The Shiny Illusionism of Krauss and Judd

By Raskin, David | Art Journal, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

The Shiny Illusionism of Krauss and Judd


Raskin, David, Art Journal


If you stand right fronting and face to face with a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and you will feel its sweet edge dividing you through your heart and marrow.

-Henry David Thoreau, 1854

Heroes or Ghosts

In 1973 and 1977 Rosalind Krauss contemplated the paradoxical concept of the alter ego, "the way in which the picture of the self as a contained whole . . . crumbles before the act of connecting with other selves-with other minds." ' Both times she stopped short of reflecting on who her own alter ego might be. Had someone pressed her, she would surely have named another unruly child of Clement Greenberg, Michael Fried.2 But because she has struggled with Donald Judd in fourteen publications from 1966 to 2004, never once giving this third sibling his due, it is certain that it is he who is that other self, that other mind she has wrestled with her entire life.3

From the very start, Krauss has insisted that Judd misunderstands and misrepresents his own art, reading it ever further away from his own convictions. I cannot think of any other case where a critic has so endlessly asserted that an artist is wrong-dead wrong about what his art does, wildly wrong about what it means, and dangerously wrong about the world it instantiates.

Why not simply dismiss him and move on? Judd himself mentioned Krauss just once in his more than 160 published reviews, statements, interviews, letters, lectures, and essays, belittling her in 1969 without any apparent irony as a "Greenberger."4 This single comment must have stung, for she repeated it in her position paper of 1972 and again for posterity decades later.5 Inverted by their dividing empiricism, Krauss could not rid herself of Judd and has brooded on his art, as did he, to see "what the world's like."6

The Same Ground

Belief that our perception and conception of the world require a representational interface is one of the tenacious antirealist legacies of seventeenth-century metaphysics and epistemology, which held that some sort of mediator bridges the gap between the immaterial mind or soul and the material body or world. During the past several centuries, from René Descartes through Maurice MerleauPonty, various names for this go-between have included "impressions," "sensations," "experiences," "sense-data," "phenomena," "stimuli," and "qualia." In dualist accounts, these intermediaries are disembodied mind processes; in monist versions, the electrical or veridical activity of a brain.7

The problem of the relationship among perception, conception, and art dominated one kind of polemics in the United States during the 19605 and early 1970s, an era of heated social skepticism and passionate action. How could anyone know if anything were true? Critics and artists immersed in this turmoil unwittingly invoked one form or another of interface thinking in making judgments of art's ethical values. Greenberg's concise formulation is probably the best-known instance: "Quality is 'content.'"8 But for his "quality," we could easily substitute (as a matter of principle if not precisely doctrine) Fried's "conviction," Krauss's "point of view," or Judd's "interest."9

Notice, too, how this puzzle drew in a diversity of vanguard artists. Robert Morris turned toward the perceptual psychologist Anton Ehrenzweig in 1969, and Robert Smithson repeatedly relied on Roland Barthes's ideas about representation between 1966 and 1968.10 Mel Bochner and Joseph Kosuth found the logical positivism of A. J. Ayer-"Empirical questions are one and all hypotheses, which may be confirmed or discredited in actual sense-experience"-a helpful anchor for their Conceptual art in 1967 and 1969, respectively." Richard Serra in 1970 thought his Skullcracker Stacking Series related to a statement by A. N. Whitehead, the coauthor of the Prindpia Mathematical "We experience more than we can analyze."12 Jo Baer used her paintings to probe the problem of "distinguish[ing] between properties of the observer and properties of the thing observed," following the German physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach. …

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