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Dore Ashton

Guest Critic

Looking Backward to Looking Forward

We ought always to embrace the whole realm of our experience, despite its pressures and encumbrances, simply because it’s only through the entirety of lived experience that the outcome can be expansive, complex, and capable of moving us.

A Note from Dore Ashton

When students tell me about their speedy research methods, and the Internet miracles they can perform, and why they don’t read books, I ask: Do you have a houseplant? Yes, most of them do. Can you, I ask, make it grow faster?

Picasso as Anti-Fascist

Most of the commentary about Picasso, and most especially about his activism once the Spanish Civil War broke out, seems to suggest that this political action was unusual. But Picasso was a born anti-fascist; it was in his blood.

Pax Americana

Have you read Gulliver’s Travels lately?

Notes on Fallujah

Images: In a film shot by an intrepid independent, during the siege of Fallujah, a woman rushes out on the street with a child clinging to her skirts. A shot rings out, and she rushes back into the house, which is already appearing to collapse.

A Reply to Nasinine T.

Although I am an art historian by métier, I never quite remember dates. But I do remember signal encounters.

A Little Yes and a Big No?

When George Grosz called his autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No, he knew whereof he spoke, with his Weimar grimace. I thought about his wry countenance when I perused Ai Weiwei’s sensational and certainly not ironic self-advertising in a desultory file of clippings I’ve accumulated.

In Conversation

ALFREDO JAAR with Phong Bui, Dore Ashton, and David Levi Strauss

"It's too easy to blame Kevin Carter for being the vulture, where in fact we are the vultures, the vulture is us," says Jaar.

Railing Opinion

As part of our interest in revitalizing art criticism and theory, in giving them both sharp edge and broad, encompassing vision, the Rail has initiated this column. We invite art critics, art historians, and artists to voice insights and critical reflections on the nature of art, its history, and its relationship to our current social and political surroundings.

A Railing Opinion

Petronius, oddly enough, was appointed to Nero’s “arbiter of taste”, from which position I assume he observed the court, and wrote Satyricon—a masterpiece depicting, among other curiosities, the orgy, or rather, the banquet, at the home of a nouveau riche joker called Trimalchio. It was in very bad taste indeed.

Railing Opinion: Communiqué from the land of BIG

There is only one crime. After eighteen months of cleaning and restoration, Picasso’s “Demoiselles d’Avignon” is lost. Picasso called it his “exorcism” painting, and he meant it. The roughness and clashes he so thoughtfully invoked are now pale and dreadfully harmonious, enclosed in a heavy gray frame. Restorers are the new philistines.

Traduttore Traditore

“Surely you know,” said M. Croche, the dilettante hater, “that a genuine appreciation of beauty can only result in silence?”

Railing Opinion: Dore Ashton and Carlos Brillembourg on Post 9/11

The recent assaults on “public” radio and television in our privatized culture made full use of political jargon that has an ominous history. I noticed particularly the word “liberal.” Have we forgotten that the Nazis used the word to denounce academics and artists (not to mention scientists, as in their denunciation of “liberal biologists,” i.e. Darwinians)? These are dangerous times, and they require alertness, because, as Mr. Rumsfeld reminded us, “stuff happens.” It’s not that it can’t happen here.


The disorder and early sorrow witnessed by Thomas Mann in the early 1920s was visited upon what he called the upper middle class. Nothing would ever be the same for them after the debacle of the First World War. He depicted the characters in his 1920s stories with an edge of regret; an empathy probably born of his own class status brutally assaulted by postwar circumstances. Yet, since he was indisputably a great artist, his portraits were always nuanced.

FOR THE BROOKLYN RAIL FROM DORE ASHTON Krzysztof Wodiczko’s …Out of Here: The Veteran’s Project

In some of the literature on Wodiczko’s work it is mentioned that he was born in 1943 in Warsaw. Is it a fortuitous fact that the Jewish ghetto, established by the Nazis in 1940, and which, by 1942, sequestered 500,000 Jews, rose up in the year of Wodiczko’s birth?

Histories of Violence

Two concurrent Chelsea exhibitions tackle the aesthetics of violence within the context of war: Thomas Hirschhorn’s Superficial Engagement at the Gladstone Gallery and the projects of Walid Raad/The Atlas Group at The Kitchen under the title The Dead Weight of a Quarrel Hangs.

John Walker

These small paintings come from a specific place—Seal Point—in John Walker’s adopted homeland, Maine. They are painted on old bingo cards that Walker undoubtedly encountered in his foraging sorties in the Maine countryside. Hints of numbers linger beneath the surface, and the faintest memory of the printed grids sometimes paradoxically suggest a kind of aleatory structure, very much of our time.

Krzystof Wodiczko

Krzystof Wodiczko is what I call an intelligent designer. I also call him a poet, consummate visual artist, man of conscience, inventor, and extender of the great tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art, that calls upon all the senses.

John Walker: Drawings 1973–1975

“I never really abandon anything,” John Walker said more than thirty years ago. This exhibition of drawings from 1973-1975 confirms it. Looking back with a treasury of images deposited in the mind’s eye by all his work since then, we can see how powerful certain of Walker’s impulses have been; how his quest for light brings him so often to a familiar place–a place that his imagination inhabits and in which he feels most at home.


Are we to believe the ancient Romans who declared that all roads lead to Rome? Or Edward Gibbon, who, in 1787, lamented the decline and fall of the Roman empire?

Does Invidiousness Go With The Territory?

Critic: One who speaks with discernment. At least, that is how the ancient Greeks thought of the word. Alas, the few left in what are now (derisively?) called the print media, never came close to the ancient distinction, and our own in New York leave much to be desired. I’m told that today only the good gray New York Times maintains art critics on the regular payroll, and that all the rest make do with part-timers, or not at all.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2023

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