Gagosian Quarterly

Fall 2021 Issue

On the dot

In the first installment of a two-part feature, John Elderfield discusses how dots found a special place in the vocabulary of painting with the work of the French artist Georges Seurat and continue to be used to this day, most famously by Damien Hirst and Yayoi Kusama. Elderfield asks: what is it about dots that attracted modern artists, and what functions do they serve?

Image: Graphic Thought Facility

Image: Graphic Thought Facility

John Elderfield

John Elderfield is chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and was formerly the inaugural Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Distinguished Curator and Lecturer at the Princeton University Art Museum. He joined Gagosian in 2012 as a senior curator for special exhibitions.

See all Articles

Damien Hirst is said to have made over 1,000 paintings of dots that he calls Spot paintings and a good number further that he calls Colour Space paintings. Fans of Yayoi Kusama claim that she has made many more dots than he has; but who knows, he may well ask for a recount. This would raise the question, well-known in Florida, of chads—more specifically of the controversial “hanging” chads caused when the round holes produced by Votomatic-style punch card ballot machines, used by that state in the 2000 US presidential elections, are incompletely punched.

Chads, it appears, first literally dropped into view in the 1930s in the form of the small round pieces of paper cut out by a perforator from the tapes used in telegraphy. Hirst’s and Kusama’s respective uses of dots in artmaking have a more distant origin, but a none-too-dissimilar mechanical one: the so-called “metal cutting in the dotted manner” known as Schrotblätter (shot sheets) or manière criblée (crible = sieve) of German and French late-fifteenth- and early-sixteenth-century printmaking.1 After the main drawn lines of a composition were engraved on a thin copper plate, areas of the rest of the image were created by repeated use of the same metalwork punch to produce a uniform pattern of white dots that simulated continuous-tone shading. The technique was quickly superseded by different forms of printmaking, but László Moholy-Nagy’s Space Modulator compositions of the mid-1930s, with grids of perforated zinc holes, are among its early modern successors.2 And the mixture of compositional lines and areas of filled dots in the manière criblée suggests a third contemporary artist renowned for his use of repeated identical dots, Roy Lichtenstein. Once you start thinking about dots, in fact, they do seem to be everywhere, innumerable, infinite.

On the Dot

Master of Jesus in Bethany (Netherlandish, late 15th century), Christ Crowned with Thorns, c. 1470–80, metalcut with one star and several dot punches, hand-colored, 9 ⅛ × 6 ¾ inches (23.2 × 17.1 cm), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Bequest of James Clark McGuire, 1930

Dots on the Disappearing Surface

I am not going even to attempt surveying the field of artistic dots, which would take us back to the tiny, hardly visible ones used by painters as different as Fra Angelico and Vermeer; nor those found in the form of drill marks on the earliest beautifully worked stones, amber, shells, and the like. Rather, I shall mention only some of the artists who have made important and compelling use of them in either of the two basic ways in which they appear in modern paintings: at first, to make the surface disappear; then, to affirm the surface. I shall address the first approach in the text that follows and the second in the next issue of the Quarterly.

The emergence of surface-dissolving dots was the subject of a book by the French painter Paul Signac, D’Eugène Delacroix au Néo-Impressionisme, published in 1899.3 As that title implies, Signac described Neo-Impressionism—which had begun in the mid-1880s with the “pointillism” of Georges Seurat, which used petits points (small dots) of pure color—as built on the earlier achievements of Delacroix. His book is a salutary reminder of what would become a recurring theme of philosopher Isaiah Berlin’s writings, that “ideas rarely have consequences their authors intended” and that “no idea can ever be implemented without adulteration or distortion.”4

Signac begins with how Delacroix was struck by the English painter John Constable’s Haywain of 1821, exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1824, which used a multitude of different greens rather than a uniform tint to paint fields and foliage. In consequence, Delacroix reworked the background of his Massacres of Chios, on which he was working at the time. This was a perfect starting point for Signac since it goes to the very heart of the technical issue. As he put it, Delacroix realized that, to create any color, “the touches should not be blended materially. They blend naturally with one another at a distance. . . . The color thus obtained has greater energy and freshness.”5 In Signac’s account, Impressionist painters refined this approach through their use of pure colors only and of brushstrokes in the form of short, usually commalike “taches” whose edges remained unblended; and Seurat, in turn, systematized this tactic, developing a methodical technique informed by contemporaneous color theory—namely, pointillism.6

This is broadly true, yet in one important respect Signac was, I believe, misleading. He emphasized the increasing sophistication of the production of optical fusion at a distance by, first, Delacroix’s brushstrokes; second, the Impressionists’ taches; and third, Seurat’s petits points. The distance at which representation disappears into, and emerges from, the agent of the representation is a subject with a long history, going back to Plato and Horace, and was extensively discussed in the seventeenth-century epistemology of the Académie Française. The conclusion of the theorist Roger de Piles was characteristic: “It is enough that [paintings] produce their effect from the place at which people usually look at them, except that connoisseurs, after seeing them from a reasonable distance, wish to come closer to examine the artifice.”7 Delacroix wanted much more than the revelation of artifice, being emphatic on the importance of the visibly marked surface of a painting, which he believed would express a unique interpretation of its subject through the marks of the artist’s hand. He would hardly have been pleased to be thought answerable for painting in mechanically repetitive dots, and dots that disappear when seen from a reasonable distance.8

On the Dot

Georges Seurat, Le Pont de Courbevoie (Bridge of Courbevoie), 1886–87, oil on canvas, 18 ¼ × 21 inches (46.4 × 53.3 cm), The Samuel Courtauld Trust, The Courtauld Gallery, London

Performing the Painting

Long before Delacroix began work, those painters whom the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin would call malerische (tactile, painterly) had exploited, not effaced, evidence of touch.9 From Delacroix to Willem de Kooning, most modern artists did the same. Seurat did not adopt what art historian Richard Shiff aptly calls “the non-touch look of efficiency and anonymity” that we find in the canvases of many of Wölfflin’s “linear” painters, and of whom Hirst, in his Spot paintings, is a distant descendant.10 Coming up close to Seurat’s canvases, we see, rather, the visible-touch look of efficiency and anonymity—which then disappears at a distance. Seurat removed his own presence from his paintings whatever way you look at them.11 The point of pointillism was not that it produces an expressive, autographic surface—although that surface is nonetheless of interest to connoisseurs—but that it makes the viewer stand back from a painting at a distance sufficient for the optical fusion of the dots of color to occur, as if they had actually been mixed. Or else to stand just short of that distance, when the surface will seem to flicker and glimmer, owing to a faint perception from time to time of its constituent colors—a phenomenon commonly described as “sheen” or “luster.” What happens is technically known as a shift from a “surface” mode to a “film” mode, in which an object appears as frontal in a two-dimensional plane but is extremely difficult to localize spatially.12

Such an effect had long been produced by painters skillful enough to represent the sheen of light reflected from folds of silk or satin, gold braiding, polished metallic or glass surfaces, and sparkling reflections on water. The Impressionists, Monet and Renoir in particular, sought to expand these effects to represent the flickering, colored vibrations of light on landscape, and especially water, by means of fields or shoals of repeated taches of a similar size. They did this so successfully in the early 1870s as to produce paintings of a novel, stunning allover brightness—but eventually so frequently and extremely bright as to implausibly suggest that in France the sun was always shining; lovely, but a bit monotonous.

However, fields of taches applied uniformly over a surface were incapable of picking out details for special treatment, as older painting techniques had; and pointillism made that even more difficult. Purposefully so, for unless the independence of details was mitigated even more than it was by Impressionist technique, they would inhibit free movement of the viewer’s eyes across the picture surface to induce lustrous effects wherever they happened to focus. Of course, we viewers know that we create all paintings for ourselves in the process of looking at them; but we rarely see that we do so. To an unprecedented extent, the participation of the viewer gained prominence in the experience of pointillist paintings. When the dots of color appear to be neither fused nor entirely distinct, a lively ephemerality ensues, and viewers are tempted to shift their viewing position between fusion and separation, performing the painting as an optical instrument.

On the Dot

Georges Seurat, Poseuses (Models), 1886–88, oil on canvas, 78 ¾ × 98 ⅜ inches (200 × 249.9 cm), The Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

All of this sounds exciting, and Seurat’s paintings usually are. The viewer is not tempted to move much, content to see a sufficiency of both the fusion and the grain of the dots simultaneously, but this is breathtaking enough. Seurat wrote to Signac that he had wanted to find “something new, an art entirely of my own,” and he succeeded.13 Paintings with prominent repetitive brushstrokes had been compared to the products of craft labor since mid-century, and pointillist paintings sometimes were as well.14 However, they were also on occasion thought to have been done not by hand but mechanically,15 and they do belong to a period of mechanical mass production; of the loss of “all individual character” of the products of industry, decried by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Communist Manifesto of 1848;16 and of innovations in methods of mass printing that used arrays of dots.17 Nonetheless, Seurat’s technical achievement is among the few that can truly be called unparalleled in the history of painting, and is so entirely his own that nobody else could convincingly make it solely their own.

True, the pointillist method proved unsuited to Seurat’s goal of creating great figure compositions. His largely prepointillist Une Baignade, Asnières (Bathers at Asnières, 1884) is as great as any nineteenth-century figure composition, an extraordinary achievement for a twenty-five-year-old painter, but as Kenneth Clark unfashionably observed, the silhouetted shapes that Seurat was forced to use to demarcate the cast of characters in his pointillist Un Dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte (Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte, 1884–86) produce “the effect of pasteboard pictures in a toy theater.”18 And Seurat’s late figure compositions suffer comparably. In contrast, his pointillism was stunningly successful in open landscape subjects, especially those with areas of sparkling water.19 As Clark nicely observed, “he used it for anti-impressionist ends, working out every millimetre of surface with the industry of a coral insect and the logic of a mathematician.”20 By “anti-impressionist” he meant the works avoided the usual picturesque attraction of such seascapes. They were also anti-impressionist in being “sometimes about nothing,” as the critic André Lhote wrote in 1948, perhaps recalling William Hazlitt’s famous description of J. M. W. Turner’s work: “pictures of nothing, and very like.”21

In this vein, Signac complained that on the studio wall behind the figures in Seurat’s large composition Poseuses (Models), of 1886–88, no representation occurred; nothing happened except the apparent movement of the colored dots.22 Signac appears to have recognized that there was something uncanny about a painting of a section of flat wall that looks less like a wall than like what it is, a canvas covered with tiny dots—an incomprehensible self-referentiality at that time.

The meritoriously patient, constructional aspect of Neo-Impressionist paintings was a quality that later artists working with masses of dots would need to develop—or else find assistants willing to do such craft labor. Nonetheless, the method was there for a specific representational purpose, aided by Seurat’s readings in the color theory that he used to plot which color dots should go together. But even those theories did not help him to solve the problem that pointillism, densely applied, had the effect of neutralizing color at a distance, to monotonous effect. And they had a worse effect on Seurat’s followers, whose canvases of blue and orange dots are, more often than not, disappointingly bland, fastidious in their craftsmanship but made timid by following the blueprint of a theory.

Everything is at a full stop. Muteness and immobility—the result of using dots purged from tactility in a mechanically repetitive process—may be judged a price worth paying for the distant, classic serenity of the result.

The Responsive Eye

Henri Matisse dabbled with pointillism in 1899, undoubtedly influenced by Signac’s D’Eugène Delacroix au Néo-Impressionisme, published that year. He approached it more seriously in 1904 with the so-called “divisionist” version of it that employed small squares and rectangles of color, only to discard the approach a year later. It did continue to be of interest to some new painters, being picked up by Futurists to create stroboscopic effects, most notably in Giacomo Balla’s meretricious masterpiece Girl Running on a Balcony of 1912, but soon fell out of favor. It would be more than half a century before successors of Neo-Impressionism would gain wide attention for works that enrolled viewers in the creation of very striking optical effects. At the Museum of Modern Art’s 1965 exhibition The Responsive Eye, visitors were delighted, bewildered, and disturbed by such effects in paintings by Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, and others.

Riley’s direction was critically influenced, she acknowledged, by copying Seurat’s Le Pont de Courbevoie (Bridge at Courbevoie, 1887) as a student at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. By the early 1960s she was making paintings in black and white, mainly works composed of dots but some using other basic geometric forms. Her announced aim was the recording of remembered sensations, particularly of lustrous surfaces: “the shine of hair, the shine of skin, of certain fabrics, of leaves, of water, of many other things.” White Disks of 1964, for example, was a memory of “looking directly into the sun over a foreshore of rocks exposed by the tide—all reduced to a violent black and white contrast, interspersed, here and there, by the glitter of water.”23 The painting is actually composed of black disks; the “white disks” of its title are afterimages produced when you stare at the black ones. Such effects, familiar from books on optical illusions, had appeared in earlier abstractions, notably in the mid-1930s Animated Circle paintings of Sophie Taeuber-Arp;24 but in none pursued with such Seurat-like industry and logic as Riley’s.

I referred earlier to a shift from a “surface” mode to a “film” mode, in which an object appears as frontal in a two-dimensional plane but is difficult to localize spatially. Self-evidently, the surface mode refers to perception of a visual array attached to experience of the object on which that array is represented. Perception in the film mode, which is how Riley’s black and white disks are captured by sight, is detached from experience of the surface of the object. Riley’s statement that her paintings only come to life when looked at from a certain distance is continuous with Neo-Impressionist practices.25 However, it also carries them to their logical conclusion. To modify de Piles’s words: if connoisseurs come close to her paintings to examine the artifice, they will in fact be disappointed. These works only reward in the viewer’s perception at a certain, reasonable distance. That is to say, their surfaces disappear in their viewing. As Riley acknowledges, in a way her paintings do not exist factually at all. And when they were first exhibited, even as ecumenical a critic as David Sylvester was not sure that “reward” was the best description of what they provided, writing that “the eye-hurting tendency of Riley’s work . . . can make her pictures impossible to hang at eye-level in a room in constant use (short of putting curtains in front of them).”26 So much for the lively flicker and glimmer of pointillist paintings.

On the Dot

Bridget Riley, White Discs 2, 1964, emulsion on board, 41 × 39 inches (104 × 99 cm) © Bridget Riley 2021. All rights reserved.

The critic Thomas B. Hess, like Sylvester a friend of de Kooning’s, had fun reviewing The Responsive Eye. In an article entitled—perhaps in response to Sylvester’s—“You Can Hang it in the Hall,” he referred to visitors who “‘bob and wave’” in front of paintings, “shake their heads back and forth, make little jumps, like penguins at a mating dance,” to gain responsive movement from the works.27 This was an even sillier review than Sylvester’s, but such performative inducements do anticipate the audience-friendly walk-through installations we see today, varying from truly transcendent spaces to intellectual cotton candy. Among these, Kusama’s universe of dots assumes a special obsessive-compulsive place. Seeing even a relatively large group of her dots from a reasonable distance, we see that they have not escaped from a surface to a film mode; they are firmly attached to experience of the surfaces on which they are represented. Yet the cumulative experience of them in vast numbers, occupying every conceivable surface, means that our vision may rest anywhere but can settle nowhere. Vision is claimed everywhere, and therefore, everywhere is denied.28 The move into the film mode this produces means that oscillation between surface and film modes of viewing persists unsettlingly in the experience of Kusama’s installations.

Kusama has made no secret of the fact that she was afflicted, as a child, by various neuropsychiatric disorders leading to hallucinations so strong and frequent that the line between the real and the imaginary eventually disappeared.29 Psychoanalytical writers from Sigmund Freud to Didier Anzieu have spoken of the ego as a mental projection of the surface of the body, which is, therefore, “a place from which both external and internal perceptions may spring”; therefore, a “contact barrier” that individualizes each one of us, but may be breached by early deprivations even less extreme than those Kusama seems to have suffered.30 Sources, including biographical ones, may or may not be called into play in the creation of works of art, and viewers must decide for themselves whether or not Kusama’s installations reenact “a perceived threat to the Self’s individuality of its borders being undermined.”31 But it does seem fair to say that her seamless, pliant, cutaneous surfaces invite thoughts of protective bodily wrapping, and that the alternating loss to and gain of perception of surface materiality created by the dots makes for a disorienting uncertainty. The surface is there, everywhere; and everywhere, soon lost—precisely because the dots are everywhere. “The earth is a dot,” Kusama has said. “I am a dot. The moon is a dot. The sun is a dot. The stars are dots. Dots are innumerable, infinite. . . . ”31

On the Dot

Installation view, Yayoi Kusama: Life Is the Heart of a Rainbow, National Gallery Singapore, June 9–September 3, 2017. Artwork © Yayoi Kusama. Photo © Suhaimi Abdullah⁄Getty Images

Full Stop

The four small dots ending that last sentence should remind us that innumerable dots lurk in printed texts. I would guess there are getting on for a thousand in this one—most in the letter i, but also in the letter j; and in colons, semicolons, ellipses, periods, one question mark at the beginning, and an unnecessary exclamation point here, just to complete the list!

I began with punches that made dots in late-fifteenth- and early-sixteenth-century printmaking. This was just after punctuation had assumed increased importance, as the amount of printed material grew with the invention of movable type. Punch, puncture, and punctuation are etymological relatives, all referring to spatial marking and pointing; and, in the case of punctuation, of pausing and resting to aid understanding during rapid reading—and, in the case of the dot alone, to bring a sentence to a conclusion in what in England is called not a period but a full stop.

To paint a dot on a canvas requires not making a directional movement with the brush, as with even a short tache—not making a brushstroke, but making as full a stop as possible with the brush. Painted dots may be mobilized in their juxtapositions, especially if they are of varying sizes, as in Riley’s paintings and Kusama’s installations. Nonetheless, those of more or less the same size often yield a frozen, airless, silent quality. This is one reason why Neo-Impressionist figure compositions seem unnatural: it is impossible to believe that anyone represented in them is capable of speaking, just as, in even the most beautiful of Seurat’s marine paintings, that the water will ever move. Everything is at a full stop. Muteness and immobility—the result of using dots purged from tactility in a mechanically repetitive process—may be judged a price worth paying for the distant, classic serenity of the result. But not everyone has felt so, as we shall learn in the second part of this essay.

1Armin Kunz tells me that the standard text on these works remains W. L. Schreiber’s Handbuch der Holz- und Metallschnitte des XV. Jahrhunderts. Volume 5 (Leipzig: Karl W. Hiersemann, 1928) catalogues “Metallschnitte (Schrotblätter)” and a section in the historical overview in volume 7 (1929) deals with the “Metallschnitte.” Most readers may be satisfied with the Wikipedia entry “Metalcut,” and with the two references cited in it.

2László Moholy-Nagy’s works of this kind include Space Modulator L3 (1936), in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. There are numerous examples of this type of composition: Jesús Rafael Soto’s Displacement of a Luminous Element (1954), for example, which, however, has vinyl dots, lies in the same collection.

3Paul Signac’s book was serially published in La Revue blanche in 1898 before its one-volume publication by Éditions de la revue blanche the following year. I refer to the first English translation of the volume, translated from the third, 1921 French edition, which includes an excellent study of Signac’s book, his sources, and their relationship to later color theory: Floyd Ratliff, Paul Signac and Color in Neo-Impressionism (New York: Rockefeller University Press, 1992). A useful recent study, “Seurat’s Point and Signac’s ‘Non-Dot,’” appears in Øystein Sjåstad, A Theory of the Tache in Nineteenth-Century Painting (2014, reprint ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2016), pp. 102–21.

4John Gray, “Foreword: Children of Two Worlds,” in Isaiah Berlin, The Roots of Romanticism (1965, 2nd ed. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013), p. xiii.

5Signac, in Ratliff, Paul Signac and Color in Neo-Impressionism, p. 210.

6A short history of taches appears in Anthea Callen, The Work of Art: Plein Air Painting and Artistic Identity in Nineteenth-Century France (London: Reaktion Books, 2015), pp. 197–203. Sjåstad, A Theory of the Tache, also contains a survey—mainly a semiotic study—that begins before Impressionism and continues through Neo-Impressionism to Henri Matisse.

7Roger de Piles, Conversations sur la connaissance de la peinture et sur le jugement qu’on doit faire des tableaux (Paris, 1677), p. 27, quoted in Jacqueline Lichtenstein, The Eloquence of Color: Rhetoric and Painting in the French Classical Age, 1989, Eng. trans. Emily McVarish, New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Poetics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), p. 162. The subject is elaborated in Thomas Puttfarken, Roger de Piles’ Theory of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1985).

8See Delacroix’s journal entries in The Journal of Eugène Delacroix. Translated from the French by Walter Pach, 1937 (reprint ed. New York: Grove Press, 1961), p. 533 (January 11, 1857), p. 546 (January 13, 1857), p. 566 (January 25, 1857).

9Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Later Art, 1915, Eng. trans. M. D. Hottinger (New York: Dover Publications, 1950).

10Richard Shiff, “Bridget Riley in Particular,” in Lynne Cooke and Karen Kelly, eds., Robert Lehman Lectures on Contemporary Art, no. 4 (New York: Dia Art Foundation, 2009), p. 46.

11In this respect, Georges Seurat’s stance is just as disassociated as Charles Baudelaire’s had been from the molecular flux of the Paris he described—more so than that of the Impressionists, to whose paintings Baudelaire’s attraction to ever-changing surface appearances is more frequently compared.

12A useful account of this and related subjects is Sanford Wurmfeld, “Color in Abstract Painting,” in Kurt Nassau, ed., Color for Science, Art and Technology, vol. 1 (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1998), pp. 169–84.

13Seurat, quoted in John Rewald, “Seurat: The Meaning of the Dots,” Studies in Post-Impressionism (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1986), p. 157.

14See Callen, The Work of Art, pp. 193–94, and Sjåstad, A Theory of the Tache, pp. 107–11, the latter a fine discussion that draws on the extensive literature on workshop practice of the period, including its comparison to pointillism.

15Art critic Thadée Natanson reported a conversation at an 1894 Neo-Impressionist exhibition: “It’s done mechanically?” “No, Monsieur, by hand.” “Expositions,” La Revue blanche 6 (1894), p. 187, quoted in Robert L. Herbert, “Introduction,” Georges Seurat 1859–1891, exh. cat. (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991), p. 3.

16Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s Communist Manifesto (1848) is easily accessed at https:⁄⁄⁄archive⁄marx⁄works⁄1848⁄communist-manifesto⁄index.htm (accessed June 17, 2021). The quotation here appears in chapter 1, which speaks of how the worker “becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him.”

17Among these was chromotypogravure, unique to France: see Norma Broude, “New Light on Seurat’s ‘Dot’: Its Relation to Photo-Mechanical Color Printing in France in the 1880s,” Art Bulletin 56, no. 4 (December 1974): pp. 581–89.

18Kenneth Clark, Landscape into Art (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1956), p. 128.

19On the importance of marine subjects for Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, see Sjåstad, A Theory of the Tache, pp. 36–40. The importance of the experience of water for Bridget Riley’s painting, mentioned in Shiff, “Bridget Riley in Particular,” pp. 63–64, associates it with the work of the earlier artists.

20Clark, Landscape into Art, p. 125.

21André Lhote, Seurat (Paris: Braun, 1948), p. 8, quoted in Shiff, “Bridget Riley in Particular,” p. 56, in a discussion of comparable effects in Riley’s work; and William Hazlitt, “On Imitation,” 1816, in The Collected Works of William Hazlitt, ed. A. R. Waller and Arnold Glover (London: J. M. Dent & Co., and New York: McClure, Phillips & Co., 1902), 1:76.

22Signac, “Extraits du journal inédit de Paul Signac,” ed. Rewald, Gazette des beaux-arts, no. 39 (April 1952): 270, quoted in Shiff, “Bridget Riley in Particular,” p. 56.

23Riley, “Something to Look At,” 1995, in Riley, The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley. Collected Writings 1965–1999, ed. Robert Kudielka (London: Thames & Hudson, 1999), pp. 128, 130. I discuss such effects at length in “The Change of Aspect,” Bridget Riley: Reconnaissance, exh. cat. (New York: Dia Center for the Arts, 2000), pp. 11–43.

24See Anne Umland and Walburga Krupp, eds., Sophie Taeuber-Arp: Living Abstraction, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, and Basel; Kunstmuseum, 2021), pp. 171–72; for their possible influence on works by Paul Klee, pp. 175–76; for illustration of Animated Circle works, pp. 214–15.

25See my “The Change of Aspect,” p. 17.

26David Sylvester, untitled essay for a catalogue of Riley’s solo exhibition at Gallery One, London, September 9–28, 1963, repr. in Sylvester, About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948–96 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1996), pp. 178–79.

27Thomas B. Hess, “You Can Hang it in the Hall,” Artnews, April 1965, repr. under the title “‘Op Is Out-of-Town Art’: Thomas B. Hess on MoMA’s Show ‘The Responsive Eye,’ in 1965,” Artnews, January 29, 2016, available online at https:⁄⁄⁄art-news⁄retrospective⁄op-is-out-of-town-art-thomas-b-hess-on-momas-show-the-responsive-eye-in-1965-5742⁄ (accessed June 17, 2021).

28This effect may also be produced by the optical dazzle of repeated stripes and other forms of repetitive patterning. I give examples in “Describing Matisse,” Henri Matisse: A Retrospective, exh. cat. (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992), pp. 38–39.

29See Cristina Bigliatti, “Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession,” Platform, December 15, 2016, available online at https:⁄⁄⁄yayoi-kusama-dots-obsession⁄ (accessed June 17, 2021).

30Didier Anzieu, The Skin-Ego, 1985, Eng. trans. Naomi Segal (London and New York: Routledge, 2018), contains many relevant passages, including discussion of Freud’s readings. The quotations here are on, sequentially, p. 90 and p. 81; a discussion of how “the skin provides a phantasmatic core to patients who have suffered early deprivations” is introduced on p. 21, and developed with reference to schizophrenia on pp. 111–12, 169.

31Ibid., p. 111.

32Yayoi Kusama, quoted in Bigliatti, “Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession.”

Takashi Murakami cover and Andreas Gursky cover for Gagosian Quarterly, Summer 2022 magazine

Now available
Gagosian Quarterly Summer 2022

The Summer 2022 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, with two different covers—featuring Takashi Murakami’s 108 Bonnō MURAKAMI.FLOWERS (2022) and Andreas Gursky’s V & R II (2022).

Amanda Williams in her studio, Chicago, 2022. Photo: Jacob Hand


Jasmine Sanders addresses the economic, architectural, and chromatic roots of Amanda Williams’s new paintings.

Black and white image of Annie Flanders entering Area nightclub, New York, 1986.

Game Changer
Annie Flanders

Aria Darcella pays homage to the founder of Details magazine, enumerating the many ways in which Flanders changed discourses around fashion, nightlife, and photography.

Darkly lit road, trees, and building exterior at La Ribaute, Barjac, France.

Anselm Kiefer: Architect of Landscape and Cosmology

Jérôme Sans visits La Ribaute in Barjac, France, the vast studio-estate transformed by Anselm Kiefer over the course of decades. The labyrinthine site, now open to the public, stands as a total work of art, reflecting through its grounds, pavilions, and passageways major themes in Kiefer’s oeuvre: regeneration, mythology, memory, and more. 

Two dress sculptures in the landscape at Barjac

La Ribaute: Transitive, It Transforms

Camille Morineau writes of the triumph of the feminine at Anselm Kiefer’s former studio-estate in Barjac, France, describing the site and its installations as a demonstration of women’s power, a meditation on inversion and permeability, and a reversal of the long invisibility of women in history and myth.

Black and white image of Clare McAndrew

An Eye on the Market: Clare McAndrew

Clare McAndrew speaks with the Quarterly’s Alison McDonald about the intricacies of her art-market research and analysis, detailing the ecosystem behind the business and the inherent challenges of addressing a notoriously opaque and subjective market.

Black and white still image from Joseph H. Lewis's “So Dark the Night” (1946)

A Perfect Storm: Jim Shaw and Conspiratorial Film

In the fall of 2021, in partnership with New York’s Metrograph cinema and Gagosian, artist Jim Shaw organized a series of six conspiracy-minded films revolving around thorny questions of truth, guilt, fantasy, and innocence, and leading Shaw to revelations about the fringe notion of “frazzledrip.” Here, Natasha Stagg reflects on the movies he chose and on the wider implications of what it means to go down the rabbit hole.

Photograph of Keioui Keijuan Thomas, Octopus: Dreaming Otherwise, organized by Yolene Grant and Yulan Grant, 2021

Performance Space

Jenny Schlenzka and Ana Beatriz Sepúlveda of Performance Space New York speak with the Quarterly’s Gillian Jakab about the storied institution’s radical shifts and current programming.

Tetsuya Ishida, Untitled, 2001, acrylic on canvas, 51 ¼ × 76 ⅜ inches (130.3 × 194 cm)

Tetsuya Ishida’s Nihilist Realism

Mika Yoshitake details the economic, psychological, and cultural conditions that gave rise to Tetsuya Ishida’s unique strain of Japanese postwar realism.

Tetsuya Ishida, Waiting for a Chance, 1999, acrylic on board, in 2 parts, overall: 57 ¼ × 81 ⅛ inches (145.6 × 206.1 cm)

Tetsuya Ishida: Painter of Modern Life

Yūko Hasegawa explores the fantastical convergences and amalgamations in Tetsuya Ishida’s paintings, their connections to manga and advertising imagery, and the shift that occurred in the artist’s work as he moved from acrylic to oil paint in 2000.

Image of Francis Bacon's ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator’ painting, c. 1946

Francis Bacon: The First Pope

Richard Calvocoressi tells the story of Francis Bacon’s first image of the pope, ‘Landscape with Pope/Dictator,’ c. 1946.

Feliza Bursztyn welding in her studio in Bogotá, c. 1979. Photo: Rafael Moure

Feliza Bursztyn

Salomé Gómez-Upegui profiles the trailblazing feminist sculptor Feliza Bursztyn (1933–1982). Prompted by this Colombian artist’s first retrospective outside her home country, at the Muzeum Susch, Switzerland, in 2022, Gómez-Upegui sheds light on Bursztyn’s vital role in Colombia’s cultural and literary community.