February 15, 2009

Chris Kraus

Suggested reading before heading out to the College Art Association Annual Conference in LA: Chris Kraus’s Video Green: Los Angeles Art and The Triumph of Nothingness ( Semiotexte, 2004). There’s double resonance for CAA in LA – Kraus’s book is not only a perceptive look at LA’s art scene, but Kraus won CAA’s 2008 Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism.

Kraus writes in blood (to borrow from Nietzsche) – a passionate, highly readable mix of autobiography, art criticism, cultural commentary, sexual fantasy and fiction. (When was the last time you read a book of criticism from cover to cover in one day?) Her main lament is the blankness of the art fostered by LA’s MFA powerhouses, but, commendably, she spends more time writing about what she likes.

To put it mildly, Kraus is present in her criticism. If George Romero had written The Death of the Author instead of Roland Barthes, it would feature Kraus. She’s decisively undead and if it’s multiple subjectivities or omniscient god-complex criticism you want, you’ll have to kill her again and again and again.

Moreover, to her credit, Kraus’s rejection of prevailing professionalized modes of art-making and talking about art does not pitch her backwards into reactionary beauty fetishization, like many of her contemporaries. She likes broadly conceptual, project based art that is engaged with the city and its many communities.

Still, it may be a little jarring for new readers to credit opinions on fine art from a writer who claims to be a former prostitute, topless dancer and domination/submission addict who trolls the internet for sexual partners to punish and humiliate her. Is connoisseurship of the many modes of sexual debasement a qualification for talking about art? Put another way, does having strange men come in your face (one of Kraus’s reminiscences) give you any insight into the experience of looking at contemporary art? Well, if you put it that way, I guess it’s kind of perfect.

Also check out LA Artland: Contemporary Art from Los Angeles (Black Dog Publishing 2005). It’s a flawed, but useful Taschen-style arts-poitation coffee table book edited (and with good essays by) Kraus, Jan Tumlir & Jane McFadden. Another useful book is Sunshine Noir, a catalogue for the 1997 show of the same name organized by Lars Nittve and Helle Crenzien for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art Humlebaek, Denmark.