Tom McDonough

Tom McDonough is Associate Professor of Art History at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He is the author of “The Beautiful Language of My Century”: Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945–1968 (MIT Press).

  • Boredom

    Boredom

    Tom McDonough

    Boredom in modern and contemporary art: as something to be struggled against, embraced as an experience, or explored as a potential site of resistance.

    Without boredom, arguably there is no modernity. The current sense of the word emerged simultaneously with industrialization, mass politics, and consumerism. From Manet onwards, when art represents the everyday within modern life, encounters with tedium are inevitable. And starting with modernism's retreat into abstraction through subsequent demands placed on audiences, from the late 1960s to the present, the viewer's endurance of repetition, slowness or other forms of monotony has become an anticipated feature of gallery-going.

    In contemporary art, boredom is no longer viewed as a singular experience; rather, it is contingent on diverse social identifications and cultural positions, and exists along a spectrum stretching from a malign condition to be struggled against to an something to be embraced or explored as a site of resistance. This anthology contextualizes the range of boredoms associated with our neoliberal moment, taking a long view that encompasses the political critique of boredom in 1960s France; the simultaneous aesthetic embrace in the United States of silence, repetition, or indifference in Fluxus, Pop, Minimalism and conceptual art; the development of feminist diagnoses of malaise in art, performance, and film; punk's social critique and its influence on theories of the postmodern; and the recognition, beginning at the end of the 1980s, of a specific form of ennui experienced in former communist states. Today, with the emergence of new forms of labor alienation and personal intrusion, deadening forces extend even further into subjective experience, making the divide between a critical and an aesthetic use of boredom ever more tenuous.

    Artists surveyed include Chantal Akerman, Francis Alÿs, John Baldessari, Vanessa Beecroft, Bernadette Corporation, John Cage, Critical Art Ensemble, Merce Cunningham, Marcel Duchamp, Fischli & Weiss, Claire Fontaine, Dick Higgins, Jasper Johns, Donald Judd, Ilya Kabakov, Boris Mikhailov, Robert Morris, John Pilson, Sigmar Polke, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, Ad Reinhardt, Gerhard Richter, Situationist International, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Andy Warhol, Faith Wilding, Janet Zweig

    Writers include Ina Blom, Nicolas Bourriaud, Jennifer Doyle, Alla Efimova, Jonathan Flatley, Julian Jason Haladyn, The Invisible Committee, Jonathan D. Katz, Chris Kraus, Tan Lin, Sven Lütticken, John Miller, Agné Narušyté, Sianne Ngai, Peter Osborne, Patrice Petro, Christine Ross, Moira Roth, David Foster Wallace, Aleksandr Zinovyev

    • Paperback $24.95 £16.95
  • The Beautiful Language of My Century"

    The Beautiful Language of My Century"

    Reinventing the Language of Contestation in Postwar France, 1945–1968

    Tom McDonough

    How culture became a field of struggle over meaning in France: the appropriation of elements from advertising, journalism, and other sources to serve political ends in art, film, and the activities of the French left, culminating in the upheavals of May 1968.

    In postwar France, the aesthetics of appropriation and collage gave cultural form to a struggle over meaning. A new wave of avant-garde experimentation used—or stole, plagiarized, and expropriated—elements from advertising, journalism, literature, art, and other sources of common discourse (the ironically named "beautiful language" of this book's title, itself an appropriation from Guy Debord's collaged Mémoires). Redeployed, often in startling or pointed juxtapositions, these elements took on newly oppositional meanings. A famous photograph taken inside the occupied Sorbonne in May 1968, for example, shows a massive academic painting altered by a clever cartoonish speech bubble that transforms the painting into a parody of itself and memorializes an event very different from the one captured by the original artist. The Beautiful Language of My Century describes the various forms of critical culture that culminated in the events of May 1968, and investigates the ways those forms have come down to us today.

    McDonough explores the montage practice developed by Guy Debord and his situationist colleagues under the name of détournement and its expression in the later fifties as a form of cultural theft. He addresses the influence of colonialism on these practices, examining a 1961 exhibit of torn posters of the Algerian War ("La France déchirée"), Godard's early film Le Petit Soldat, and Christo's Project for a Temporary Wall of Steel Drums. He discusses the French left's adoption in the mid-sixties of the "end of art" as a theoretical position and describes the leftist idea of the fête as a Rabelaisian and revolutionary upwelling of everything that is low. This influential conception, inspired equally by the American urban revolts of the sixties and the writings of theorists Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille, coalesced into a new image of revolution, a new model of contestation, in the events of May 1968—when the struggle over language and culture merged with a broader resistance to capitalist modernization.

    • Hardcover $34.95 £24.95
    • Paperback $18.95 £14.99
  • Guy Debord and the Situationist International

    Guy Debord and the Situationist International

    Texts and Documents

    Tom McDonough

    Critical texts, translations, documents, and photographs on the work of the Situationist International.

    This volume is a revised and expanded version of a special issue of the journal October (Winter 1997) that was devoted to the work of the Situationist International (SI). The first section of the issue contained previously unpublished critical texts, and the second section contained translations of primary texts that had previously been unavailable in English. The emphasis was on the SI's profound engagement with the art and cultural politics of their time (1957-1972), with a strong argument for their primarily political and activist stance by two former members of the group, T. J. Clark and Donald Nicholson-Smith.

    Guy Debord and the Situationist International supplements both sections. It reprints important, hard to find essays by Giorgio Agamben, Libero Andreotti, Jonathan Crary, Thomas Y. Levin, Greil Marcus, and Tom McDonough and doubles the number of translations of primary texts, which now encompass a broader and more representative range of the SI's writings on culture and language. In a field still dominated by hagiography, the critical texts were selected for their willingness to confront critically the history and legacy of the SI. They examine the group within the broader framework of the historical and neo-avant-gardes and, beyond that, the postwar world in general. The translations trace the SI's reflections on the legacy of the avant-garde in art and architecture, particularly on the linguistic and spatial significance of montage aesthetics. Many of the translated works are by Guy Debord (1932-1994), the impresario of the SI, especially known for his book The Society of the Spectacle.

    • Hardcover $48.00 £35.95
    • Paperback $33.95 £27.00

Contributor

  • The Walls Have the Floor

    The Walls Have the Floor

    Mural Journal, May '68

    Julien Besançon

    The graffiti of the French student and worker uprising of May 1968, capturing participatory politics in action.

    Graffiti itself became a form of freedom.—Julien Besançon, The Walls Have the Floor

    Fifty years ago, in 1968, barricades were erected in the streets of Paris for the first time since the Paris Commune of nearly one hundred years before. The events of May 1968 began with student protests against the Vietnam War and American imperialism, expanded to rebellion over student living conditions and resistance to capitalist consumerism. An uprising at the Sorbonne was followed by wildcat strikes across France, uniting students and workers and bringing the country's economy to a halt. There have been many accounts of these events. This book tells the story in a different way, through the graffiti inscribed by protestors as they protested.

    The graffiti collected here is by turns poetic, punning, hopeful, sarcastic, and crude. It quotes poets as often as it does political thinkers. Many wrote “I have nothing to write,” signaling not their naiveté but their desire to participate. Other anonymous declarations included “Prohibiting prohibited”; “The dream is reality”; “The walls have ears. Your ears have walls”; “Exaggeration is the beginning of invention”; “Comrades, you're nitpicking”; “You don't beg for the right to live, you take it”; and “I came/I saw/I believed.” A meeting is called at the Grand Amphitheater of the Sorbonne: “Agenda: the worldwide revolution.” This was interactive, participatory politics before Twitter and Facebook.

    Although the revolution of May 1968 didn't topple the government (Charles de Gaulle fled the country, only to return; in June, his party won a resounding electoral mandate), it made history. In The Walls Have the Floor, Julien Besançon collected traces of this history before the walls were painted over, and published this collection in July 1968 even as the paint was drying. Read today, the graffiti of 1968 captures, in a way no conventional history can, the defining spontaneity of the events.

    • Paperback $14.95 £11.99
  • The Everyday

    The Everyday

    Stephen Johnstone

    Writings on the “turn to the ordinary” in contemporary art examine the various ways artists have engaged with the everyday since 1945.

    Numerous international exhibitions and biennials have borne witness to the range of contemporary art engaged with the everyday and its antecedents in the work of Surrealists, Situationists, the Fluxus group, and conceptual and feminist artists of the 1960s and 1970s. This art shows a recognition of ordinary dignity or the accidentally miraculous, an engagement with a new kind of anthropology, an immersion in the pleasures of popular culture, or a meditation on what happens when nothing happens. The celebration of the everyday has oppositional and dissident overtones, offering a voice to the silenced and proposing possibilities for change. This collection of writings by artists, theorists, and critics assembles for the first time a comprehensive anthology on the everyday in the world of contemporary art.

    Artists surveyed include Chantal Akerman, Francis Alÿs, Vladimir Arkhipov, Ian Breakwell, Stanley Brouwn, Sophie Calle, Marcel Duchamp, Fischli & Weiss, Nan Goldin, Dan Graham, Mona Hatoum, Susan Hiller, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Mary Kelly, Lettrist International, Jonas Mekas, Annette Messager, Aleksandra Mir, Roman Ondák, Yoko Ono, Gabriel Orozco, Martha Rosler, Allen Ruppersberg, Daniel Spoerri, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Andy Warhol, Richard Wentworth, Stephen Willats.

    Writers include Paul Auster, Maurice Blanchot, Geoff Dyer, Hal Foster, Suzy Gablik, Ben Highmore, Henri Lefebvre, Lucy R. Lippard, Michel Maffesoli, Ivone Margulies, Helen Molesworth, Nikos Papastergiadis, Georges Perec, John Roberts, David Ross, Nicholas Serota, Michael Sheringham, Alison and Peter Smithson, Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Jeff Wall, Jonathan Watkins.

    • Paperback $24.95 £16.95