« Art Critics' Reading List


Max Ryynänen, a Helsinki-based scholar, curator and critic, directs the master of arts program of the ViCCA (Visual Culture and Contemporary Art) at Aalto University in Finland, where he also teaches aesthetics, art theory and academic skills. Ryynänen has taken part in establishing and running two Helsinki galleries (ROR and Kallio Kunsthalle). Currently, he explores the limits of the white cube with his suitcase gallery KLEIN, where he exhibits this coming winter with Melinda Abercrombie and Lily Skove. He has published reviews and articles on contemporary art in ARTPULSE, Flash Art, Atlantica Internacional and Kunstkritikk.

Mario Perniola. The Sex Appeal of the Inorganic. London: Bloomsbury Publishing (Athole Contemporary European Thinkers), 2004.

We have already discussed thoroughly the way Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari conceive human beings as “animals” and/or “machines.” But I got back to reading these classics while pursuing a related interest: our experience of ourselves as “things.” This issue is the major contribution of Mario Perniola’s Il sex appeal dell’inorganico (1994, in English 2004), when one suddenly realizes how fascinating it sometimes (but not always) feels to be just a tool of someone else’s sexual satisfaction. Sometimes art stimulates similar experiences. David Cronenberg’s films makes me feel like an extension of his cold cinematic apparatus. In contemporary art, this theme finds a productive context in the work of “abject artists” such as Ron Mueck, who work with uncannily realistic dolls, or Paul McCarthy, who performs with masks to decentralize human feeling.

Christine Battersby. Gender and Genius. Towards a Feminist Aesthetics. London: The Women’s Press, 1994.

I have lately been interested in authorship and agency in art. My first point of departure on this odyssey was Foucault’s text “What is an Author?,” but I soon discovered that the idea of originality and authority in art is rooted in the myth of the genius. From Plato’s Ion to the first books from the Renaissance about the lives and works of the artists (Vasari), one finds the theme of the genius developing, just in time to hit the early evolution of the modern system of arts. Christine Battersby’s witty Gender and Genius extends its discourse from sex and gender issues to contemporary commercial culture (e.g. pop music) and is insightful about the history of the problems associated with authorship and agency. Our current problems “as authors” stem from a long and complex history.

Matei Calinescu. Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1987.

Five Faces of Modernity tells five scholarly tales about how modernity developed in art and culture. Calinescu does not overlook the shady margins of cultural hierarchies, and so he escapes the vice that has been typical for nearly all “archeologists” of modernity (Andreas Huyssen being an exception.) The most fascinating chapter of Five Faces of Modernity is Calinescu’s in-depth analysis of the development of the concept of kitsch, its origin and the hierarchical stance possible only in the 1910s and 1920s, once the culture of art was already well developed—so well developed, in fact, that high culture, in order to continue expanding, needed an enemy. For me, the most important message of Calinescu’s book is that as artists worked to reach middlebrow culture, kitsch has governed much production of art. A must for anyone interested in the great divide between art and popular culture.