Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency

One of the world’s leading art theorists dissects a quarter century of artistic practice.
Bad New Days examines the evolution of art and criticism in Western Europe and North America over the last twenty-five years, exploring their dynamic relation to the general condition of emergency instilled by neoliberalism and the war on terror.

Considering the work of artists such as Thomas Hirschhorn, Tacita Dean, and Isa Genzken, and the writing of thinkers like Jacques Rancière, Bruno Latour, and Giorgio Agamben, Hal Foster shows the ways in which art has anticipated this condition, at times resisting the collapse of the social contract or gesturing toward its repair; at other times burlesquing it.

Against the claim that art making has become so heterogeneous as to defy historical analysis, Foster argues that the critic must still articulate a clear account of the contemporary in all its complexity. To that end, he offers several paradigms for the art of recent years, which he terms “abject,” “archival,” “mimetic,” and “precarious.”


  • “Deft, opinionated … Foster is one of those rare art theorists whose measured prose can engage a wider readership, cutting through the philosophical inflationism that afflicts much of the higher gossip among art critics.”
  • “[Foster’s] latest book, Bad New Days, attempts to recover the idea of an avant-garde after a hard half-century of infighting, obfuscation, rivalry, and successive failures to engage with the real world of politics.”
  • “Foster’s strength lies in his erudite attention to those artists that have emerged as definitive of their particular moment.”
  • “His influence is considerable, reaching well beyond the disciplinary boundaries of modern and contemporary art into architecture, literature, and critical theory—all arenas in which Foster is an authority. His formidable powers of analysis and explication are deployed, more often than not, in the service of disruption and destabilization, and his work is as polarizing as it is revelatory.”
  • “Considering recent paradigms of art ranging from ‘abject’ to ‘postcritical,’ Foster uses his plain, incisive style to help locate the failures of contemporary art in hopes that more novel and critical art can come to the fore.”


  • Verso's Art and Aesthetics Bookshelf

    Portraits: John Berger on Artists
    by John Berger. Edited by Tom Overton

    “A volume whose breadth and depth bring it close to a definitive self-portrait of one of Britain’s most original thinkers” – Financial Times

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  • Art and Aesthetics Undergraduate Reading List

    Alas, summer is ending and you need to know your Brecht from your Benjamin quicksharp. Luckily, Verso is here to help, All books on our undergraduate reading list are 50% off — we have your back arts students!

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  • Mark Kingwell: Outside the White Box : Can art make anything happen?

    Mark Kingwell reflects on the space where art and politics meet. First published at Harpers.org

    ver since 1964, when Arthur Danto described the art world as a discursive space in which any object, however humble — a soup can, a garden tool, a urinal — might be aesthetically transfigured, philosophers of art have been painting themselves into an increasingly tiny conceptual corner. So-called analytic aesthetics now wallows in a deflationary phase, fighting shy of familiar questions about art and beauty. One recent exemplar of this literature, Dominic McIver Lopes’s Beyond Art (2014), cheerfully defends a “buck-passing” theory of art. That is, art is whatever different “arts-discourses” (i.e., painting, sculpture, performance) choose to talk about and to make. In the book’s terms, “X is a work of art if and only if x is a work of K, where K is an art.” A general theory of why there can be no general theory is a brainchild only an academic could love.

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Other books by Hal Foster