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Retracing the Expanded Field: Encounters between Art and Architecture

Retracing the Expanded Field: Encounters between Art and Architecture

by Spyros Papapetros and Julian Rose, Editors
The MIT Press, Cambridge, London, 2014
272 pp., illus. 105 b/w.
ISBN: 978-0-262-02759-5.

Reviewed by Gabriela Galati
University of Plymouth

gabriela.galati@plymouth.ac.uk

Retracing the Expanded Field: Encounters between Art and Architecture is the result of a conference and a seminar on art and architecture organized by the Department of Art and Archeology and the School of Architecture of Princeton University in April 2007 that includes also responses by artists, theorists, and architects. The conference aimed at discussing the developments and current validity of the canonical and uberinfluential article from 1979 by Rosalind Krauss “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”. The book is then composed by the transcriptions of a round table that discussed the expanded field then (chapter one), of which Rosalind Krauss took part; the second chapter is a collection of papers from the Seminar Table followed also by discussion, and the third chapter is the transcription of the roundtable on the expanded field now. These three chapters would complete the section dedicated to the discussions that took part on 2007. The fourth chapter consists in a remarkable collection of documents that includes not only the original article as published on October 8 on the spring in 1979, but also many unpublished images belonging to the October archive. Finally, the fifth chapter is composed by responses from 20 theorists, artists, and architects.

The book is outstanding not only for the precision of the visual documentation presented–almost every mentioned artwork has a corresponding image–but also for the level of the theoretical discussion from which very relevant ideas and questions, not only conclusions, arise. However, one should not expect an absolute praise of the 1979 article and its author: in fact, many papers and comments are deeply critical of different aspects, often regarding Krauss’s methodology but also of the different topics and artists that she left aside, or completely ignored.

The first round table, “The Expanded Field Then”, as its name evidences, focused on the historical moment in which the article was written, as well as the reception that it had at the time of publication. In this discussion, questions and critiques move around the notion of modern sculpture and monument, about the Duchampian tradition and the importance of the object within the tradition of sculpture, which was completely set aside in “Sculpture in the Expanded Field”.

The second chapter focuses on the Seminar Table; in this section the transcripts of discussions are very brief and contributions are presented in the form of papers. The discussion makes clear that, from a theoretical point of view, Krauss was moving from a formalist, then to a phenomenological approach, and finally to a structuralist one with the use of the Klein group for analyzing the expansion, and structure, of the sculptural field. In the previous round table, she stated that she was writing against an “anything goes” tendency in contemporary art for which the euphemism was “pluralism”, in doing so, she—almost shyly—introduced the concept of “postmodernism” to explain the end of medium specificity. However, as Hal Foster compellingly suggests in his brief but dense contribution entitled “Diagram as Closure” (p.87) closure would be given by the analysis focused on a permanent structure that leaves aside the historical, and also political, dimension in the expanded field: the “closure” would be the “ability of the diagram to arrest time and to suspend history […]” (p. 87).

As a matter of fact, there are two dimensions that Krauss’s article ignored at the time and that are recurrently mentioned all along the book: time and the body. For instance,
in the Expanded Field Now roundtable (third chapter), Stan Allen introduces the temporal element by proposing to talk about the term notation and to compare it with other terms already introduced in the discussions such as mapping and diagram.

Another recurrent subject is, of course, architecture. At the beginning of the roundtable, George Baker asks (p. 94): “Why are architects interested in this essay? And why is this conference happening in an architectural school?” In fact, while reading the book one notices that several of the contributors try, may be a little too hard, to underline the relevance and influence of the article within the field of architecture. For many of the contributors, the relationship is not so clear; the fact that the Klein group delineated by Krauss includes the terms architecture and not-architecture doesn’t make it necessarily an article relevant to architects and architecture theorists. The most consistent answer to Baker’s questions would be Allen’s on page 98 when he states that its usefulness for architecture was that of amplifying the perception of its limits from the construction of buildings to the construction of site.

Finally, the responses are to be found on the fifth chapter. This section has a few recurrent concepts of its own, the first of which being “context”. Probably responding to some analysis in the previous chapters that ignored the (political) relevance of the move out of the gallery/museum for artists like Robert Smithson or Robert Morris, responses by Mary Miss, Emily Eliza Scott, Josiah McElheny, and Michael Meredith bring the search of a new context for artworks at the time back in the discussion.

Eve Meltzer’s response brilliantly summarizes and analyzes several of the issues discussed all along the book and mentioned before: Krauss’s escape from historicism and embracement of structuralism, and yet how this move left the body, the sensory, the material out of the diagram, and how, 30 years later, what matters is to recover a new conception of art that considers “a more expansive model of the human subject” (p. 186).


It is also worth remembering that if “Sculpture in the Expanded Field” introduced the notion of post-modernism to try to frame, and limit, the pervasive “anything goes” in the artistic field at the time, it tempted to do so still using modernist categories, and methodology, “the default toolbox” of modernism as Julia Robinson called it in her acute response (p. 192), an observation already advanced by Thierry De Duve in Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade (1991)—albeit, not regarding this article.

From the responses yet another way of introducing temporality in the expanded field could be drawn: Not (only) through the body and movement—which could open a discussion on the theatrical dimension (p.199)—but through the digital dimension, as suggested by Sarah Oppenheimer (p.220). As a matter of fact, Oppenheimer and Matthew Ritchie are the only contributors who addressed the issue of the digital and computerization of culture. In his response, Ritchie has a point when he states that if so far there is no human activity that cannot be mediated but the computational space, it is evident that the field has to be expanded also in this sense (p.235).


The book is absolutely worth, or may be even necessary, reading for everyone interested in “the field”.  It keeps the conversation open to go on expanding the field in so many new directions. It proves that if Krauss’s 1979 article had the impact it had/s was for very good reasons, not only for how much it made the whole discipline reflect then, but because it continues to do so today. And the most recent contributions to the critique of the expanded field featured in this book also demonstrate that there are many theorists and practitioners willing and capable of carrying on with that task.

References:

Krauss, Rosalind, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October, 8, 30-44 (1979).

De Duve, Thierry, Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade (Minneapolis and Oxford: University of Minnesota Press, 1991).


Last Updated 28th November 2014

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