“One Question” with Richard Shiff, author of “Between Sense and de Kooning”

Professor Richard Shiff received his Ph.D. from Yale University and holds the Effie Marie Cain Regents Chair in Art and directs the Center for the Study of Modernism. His scholarly interests range broadly across the field of modern art from the early nineteenth century to the present, with emphasis on French painting and post-war American and European art. He has been particularly involved with theory and criticism. His publications include Cezanne and the End of Impressionism (University of Chicago Press, 1984), Critical Terms for Art History (University of Chicago Press, 1996, 2003), Barnett Newman: A Catalogue Raisonné (Yale University Press, 2004), and numerous studies of critical and methodological issues. His latest book Between Sense and de Kooning (Reaktion Books) will be released in October of 2011. Recent essays have focused on Georges Seurat, Pablo Picasso, Robert Mangold, Donald Judd, Chuck Close, Bridget Riley, Georg Baselitz, and Terry Winters, among others. He is now at work on three book projects: an interpretive account of Willem de Kooning (Reaktion Books), a study of the tension between practicing art and practicing criticism (Routledge), and a collection of his earlier essays (University of Chicago Press).

Neoteric Art: There are many books on Willem de Kooning, what makes your book, “Between Sense and de Kooning” unique and different?

Dr. Richard Shiff: Between Sense and de Kooning stresses the extreme degree to which de Kooning resisted classification of his attitude toward art, the art he was making, and himself as an artist. A number of others in his generation had a similar attitude but I would argue that de Kooning was the most effective at pursuing this position. As a result, his art mystifies most interpreters even today; neither social, nor biographical, nor psychological, nor formal modes of analysis produce satisfying, non-contradictory results for this art and this artist. My book relates de Kooning’s various studio techniques to his resistance to concepts of progress, development, the avant-garde, historical determinism, and any form of hierarchical, cultural value. This is why there is a gap “between sense …”–the sense we customarily make of art–“… and de Kooning.”

Buy the book here.