edited by Frances Richard. Duke University Press, October 2019. 304 p. ill. ISBN 9781478008088 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed July 2020
Rosemary K. J. Davis, Accessioning Archivist, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, email@example.com
I Stand in My Place with My Own Day Here: Site-Specific Art at The New School, published by the New School and Duke University Press, assembles over fifty voices in discourse about site-specific artworks created for the university from 1930 to the present. Taking a kaleidoscopic approach to talking about these pieces is wise and enlightened. It allows each writer their own approach--whether analytical, historical, political, personal, or a combination--mirroring the diversity of experiences possible when viewing the art itself.
The organization of the book is rooted in campus geography. Following several introductory essays, three different sections contain writings about thirteen artworks installed in three different buildings. Artworks by Sol Lewitt, Agnes Denes, José Clemente Orozco and others are offered up for reflection and complication. Reading through the book sequentially is like meandering through one building at a time, going from floor to floor, interacting with art and ideas along the way. The quantity of contributions, and their wide stylistic variations, encourage non-sequential reading. Though the book is a hefty three-hundred-pages, the texts produce an overall light tone, even when the content is rigorous.
Many excellent contributors are found in this collection--a cavalcade of academics, poets, artists, and educators who ably and gracefully encapsulate big ideas in small spaces. Bright stars like Claudia Rankine, Maggie Nelson, Shannon Mattern, and Lucy Lippard, share commentary, deep art historical cuts, and provocations. For example, architectural designer and scholar Mabel O. Wilson engagingly describes Kara Walker’s multi-story artwork Event Horizon (2005): “Walker has disgorged her visions to seep into liminal institutional spaces, to burrow below the foundations of the modern episteme and to ask us what truths cannot be known, but instead imagined through her haunting historical fictions.” (162). This is just one particularly powerful example of how these writings intertwine with the artworks they explore.
The last sections of the book provide an informative one-two punch: a wide-ranging roundtable discussion, followed by a succinct commission history of each artwork. The commission details solidify this book’s importance as a vital historical documentary resource for the New School and for the artworks documented. While the New School Archives and Special Collections are warmly credited in many places throughout the volume, the input of an archivist familiar with stewarding the original artwork documentation would have been a welcome and illuminating inclusion.
The writings in this volume, just like artworks in the New School’s collection, each create their own universe. I Stand in My Place with My Own Day Here gives the reader access to a multiplicity of possibilities for engagement. Any library that supports research in postmodern/contemporary art, site-specific art, or comparative studies could benefit from including this book in their collection.