Scott Rothkopf: [...] I'm interested to know, however, if you still see a place for critical writing on really contemporary art in October.
RK: For October to deal with contemporary visual practice, we need young writers. The time when October was most plugged into contemporary visual practice was during the early eighties. In a sense you could say that there was a certain generation of critic connecting with a certain generation of contemporary practice.
Believe me, I don't know what the issues are. I mean I know what the issues are for me, and I think I have something to say about issues of contemporary culture, but an emerging generation of artists needs its own generation of critics. One of the functions of the magazine then is to make a context for that new generation of writers.
SR: By saying that a new generation of artists will need a new generation of critics, do you think that in any way undermines the art historical method that you and people like Yve-Alain Bois have pioneered? To me, your way of working is so useful in the sense that it is about really analyzing an object and applying very precise visual tools to unpack it and discover how it signifies. And in that sense, this methodology would seem somehow completely impervious to generational differences.
RK: Well to be very specific, a project I'm starting to work on now has to do with what we could call the "post medium" age. By this I mean that conceptual art, installation art, and a great deal of what happened in the eighties was about dismantling the idea of medium, although there was also a sort of reactionary backlash in the eighties to try to resurrect old media like painting, sculpture etc. Recently, I've just done a long essay on the Irish artist James Coleman, and one of the points of that essay was how he has done something that I would call "inventing a medium," in his case based on the very low-life, commercial support of the slide tape.
Now, I think there's something fundamentally different between inventing a medium and dismantling a medium, which I mentioned earlier. I am deeply opposed to the idea of resurrecting painting and sculpture, so inventing a medium seems to me a crucial problem, and it's not unrelated to what we talked about earlier in terms of the real value of the discipline. But still, we could hardly call James Coleman or even Jeff Wall young artists since they both emerged in the '70s. So what I'm really saying is that I think most critics have about twenty years when they are out there on the barricades and have a kind of intuitive connection to new work. I no longer have an intuitive connection to very very new work, and I believe that it should be younger artists and younger critics who deal with that work.
SR: So while you're interested in certain aspects of new work, you may not have an intuitive connection to it.* Does it mean that at a certain point a kind of cultural, or in this case, age-specific analysis takes precedence over a more formal approach?
RK: Let's go back to the Coleman thing. James Coleman is an Irish artist and a great deal of the criticism and writing on him has been from the point of view of post-colonial theory...
SR: So you can separate the issues of his Irish cultural significance and his pioneering of a new medium?
RK: Yes, I have actually said to him that I'm not going to analyze his work from that point of view. A lot of references in his work are to the Irish literary revival, Irish politics, and Irish history. That is the thing that has grabbed the attention of many writers who have slotted him into post-colonial discourse. Now I think that's very interesting, but the result is that this other thing in Coleman has never been talked about. We don't have to have a beauty contest here and say which method is to be privileged in relationship to Coleman, but I would be disingenuous if I didn't say that I believe something very essential and specific to Coleman's work was to be gotten by talking about the visual medium.
SR: I think that's exactly what I was getting at. It's really helpful if you break it down into the Irish, or in some cases generational analysis and talking about the medium.** It seems similar again to your work on Cindy Sherman, where we could say that Laura Mulvey throws on a feminist reading and you ask more specifically how that functions within Sherman's work, how her photographs signify or come to a feminist stance.
RK: Of course you have to be aware of all of those other possibilities, because clearly Cindy Sherman herself is reading Laura Mulvey and knows all about that material and is programming a lot of it into her work. But she's also programming other things, just a James Coleman isn't sitting there in Dublin for nothing. He's totally aware. For instance, he lived in a house in Montjoy Square, which is the square that was the setting for Synge's The Plow and the Stars. I'm not sure of this, actually. We are now treading on my area of deep ignorance...
SR: That's O.K., we can leave Montjoy Square for the Irish critics.
*Krauss did not say this. Rothkopf rephrases her for his agenda--that post-structuralist tools make critique ageless.
**There he goes again--Krauss tried to switch the subject to geography and Rothkopf injected age again.
Krauss is right about the 20 year critic shelf life. Artists, however, never lose relevancy if they are honest in their work and stay open and flexible to new developments. Unfortunately the system has it backwards: critics and curators are presumed able to write about anything, at any time, while artists are seen as generational flavors of the moment.