“Crime and Perfectionism”


A child is amoral. A Papuan too, for us. The Papuan slaughters his enemies and devours them. He is not a criminal. But if a modern person slaughters someone and devours him, he is a criminal or a degenerate. The Papuan covers his skin with tattoos, his boat, his oars, in short everything he can lay his hands on. He is no criminal. The modern person who tattoos himself is either a criminal or a degenerate. There are prisons in which eighty percent of the inmates have tattoos. People with tattoos not in prison are either latent criminals or degenerate aristocrats.

–Adolf Loos


A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that’s unlocked and opens inwards; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push.

–Ludwig Wittgenstein

I am weary of the way many critics, or what Krauss calls “Historicists,” feel compelled to read all artistic activity, and by extension all political action, in the most beaming terms. In discussions of the most virulently antinomian acts and objects, the same nauseating words come up again and again: Beauty, Inspiration, Achievement, Excellence, Progress, etc. It’s so obvious to me that Smithson and Krauss saw that kind of meliorism for the pure ideology it is, an ideology which, for all its claims of benevolence and good will, performs a very specific kind of violence against those it seeks to boost and cheer. It’s maddening. In strict defiance of this mania for the upbeat, Krauss and Smithson begin to explore the notion of formlessness and wretchedness, as deliberately anti-aesthetic and, if you will hear me, anti-political positions. They begin, in a word, to embrace the Ugly. Both artist and critic take a deliberate turn toward the outrage of art as Vandalism and Crime. This is exactly what a piece like Glue Spill is all about – I don’t care what anyone else may say. If the great modernist architect Adolf Loos sought to establish modern Art and Cultural as the diametrical opposite of of Crime, then Krauss and Smithson have tried to undo Loos’s work, arguing in their respective theory and practice that Art and Crime are indissolubly linked, veritable cradlemates. Consequently, the two great artists of the ’60s and ’70s, for Krauss, will be Robert Smithson and Sherrie Levine, one a savage and the other a pirate.

Jean Dubuffet
Body, 1950
oil, soot and dirt on canvas

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