« Art Critics' Reading List


Damon Willick is associate professor of modern and contemporary art history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and a contributing editor to X-TRA Contemporary Art Quarterly. His writing has appeared in such journals as X-TRA, Art Lies, Spiritus, East of Borneo and Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art, as well as numerous exhibition catalogs. His book and exhibition about the San Fernando Valley’s contribution to Los Angeles art is forthcoming from Angel City Press and California State University, Northridge.

Allan Kaprow. Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. Jeff Kelley, Ed. Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1993.

Choosing three books that have most influenced my work as an art historian and critic is a tough task. I start with a collection of Allan Kaprow writings that includes “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock” (1958), “The Education of the Un-Artist, Parts I and II” (1971 and 1972) and “Art Which Can’t Be Art” (1986). Kaprow’s laser-like focus to blur the boundaries between art and life profoundly impacts my teaching, writing and daily living. I clearly remember purchasing this book as a naïve undergraduate, attracted more by the shaggy dog on the cover than Kaprow’s authorship. Over time, as I’ve read and reread the book’s essays on happenings, un-artists, environments, performances, and activities I have come to realize that the best contemporary art reveals the artistry of the very lives we’re living.

Amelia Jones. Body Art/Performing the Subject. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Amelia Jones’ book is still the best survey of postwar body art, though I am admittedly a bit biased in this assessment. Amelia and I were carpoolers together just as she was starting her research and writing of the text. I was a second-year grad student, and she was my thesis advisor. At the time, I had no idea that our conversations through L.A. traffic would shape my thinking about contemporary art, art history, feminism, and critical analysis. Amelia’s self-conscious and performative approach to writing a history of art was (and still is) the antithesis of dominant structuralist and formalist art history, and she offers an embodied criticism that is rigorous and always personal. Her other books, such as Sexual Politics (1996), Irrational Modernism (2004) and Self/Image (2006), are equally influential on my approach to contemporary art.

D.J. Waldie. Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir. First published in 1996. New York and London: W.W. Norton Company, 2005.

Not an art book, per se, D.J. Waldie’s history of the postwar development of Lakewood, Calif., illuminates how the places in which we live shape our critical and creative perspectives. There is no other book like it—part personal memoir, part well-researched history. Waldie’s poetic prose illuminates the extraordinary normalness of suburbia, and the rhythm of the book is as measured and understated as the working-class neighborhood of its focus. Waldie has lived his entire life in Lakewood: the first third of which, he explains, daydreaming; the second third, waiting; and the last third beginning with his writing of this book. Art history equivalents that come close to Waldie’s poetry of place can be found in Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local (1997) and Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City (2010).