Fillip 18 — Spring 2013

The Concert Was Not a Success: On the Withdrawal of Withdrawal
Chris Sharp

In addition to being hot,1 the subject of withdrawal in contemporary art is both morbid and arguably cursed. By cursed I mean ultimately indomitable, and this for a number of reasons. Never mind that it paradoxically proceeds contrary to the nature of art history, which is additive and not necessarily subtractive. A history of withdrawal is a history of absences. Of lacunae. Of sudden and gradual stops. Of blank spots, which are not always easy to locate and whose motives are complex and variegated. Any history of the subject will inevitably be as sprawling and multifaceted as there are types of withdrawal, which therefore stubbornly resists any systematic, scientific, and, perhaps most importantly, theoretical approach toward being dominated. I am partially inclined to see the story of withdrawal as the Don Quixote of art history, as if there were a parallel between it and the numerous ill-starred attempts to translate Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece into moving images (I am thinking in particular of Terry Gilliam and Orson Welles2). As if both—one a novel, which is romantic and fanciful to the point of delusion, and the other, both a subject and an act, whose essentially romantic nature might well be capable of engendering if not delusion then illusion—were unportrayable.

However, to make the Quixote claim would be to unjustly dismiss a considerable amount of work and reflection already invested in the issue of withdrawal, which, over the past decade or so, has developed into a small, if idiosyncratic, field of inquiry and research within the larger field of art history. That said, if the Quixote parallel holds any water, it is not necessarily due to the lack of rigour of the researchers and thinkers occupying this burgeoning field, but I would argue, because, as already stated, the field itself is so fraught with instability and heterogeneity that the elusive celluloid Quixote begins to seem like an appropriate mascot. Any hope for coherence is unlikely to come from within the subject of withdrawal itself, which is to say, no matter how deep you dig, a unifying root cause and subsequent theory will probably always remain just out of reach. Coherence, on the contrary, is best sought from without, which is to say, in the discursive formation of the field itself. In other words, why have we recently become interested in withdrawal? What is it about this particular moment that has rendered these formerly invisible absences visible? And, perhaps most importantly, what is at stake in withdrawal now? But before going on to address these questions, it is necessary to map out the field and some of its key players.

Consisting of curators, writers, and artists, some of the main figures grappling with withdrawal include Jean-Yves Jouannais, Alexander Koch, Bob Nickas, Krist Gruijthuijsen, and Ben Kinmont. Their contributions, the significance thereof, and their approaches vary widely. The French art historian, theorist, writer, and editor Jean-Yves Jouannais could be considered a discursive precursor of a contemporary interest in the subject of withdrawal thanks to his book Artistes sans oeuvres: I would prefer not to (1997), but this work is more preoccupied with fictional artists and writers who never made art or wrote than living artists and writers who stopped making art or stopped writing. In addition to inventing a writer, a certain Félicien Marbeouf, Jouannais presents and considers fictional characters in Artistes sans oeuvres such as Gustave Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet and Herman Melville’s Bartleby on the same level as real people, and in doing so, could be said to genealogize an archetype. More of a literary curiosity lodged squarely in the belles-lettres tradition of dandyism than a methodical interrogation of withdrawal as a subject, Jouannais’s contribution foreshadows the emergence of this field, all but formalizing it as a subject of interest.3

If anyone could be considered the pioneer of withdrawal, or Kunst Verlassen4 (leaving art, or dropping out), as an object of consistent thought and research, it would have to be the German curator, theorist, and gallerist Alexander Koch. Having organized an exhibition on the subject as far back as 2002,5 Koch has written and lectured extensively on dropping out while going on to develop what is, to date, probably the most cogent and rigorous theoretical and historiographical framework with which to consider it. Consequently, any serious engagement with the subject must necessarily confront Koch’s theoretical edifice before attempting to develop a new one. Although Koch has registered his research over the past decade in a series of texts and lectures,6 the most extensive and representative elaboration of his theory appears in KOW’s “General Strike” issue (Issue 8, 2011), the main points of which I will do my best to sketch out here.

After arguing in the introduction for the legitimacy of such a historical pursuit (the willful termination of artistic careers) by virtue of what he perceives as the critical agency and political content of dropping out, he goes on to define the phenomenon according to a set of strictly delineated parameters. He begins by establishing his definition of dropping out, which I quote in its entirety here: I use the term dropping out of art to describe, generally, the social translocation and, more specifically, the social practice of an actor whom we can localize in the field of art at a point in time X but not at a later point in time Y, and who wanted this to be the case.7

Thus, according to him, a dropout is someone who voluntarily withdraws from the field of art entirely. He is sure to specify that dropping out must be voluntary and not involuntary, as in the case of failure, by virtue of the fact that elective invisibility is presupposed by a no less elective former visibility. Furthermore, dropping out does not include moving from one position in the field of art to another (e.g., artist turned curator or gallerist), a phenomenon with which the history of art teems. He also dismisses cases of political suppression and suicide, the latter going beyond mere withdrawal from art into an irreversible withdrawal from life.8 Having sketched out these parameters Koch then moves into much more specific territory, outlining three categories, of which only the final constitutes bona fide dropping out. These are: ostentatious inaction; communicative inaction; and radical inaction.

Disruption or refusal characterizes ostentatious inaction, and such gestures are linked to certain expectations or artistic conventions regarding production, which are subverted. Some classic examples that Koch cites include John Cage’s 4’33” (1952), Yves Klein’s Le vide at Galerie Iris Clert (1958), and Robert Barry’s During the exhibition the gallery will be closed (Amsterdam, Turin, and Los Angeles, 1968). Inscribed in a heavily codified avant-garde tradition, these works thus continue to be, despite their negative form, discursively and aesthetically productive.

Communicative inaction refers to the total absence of any artistic act. “The failure,” writes Koch, “of artistic action to manifest itself can nonetheless attract attention in the field of art and reveal itself to be a negation of artistic activity.”9 He cites Marcel Duchamp’s silence as a perfect example of this category. He concludes his brief characterization of the category by claiming: “The failure to perform an artistic act pursues communicative and sometimes critical intentions. It makes itself known, aiming to generate reflective and discursive effects within a scene.”10 Again, the production of discourse precludes dropout status.11

Radical inaction signifies a total withdrawal from the field of art. Drawing on political historian Richard Rorty’s theoretical distinctions of the Left in the twentieth century,12 Koch likens communicative inaction to the practically minded reformist Left and radical inaction to the radical Left, which apparently withdrew from active political life as a consequence of disaffection.

At this point, it should be clear that a very specific agenda motivates Koch’s entire theoretical edifice, which is fundamentally critical in the spirit of institutional critique and consequently seeks to politicize dropping out. For this reason, he finds a particular preoccupation with the withdrawal of Charlotte Posenenske and Lee Lozano, two artists that, for different reasons, were critical of the mechanisms and nature of the art world and subsequently definitively turned their backs on it.13 While Koch’s theoretical contribution is as fundamental as it is inestimable, if only because it has begun to seriously elaborate a theoretical foundation and terms with which to discuss such a protean subject, it is not entirely satisfying for the simple reason that not all bona fide withdrawal is critical. Probably the most conspicuous example to the contrary is a work by the Taiwanese American artist Tehching Hsieh, whose withdrawal was not only an essential part of a larger project, and hence not a critical consequence of disaffection with the art world as in the cases of Posenenske and Lozano, but was manifestly existential. Having staged a series of epic “one year performances” in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which consisted of, for instance, living in a cage for one year and living outside on the streets of New York for one year, Hsieh’s penultimate performance, enacted from 1985 to 1986, consisted of “No Art” (a period of time in which he had nothing to do with art), whereafter he began a so-called thirteen year “plan” (1986–99), which consisted of him making art but not exhibiting it publicly, at the end of which (January 1, 2000) he issued the following statement: “I kept myself alive. I passed the December 31st, 1999.” After this, he definitively withdrew from art. Other examples of non-political withdrawal abound, and notably include Joe Brainard, Christine Kozlov, and even arguably Laurie Parsons, to name but a few of the most important ones. This is not to say that Koch is by any means unaware of varieties and niceties of withdrawal, but the system he has created seems expressly engineered toward legitimating only a specific kind, and as such seems both necessarily and unnecessarily limiting.

The New York–based writer and curator Bob Nickas is a crucial component of this discussion. His contribution, which has been both direct and indirect, is manifold, comprising exhibitions, lectures, texts, and sheer historical presence (he was both a friend and collaborator of some of the past few decades’ most significant dropouts, Cady Noland and Laurie Parsons). In 2003, he published what is to date the most extensive article on Laurie Parsons,14 which chronicles both her career and ultimate withdrawal from the art world in the late 1980s and 1990s. In 2004, he organized one of the first major retrospectives of Lee Lozano at PS1 in New York, which contributed greatly to the rediscovery and historical re-evaluation of one of the most lionized dropouts of twentieth-century art history. In addition to having lectured widely on the subject, Nickas led a seminar in New York University’s graduate department in the fall of 2011 entitled “Disappearing Acts,” which resulted in a publication featuring an essay by Nickas and responses to individual dropouts by participating students.15 The significance of the publication lies primarily in Nickas’s essay, which offers the most comprehensive elaboration of his position on the subject of withdrawal. Asking more questions than providing answers, Nickas takes no pains to conceal a highly personal motive: that of (partially) dropping out himself. He writes: I have in recent years been increasingly ambivalent about continuing to participate in the New York art world, of which I have been a dubious member since 1984. Over the past two years I stopped going to openings, dinners, parties, lectures and any art-related social events in New York, even those involving close friends.16 However, stating as much, he never explains exactly why, or what his motives are (although one presumes a certain disaffection).

Beyond his own ambivalence, his position seems to evince a preoccupation with deflation. Not only does he deflate the pathos potentially associated with withdrawal, he also sees it as a way to deflate the struggle for power and loss thereof in an increasingly commercial and market-driven art world (Cady Noland would seem to be a case in point here).17 Discussing the former, he writes: Things happen in life, and things cease. My contention is that the artist who stops working is not following some sort of pre-determined plan, and it’s not something that one necessarily sees from afar. As you follow the unexpected bend in the road, it leads elsewhere.18 Thus is Nickas ceasing to undo any kind of fatalistic teleology that might lead to the romanticization of a given figure? On the issue of the market and power, he writes: Maybe the artist who stops working, and the artists who takes his or her life, in either the symbolic and corporeal sense, can be heard to say: “You don’t fire me, I quit.” To stop, then, is to wrest control from external forces, and in the language of buyers and sellers, it is the first right of refusal.19 Again, literally playing dead can, it seems, deflate the machinations of the market and restore if not a sense of agency, then dignity, to the withdrawn artist (dead or alive). But these are far from Nickas’s last words on the subject; he is currently preparing a book on withdrawal to be published at some unspecified date in the future.

Another curator and writer who is also preparing a book on withdrawal is the Dutch, Graz-based curator Krist Gruijthuijsen. Akin to Nickas, Gruijthuijsen has made significant contributions to the historical formation of this field. Since 2006, he has been developing an archive entitled Archiving Disappearance, which has resulted in a series of eponymous symposia in Turkey and the Netherlands organized throughout the course of 2006.20 In addition to Koch and Nickas, the Eindhoven symposium also featured presentations by Charles Esche, Adam Szymczyck, Jaap van Liere and Barry Rosen (the Estate of Lee Lozano, New York), Marianne Brouwer, Rosi Braidotti, and Sandra Bradvic. Gruijthuijsen has organized numerous exhibitions and projects related to the subject, most recently Raivo Puusemp—Dissolution (November 2012–January 2013) at Project Arts Centre, Dublin, regarding Raivo Puusemp, an artist turned mayor who eventually withdrew from politics as well. In an interview in 2009, Gruijthuijsen characterized his archive as “ultimately the fruit of my interest in the question of what art is and what it means to be an artist.”21 Akin to the stated intention of this essay, Gruijthuijsen takes withdrawal not as an end in itself, but as a point of departure to consider larger ontological issues regarding the nature of art and the artist.

Of all the research and thinking done on the subject, perhaps none has been as telling and significant, at least for the purposes of this text, as that of the American, Sebastopol-based artist Ben Kinmont, if only inadvertently. Although his investment in this subject has been considerable,22 I’m interested in one project in particular: On Becoming Something Else, conceived in 2009 and featured in the Nouveau Festival at the Centre Pompidou in 2010, where I originally encountered it. Taking a decidedly upbeat approach toward the subject, Kinmont combined his interest in the culinary with an abiding interest in withdrawal, or rather with artists who became “something else,” by pairing chefs with certain artists—such as Laurie Parsons who left art to become a social worker—who were the sources of inspiration for new dishes. While I find his optimistic perspective on the subject curious, what really interests me in particular is the language and the content of that language he uses in the text that accompanies the project, which strikes me as, if not exactly desperate, then oddly plaintive and full of a symptomatic pathos. To wit, at the very end he writes: “These paragraphs [regarding artists who became something else] are examples of such departures and they are written for those of us who have left, or are near departure, and to remind us that we are not alone” (emphasis mine). Why do we (they) artists need to be reminded that they are not alone? Is leaving art so bad? What are the anxieties that attend withdrawal? Does the ex-artist become a kind of leper? Is he or she cut out? Does the ex-artist become bereft of purpose? Do they lose their so-called place in society? (Or alleged lack thereof?)

Or, finally, does something even worse happen? David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005), which could very well be read as an (anxious) allegory of withdrawal, imposes itself on the imagination here. The film tells the story of a former East Coast gangster, Joey Cusack, who, having withdrawn to a small town in Indiana, changes his name to Tom Stall, becomes a good, law-abiding paterfamilias and leads a peaceful, small-town life. But due to an act of inconceivable heroism—the expert killing in self-defense of two psychopaths—he becomes a national hero. Spotted in the media, his gangster past relocates him and, anything but willing to let him go, comes to haunt him with a sanguinary vengeance.

The implication here is that once a gangster always a gangster, i.e., once a killer always a killer—an implication that is underpinned by the fatalistic and rather Borgesian notion that there are irrevocable acts, such as murder, that conceivably lead to the forfeiture of certain rights (freedom) and the acquisition of others (an intimate knowledge of murder), and that the transition from one set of rights to the other is absolute and irreversible. Of course, it might seem a bit farfetched and anachronistic to equate the life of an artist with the life of a gangster, but in traditional avant-garde mythologies as classically argued by, say, Fyodor Dostoevsky with his character Raskolnikov, the artist (or intellectual) enjoys an exemption from certain laws to which non-artists (or intellectuals) are beholden. In other words, he or she lives outside the law; is, in short, an outlaw. Along those lines, it is perhaps no coincidence that one of the greatest so-called dropouts of all time, Arthur Rimbaud, a foundational figure of avant-garde outlaw mythology, eventually became an arms dealer in Abyssinia (now Ethiopia)—as if the former poet maudit were ready to give up poetry, but not necessarily his status as an outlaw (or maybe, like a shadow, it was his status that refused to give him up?).23

So, to return to Kinmont’s stated appeal for empathy and solidarity, am I claiming that, akin to gangsters, once an artist always an artist—in other words, an outlaw? Is there no way to re-integrate? And by “re-integrate” I am deliberately in keeping with the artist-as-outlaw construction. For after all, you are not born outside the law; in order to earn that accursed status, you must violate the law, permanently transgress its confines, and in doing so, withdraw from the profane world (of the law) into that of the taboo (or sacred) world, which is outside the law. That which in turn potentially means the status of artist as such is vouchsafed by an initial withdrawal (from the profane world of the law). To withdraw from art then is to withdraw from withdrawal. It is a double withdrawal.24

But before examining implications of that claim, it is necessary to ask just how an artist becomes a so-called outlaw—a status that was once taken for granted, as in the High Renaissance and especially the avant-garde, but has come to be seen as increasingly an outmoded, unacceptably romantic and risible perception of the artist (a transition that is, incidentally, not immaterial to our argument). Georges Bataille’s Lascaux, or the Birth of Art (1955) may be able to provide some clues to the nature of that status. In this small but potent book, Bataille argues that the transition from homo faber (man who makes) to homo sapiens (man who knows), did not correspond to an acquisition of knowledge, but rather arose through the advent of play, by the profligate expenditure of non-recuperable energy, as evidenced in the religious sacrifice, ritualized fête, and birth of art (e.g., Lascaux’s cave paintings), which all participate in an economy of excess and sanctioned transgression25 (i.e., sanctioned transgression differs from the profane, everyday world of work and order by sacred time and space). Transgression is the counterpart of interdiction, the latter of which is crucial to maintaining the general order, which is constantly threatened by death and sexuality.26 Bataille writes: Play essentially transgresses the law of work: art, play and transgression do not but encounter one another in a single, united movement, which entails the negation of the principles that preside over the regularity of work.27 He later writes: A work of art and a sacrifice the mind set of the fête which overwhelms the world of work and, if not literally, the mind set necessary for the protection of this world.28 Thus these three instances—the sacrifice, the fête, and the work of art—temporarily challenge the reigning order.

Bataille’s perspective on interdiction and its relationship to order are not that different from Sigmund Freud’s, albeit a little more idealistic, as seen in Totem and Taboo (1913), which is driven more by a theory of (repressed) desire and contagion. According to the father of psychoanalysis, taboos are the result of inherited desires, which are repressed by virtue of their ability to upset the protective order (it is important to note that a taboo is the virtual equivalent of Bataille’s interdiction with the exception of a theory of ritualized, or sanctioned, transgression, which is a crucial difference). Once violated, that taboo, and the individual who has violated it, becomes contagious.29 Freud writes: An individual who has violated a taboo becomes himself taboo because he has the dangerous property of tempting others to follow his example. He arouses envy; why should he be allowed to do what is prohibited to others? He is therefore really contagious, in so far as every example incites imitation and therefore he himself must be avoided.30

Running the risk of the most egregious form of romanticism, I will say it would not be so farfetched to apply this same characterization to the artist.31 Such a characterization becomes particularly compelling the moment you combine Bataille’s and Freud’s theories: unsanctioned by ritual, as in religious ceremony (sacrifice) or fête, transgression becomes taboo. It is important to note that in both cases, transgression and taboo are against the law—the law being work (that which maintains a protective order)—but, as his or her actions are unsanctioned by ritual or sacred time and space, the perpetrator of the violated taboo becomes taboo. If the law is work, it necessarily follows that the violation of that law is that which does not expressly contribute to the maintenance of the protective order: the profligate expenditure of non-recuperable energy.32 What is more, the state of taboo becomes exacerbated to the point of increasingly strict intolerability in a regime of total work and total production (e.g., capitalism).33 In other words, to indulge in the profligate expenditure of non-recuperable energy is to render oneself taboo, to exist outside of the law, to become, finally, an outlaw.

All that said, two final issues need to be addressed here: the origin of Kinmont’s anxiety and the discursive formation of withdrawal now. Of the former, I’m afraid the only argument I can currently offer is to complement my theory of the outlaw with that of the homo sacer (an argument, incidentally, which will be, if not contradicted, then undone, by the forthcoming claims regarding the second question). Granted, the status of the homo sacer was usually reserved for the most heinous crimes (incest, patricide),34 but it is not inconceivable that the ongoing engagement in unsanctioned transgression—i.e., a lifetime of taboo, profligacy, and dissolution—can accrue into something approaching the status of homo sacer. And, as it is well known, thanks largely to Giorgio Agamben, the homo sacer is the man without rights.35

However, that argument, as I warned, all but immediately falls apart, or becomes a real anachronism the moment you consider the following, which is what I propose: if we have become interested in withdrawal over the course of the past decade, it is because it is flashing up, like Walter Benjamin’s historical memory, at a moment of danger. In other words, withdrawal is becoming a memory, is itself withdrawing. This is not to say that one can no longer stop being an artist, drop out, or “change careers.”36 By withdrawal, I mean not the second of the two above-delineated withdrawals, but the first—the withdrawal (from the law) that formerly, initially vouchsafed the artist his or her status as such—has withdrawn. No longer taboo, an agent of dissolution, and therefore an outlaw, the artist has become a productive (as opposed to non-productive), all but37 fully integrated, member of society.38

Of course, upon first glance, this may seem to be a counter-romantic source of rejoicing and celebration, but, deeply considered, the potential implications of this development are, to say the least, disquieting. The first and most obvious of which is the conjecturable totality of the law (which is work), from which follows a corresponding withdrawal of outside or beyond the law. It becomes impossible to be an outlaw simply because there is no longer an outside the law. That taboo (sacred) non-productive space of profligacy by which it was formerly constituted no longer exists. There is only (the profane world of) work now. From which naturally follows not only the disappearance of the taboo or sacred, but a potentially bewildering paradox: given that there is only law now, the law itself becomes superfluous, and we in turn enter a space and time in which there is no law, which in turn engenders a time that is truly and consummately lawless.39 At which point, I wonder if it is possible to be discussing the reversal, or a retrogression, of Bataille’s claim: a withdrawal from the status of homo sapiens to that of homo faber. Whatever the case may be, it is in such context that we can now defensibly begin to speak of the end of art. For what is at stake in discussions of withdrawal is not so much withdrawal, but art itself.

For J. F.

  1. It will be remembered, for instance, that withdrawal (or “participation and withdrawal”) was one of the thematic terms that underpinned and heavily peppered Caroline Christov Bakargiev’s discourse leading up to and throughout documenta 13 (2012). See, for instance, Jörg Heiser, “The Secret Agents’ Press Conference,” Frieze (blog), October 29, 2010,
  2. For more information on this failure, see Lost in La Mancha (2002), directed by Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe. The film documents Gilliam’s seemingly cursed attempt and catastrophic inability to realize Don Quixote.
  3. Artistes sans oeuvres (Paris: Editions Verticales, 1997) was also major source of inspiration for the Spanish Catalan writer Enrique Vila-Matas’s Bartleby y Compañía (2000; English translation: Bartleby & Co, 2004), which deploys a fictional framework to deal with a similar phenomenon, focusing primarily on writers who never produced anything in the first place, but limits itself almost exclusively to literature.
  4. Koch translates his term Kunst Verlassen, which literally means “leaving art,” as “dropping out.” Although Koch and I are essentially discussing the same phenomenon, I prefer the term “withdrawal,” for it gestures toward and embodies part of the conundrum of withdrawal. With the exception of the political use of the term (e.g., “withdrew from the race”), withdrawal is at once very concrete and very abstract, as if accounting for but one part of a whole equation: it invariably leaves a question mark or a void in its wake. For instance, one withdraws, but to where? What happens? Where does one go or what does one do after a so-called withdrawal? Granted, “dropping out” also possesses a kindred measure of ambiguity, but one that enjoys some clarity by virtue of its historical countercultural pedigree, and is thus less acute, somehow less unresolved.
  5. Kunst Verlassen: Gestures of Disappearance, May 22–June 22, 2002, Galerie der Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig (HGB). Featuring Arthur Cravan, Lee Lozano, Bas Jan Ader, and Chris Burden.
  6. An archive of Koch’s research and texts can be found online at
  7. Alexander Koch, “General Strike,” KOW, no. 8 (April 2011), 9.
  8. Two examples he dismisses are Bas Jan Ader and Ray Johnson, whom he discounts on the grounds that Ader’s demonstrated knowledge of seamanship rendered the apparent impossibility of crossing the Atlantic in such a small vessel a deliberate suicide and the fact that Ray Johnson was suffering from AIDS at the time of his suicide as an act of desperation rather than an act of voluntary withdrawal. To my mind, the fact that Ader’s suicide happens within the context of an artwork and is accompanied by the cognizance of the impossibility of his undertaking would argue very much for the opposite, positioning his suicide rather as a form of terminal withdrawal. There is also more directly the case of the Argentine conceptualist Alberto Greco, who committed suicide in Barcelona in 1965 and allegedly wrote on the wall of his apartment, as he was dying, Fin (The end) and Este es mi mejor obra (This is my best work). Given Greco’s general, avant-garde preoccupation with collapsing the boundaries between art and life, the gesture to collapse the boundaries between art and death remains wholly coherent with his practice.
  9. Koch, “General Strike,” 9.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Of course this claim slides dangerously toward a paradox, from which it follows that the emergence of this discursive field would negate the bona fide withdrawal of virtually every dropout whose exit made them a candidate for our interest. In other words, according to Koch’s terms, by merely discussing it, we (Koch, myself, et al.) retroactively invalidate their withdrawal.
  12. Rorty’s distinctions, to paraphrase Koch paraphrasing Rorty, consist of identifying a practical, actively politically engaged reformist Left, which made a major impact in reforms in the first half of the twentieth century, and a radical Left that withdrew into political and cultural theory, beginning in the mid ’60s. For more information, see Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998).
  13. Charlotte Posnenske was a successful, politically engaged, German minimalist who, dissatisfied with art’s ability to have any real social impact, officially withdrew from all artistic activity in 1968 until her death in 1985. Lee Lozano was an equally successful American painter and conceptual artist who carried out a number of works oriented around withdrawal, such as her General Strike Piece (1969), in which she temporarily dropped out from the art world, and her Decide to Boycott Women (1971), in which she stopped talking to women, until ultimately dropping out of the art world, leaving New York to live with her parents in Dallas, Texas, in 1982. Both Posnenske and Lozano were rediscovered around the turn of the century due to the concerted efforts of a number of artists and curators.
  14. Bob Nickas, “Dematerial Girl (Whatever Happen to Laurie Parsons?),” Artforum, April 2003.
  15. Bob Nickas, ed., introduction to Surf’s Up: The Aesthetics of Disappearance 1, no. 1., The W.C., no. 39 (2011).
  16. Ibid., 3.
  17. Cady Noland, who stopped exhibiting her work in 2001, has a notoriously antagonistic attitude toward the exhibition and resale of her work in virtually any context, going so far as to try and prevent the exhibition of her work, and when failing to do so, often obliging exhibitors to display disclaimers authored by the artist next to the exhibited work. For instance, a secondary market solo presentation of Cady Noland works by D’Amelio Gallery at Art Basel in 2012 was accompanied by the following disclaimer, issued, presumably, by the artist: This exhibition is not authorized or approved by the artist Cady Noland, nor was she consulted about it. Neither Christopher D’Amelio nor the D’Amelio Gallery represents Cady Noland or her interests. Ms. Noland does not consider Christopher D’Amelio to be an expert or authority on her artwork, did not select the artwork being displayed in this exhibition, and in no way endorses Mr. D’Amelio’s arrangement of her work. (See Art 43 Basel, press release, March 20, 2012, Perhaps the most newsworthy instance of Noland’s antagonism in recent history was the artist’s strategic disavowal of an artwork slated for auction by Sotheby’s under the consignment of the dealer Marc Jancou in 2012 (a day after the artist had broken a record for the highest sale of a woman artist at auction with $6.6 million). See Dan Duray, “Dealer Marc Jancou Sues Sotheby’s, Cady Noland for $26 M,” GalleristNY, February 10, 2012,
  18. Nickas, introduction to Surf’s Up, 3.
  19. Ibid., 7.
  20. Archiving Disappearance: Symposium Nr. 1: The Introduction took place at Platform Garanti in Istanbul and Forms of Refusal—Archiving Disappearance: The Archive on the occasion of Lee Lozano’s travelling retrospective at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, which materialized in two parts, in the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. The Istanbul symposium featured guest speakers Bik Van der Pol on Lee Lozano, Alexander Koch with Kunst Verlassen #6 “Stepped out, Pulled in. What Results from Creating the Visibility of Disappearance?,” Anders Kreuger with “The Subtle but Sometimes Crucial Distinction between Giving up Art and Claiming to Have Given up Art,” Raimundas Malasauskas with “Best after the End (Notes on Post-mortal Techniques and Manoeuvres of Cultural Production),” Bob Nickas on Laurie Parsons, and a closing summation by Seth Siegelaub. The second symposium, which took place in Amsterdam and Eindhoven, featured presentations and talks by Andreas Gedin on Tehching Hsieh, Bob Nickas again on Laurie Parsons, Hinrich Sachs on Anna Winteler, and a dialogue between Gruijthuijsen and Hedwig Saxenhuber, who together with Susanne Neuberger, curated Short Careers at Mumok in 2004 (Short Careers featured Stephen Kaltenbach, Christine Kozlov, Lee Lozano, Konrad Lueg, Karel Miler, Jan Mlcoch, Hilka Nordhausen, OHO, Verena Pfisterer, Charlotte Posensenke, Petr Stembera, and Goran Trbuljak). In addition to those already mentioned, the Eindhoven symposium also opened with a welcome address by Charles Esche, a presentation on Lee Lozano’s Decreations by Adam Szymczyck, Jaap van Liere and Barry Rosen (the Estate of Lee Lozano, New York), Marianne Brouwer with “Drop-Out: Political or Pathological,” Rosi Braidotti with “Before the Guerilla Girls: Feminist Theories in the Sixties,” and Sandra Bradvic with “Forms of Refusal in the Work of Lee Lozano.” The symposia were destined to result in a doubtlessly invaluable publication, but unfortunately it has yet to materialize.
  21. Krist Gruijthuijsen in conversation with Johan Lundh, “The Art of Disappearing,” C Magazine, Spring 2009.
  22. Most notably, Kinmont is largely responsible for the historical resuscitation of Christopher D’Arcangelo, trying unsuccessfully to restage one of the artist’s interventions from 1975 in 2005 (D’Arcangelo took a painting off the wall in the Louvre and placed it on the ground). Kinmont’s attempt to restage the D’Arcangelo work was accompanied by a publication, produced by Kinmont’s Antinomian Press and distributed from a van at the Louvre. A figure loosely associated with institutional critique in the New York art world of the 1970s, D’Arcangelo has since become associated with the discourse of withdrawal thanks to the ultimately retiring, self-effacing mode of his practice.
  23. Outlaws and corresponding outlaw mythologies abound throughout the avant-garde. One thinks of everything from the gun-wielding Alfred Jarry to Duchamp’s portrait as an outlaw. Mike Kelley’s Pay for Your Pleasure (1988), which, incidentally features a quotation by Rimbaud, is a canonical work in this respect. It is also perhaps worth remarking that Michelangelo Caravaggio was, for a significant amount of time toward the end of his life, a homo sacer.
  24. I am grateful to Boris Groys for his help in identifying this.
  25. According to Bataille, (artistic) transgression, or rather the temporary suspension of interdictions, is what homo sapiens introduce with Lascaux. The ability and ritualized will to transgress is that which marks their evolution and distinguishes them from homo faber.
  26. See Georges Bataille, “Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art,” in Oeuvres Complètes, Tome IX (Paris: Gallimard, 2010), 40.
  27. Ibid., 41. Author’s translation.
  28. Ibid., 42. Author’s translation.
  29. The French anthropological philosopher René Girard has based a similar theory regarding violence and its sacred character on contagion. According to him, violence must be contained not because it is evil in and of itself, but because it is contagious and therefore self-perpetuating, and as such threatens to upend the protective order. See René Girard, La violence et le sacré (Paris: Hachette, 1972).
  30. Sigmund Freud, Totem and Taboo, trans. A. A. Brill (New York: Moffat, Yard, 1918), 54–55.
  31. Bettina Funcke’s co-optation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s figure of ressentiment combined with Boris Groys’s reflections on suspicion become particularly interesting here. Exploring the divide and reciprocally productive relationship between high and low culture, Funcke examines the so-called general public’s resentment and suspicion of the artist in her book Pop or Populus. In the introduction, she writes: Here I propose thatmass culture invents a stereotypical artist-figure for a broader public that feeds on resentment and ressentiment and is suspicious of artists’ unearned utopian freedom, which is beyond the reach of the ordinary people who must earn their money through conventional means.Alongside the mistrust of art there is a yearning for something higher that might be concealed within, a spirituality or transcendence presumed to lurk behind art’s masquerade, something that might elevate life from the eternal recurrence of the same to the level of higher values such as truth or eternity. (Bettina Funcke, Pop or Populus, trans. Warren Niesluchowski with Bettina Funcke [Berlin: Sternberg, 2009], 18.)
    While I have doubts about mass culture inventing the artist-figure, and instead suspect the artist-figure, which is less a stereotype than an archetype, has assumed a heightened visibility in post-industrial capitalism, I see the second part of her claim as wholly in keeping with art’s relationship to the sacred as claimed by Bataille.
  32. Regarding such profligacy, akin to Bataille and Freud, Roger Caillois perceives so-called primitive societies as governed by similar structures of interdiction/order, taboo/order, but he uses the terms “cohesion” and “dissolution,” which themselves correspond to pure and impure. It is possible to see those who indulge in such profligacy or dissolution as agents thereof: the artist as an agent of dissolution. See Roger Caillois, L’homme et le sacré (Paris: Gallimard, Folio Essais, 1950), 69.
  33. The parallel formation of modern capitalism and the avant-garde, as well as a number of the myths this text draws on, cannot be neglected.
  34. For a description of the homo sacer, see Caillois, L’homme et le sacré, 72.
  35. This is a radical simplification of Agamben’s complex interpretation of the homo sacer. See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).
    Here the objection/question could be posed: What prevents the active artist from already being a homo sacer by virtue of the same accrual? I would argue that what protects him or her is the transcendental suspicion as argued above (see note 32), which is preserved, like a spell, as long as the state of transgression is maintained.
  36. My argument could almost stop here by virtue of the fact that being an artist has become a perfectly plausible “career choice.” Fully integrated into the profane world of work, the vocation of artist has been, for better or for worse (and I would argue for worse), fully decriminalized.
  37. If I write “all but,” it is because in order for art to have value (i.e., represent a space of time in which value is unquantifiable), the suspicion, or rather myth, of the artist-as-outlaw must remain, even if it is no longer really applicable to what we call art. However, that myth is clearly on life-support—a life-support, at this point, powered solely by the exigencies of the art market, which, given the cunning of the operators of that market, may or may not breakdown, and thus keep the body of that myth alive indefinitely, even though it be effectively brain dead.
  38. Michael Baers’s article “Inside the Box: Notes from within the European Artistic Research Debate” (e-flux journal, no. 26 [June 2011]) is germane here, simply in so far as it offers one of the more compelling arguments I have encountered against the total institutionalization of art, of which the artistic PhD is a final-frontier example. Even the brilliant title alone is quite telling: “Inside the Box.”
  39. This supposition can be further supported by restating in slightly different terms what I have already sought to elaborate: it is not so much the absence of law that ensures the disappearance of law (in this case), but the absence of the possibility of transgression/interdiction/taboo. They are as integral to its constitution as oxygen is to fire; without them, it simply cannot exist.
About the Author

Chris Sharp is a writer and independent curator currently based in Mexico City, where he co-directs, with the artist Martin Soto Climent, the project space Lulu. He is Editor-at-Large of Kaleidoscope magazine, a contributing editor of Art Review, and his writing has been featured in numerous magazines and Web sites including Afterall, Mousse, Art Agenda, and, among others. He is currently preparing a number of exhibitions, including, Stay in Love at Laurel Gitlen and Lisa Cooley galleries, New York, in 2014.

You Might Also Enjoy
BecomeA Member