Reading List

Art and Aesthetics: Verso Student Reading

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Claire Bishop, John Berger, and Frederic Jameson all feature on our Art and Aesthetics reading for students.

See all our student reading here.

No other country and no other period has produced a tradition of major aesthetic debate to compare with that which unfolded in German culture from the 1930s to the 1950s. In Aesthetics and Politics the key texts of the great Marxist controversies over literature and art during these years are assembled in a single volume. They do not form a disparate collection but a continuous, interlinked debate between thinkers who have become giants of twentieth-century intellectual history.

Composed in a series of scenes, Aisthesis–Rancière’s definitive statement on the aesthetic–takes its reader from Dresden in 1764 to New York in 1941. Along the way, we view the Belvedere Torso with Winckelmann, accompany Hegel to the museum and Mallarmé to the Folies-Bergère, attend a lecture by Emerson, visit exhibitions in Paris and New York, factories in Berlin, and film sets in Moscow and Hollywood. Rancière uses these sites and events—some famous, others forgotten—to ask what becomes art and what comes of it.

Anywhere or Not At All is a major philosophical intervention in art theory that challenges the terms of established positions through a new approach at once philosophical, historical, social and art-critical. Setting out the claim that ‘contemporary art is postconceptual art’, the book elaborates a series of conceptual constructions and interpretations of works by Navjot Altaf, the Atlas Group, Amar Kanwar, Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Gerhard Richter and Robert Smithson, among others.

Artificial Hells is the first historical and theoretical overview of socially engaged participatory art, known in the US as “social practice.” Claire Bishop follows the trajectory of twentieth-century art and examines key moments in the development of a participatory aesthetic. This itinerary takes in Futurism and Dada; the Situationist International; Happenings in Eastern Europe, Argentina and Paris; the 1970s Community Arts Movement; and the Artists Placement Group.

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.

In this major new work, Groys charts the paradoxes produced by the tension between art as object and as practice, and explores art in the age of the thingless medium, the Internet. Groys claims that if the techniques of mechanical reproduction gave us objects without aura, digital production generates aura without objects, transforming all its materials into vanishing markers of the transitory present.

In this brilliant collection of diverse pieces—essays, short stories, poems, translations—which spans a lifetime’s engagement with art, John Berger reveals how he came to his own unique way of seeing. He pays homage to the writers and thinkers who infuenced him, such as Walter Benjamin, Rosa Luxemburg and Bertolt Brecht. His expansive perspective takes in artistic movements and individual artists—from the Renaissance to the present—while never neglecting the social and political context of their creation.

John Berger, one of the world’s most celebrated art writers, takes us through centuries of drawing and painting, revealing his lifelong fascination with a diverse cast of artists. In Portraits, Berger grounds the artists in their historical milieu in revolutionary ways, whether enlarging on the prehistoric paintings of the Chauvet caves or Cy Twombly’s linguistic and pictorial play.

Planet/Cuba examines how art and literature have responded to a new moment, one both more globalized and less exceptional; more concerned with local quotidian worries than international alliances; more threatened by the depredations of planetary capitalism and climate change than by the vagaries of the nation’s government. Rachel Price examines a fascinating array of artists and writers who are tracing a new socio-cultural map of the island.

An invigorating revitalization of the Frankfurt School legacy, Roberts’s book defines and validates the avant-garde idea with an erudite acuity, providing a refined conceptual set of tools to engage critically with the most advanced art theorists of our day, such as Hal Foster, Andrew Benjamin, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Paolo Virno, Claire Bishop, Michael Hardt, and Toni Negri.

Tracking the work of groups including MTL, Not an Alternative, the Illuminator, the Rolling Jubilee, and G.U.L.F, Strike Art shows how Occupy ushered in a new era of artistically-oriented direct action that continues to ramify far beyond the initial act of occupation itself into ongoing struggles surrounding labor, debt, and climate justice, concluding with a consideration of the overlaps between such work and the aesthetic practices of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In this follow-up to the acclaimed The Future of the Image, Rancière takes a radically different approach to this attempted emancipation. First asking exactly what we mean by political art or the politics of art, he goes on to look at what the tradition of critical art, and the desire to insert art into life, has achieved. Has the militant critique of the consumption of images and commodities become, ironically, a sad affirmation of its omnipotence?

Available in the UK only

In his most wide-ranging and accessible work, Frederic Jameson argues that postmodernism is the cultural response to the latest systemic change in world capitalism. He seeks here to crystallize a definition of a term which has taken on so many meanings that it has virtually lost all historical significance.

Marshall Berman was one of the great urbanists and Marxist cultural critics of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and his brilliant, nearly sui generis book All That Is Solid Melts Into Air is a masterpiece of the literature on modernism. This collection includes early essays from and on the radical ’60s, on New York City, on literary figures from Kafka to Pamuk, and late essays on rock, hip hop, and gentrification.

Leading theorist and art curator Nicolas Bourriaud tackles the excluded, the disposable and the nature of waste by looking to the future of art—the exform. He argues that the great theoretical battles to come will be fought in the realms of ideology, psychoanalysis and art. A “realist” theory and practice must begin by uncovering the mechanisms that create the distinctions between the productive and unproductive, product and waste, and the included and excluded.

Contemporary art sometimes pretends to have made a clean break with history. In The Perpetual Guest, poet and critic Barry Schwabsky demonstrates that any robust understanding of art’s present must also account for the ongoing life and changing fortunes of its past.

High modernism is now as far from us as antiquity was for the Renaissance. Such is the premise of Fredric Jameson’s major new work in which modernist works, this time in painting and music, are pitted against late-modernist ones (in film) as well as a variety of postmodern experiments: all of which attempt, in their different ways, to invent new forms to grasp a specific social totality. Throughout these historical periods, argues Jameson, the question of narrative persists through its multiple formal changes and metamorphoses.

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