Burroughs’ novel Cities of the Red Night (1981). Not because they set (creative) freedom against responsibility, but rather because they position these two things as one and the same. Sally O’Reilly A writer and co-editor of Implicasphere. It is not so much individual texts that have informed my thinking, but more their absurd scope. The British Library is a vital reminder of this, although the complex circulation of human thought it thrives on and sustains is at times horribly overwhelming. But I am spurred by the continuities and divergences between texts and disciplines, and would count textbooks on artificial intelligence or 17th-century political pamphlets as useful as those by critical theorists. The hermeticism of art history and theory has been long breached and, although attentiveness to an artwork is vital, a broader dialogue replaces connoisseurship with a stance that is at once more politicized and less dogmatic. A favourite essay that reflects this bifurcation of specialization and literary thinking is On Being the Right Size (1928) by the socialist evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane, in which he explains the comparative size and circulatory systems of animals, from rhinoceroses to rotifers. Then, with a dandyish flick of the wrist, he whips biology into a vehicle for institutional critique and an analogy for Fordism. I am all for rigour, but also for curiosity, invention and risk-taking. George Pendle A writer based in New York. After reading E.H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion (1960) for the first time the history of art suddenly seemed rid of biography and time, and the ageless relationship between vision and thought was laid bare. Some might think Gombrich stuffy and elitist, with his interpretations and tastes firmly rooted in the Vienna of the 1920s, but whether he is right or wrong, his studies of visual perception and his melding of science with the humanities deals with the fundamental question of what art, and more importantly, seeing art means. But while Gombrich rules the head, Jenna Jameson’s How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale (2004) may well be queen of everything below. After reading it for the first time, its mixture of celebrity gossip, sexual abuse, neo-Nazis, family values and hardcore pornography can’t help but change the way you look at, well, everything. Some might think Jameson immature and unsophisticated, but whether she is right or wrong, she revealed to me the fundamental difference between seeing and looking. What’s more nothing in recent memory has had the peculiar power of the line: ‘After three hours of sweaty, psychotic sex, she handed me a huge black strap-on’. Kathrin Rhomberg Lives in Cologne and Vienna. Director of the Koelnischer Kunstverein, Cologne. Samuel Beckett’s writing has strongly influenced my thinking about art and reality. What I find interesting is how he creates conditions in which the extraordinary shows itself in what we call ordinary, and vice versa. With his literature he creates conditions that presuppose a world, in which communication is withdrawn and suspended in a very specific way, indicating a reality that seems to be disenchanted. I find this highly contemporary and also significant for understanding a direction of contemporary art.