"I stood already committed to a profound duplicity of life." —R.L. Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
"Où donc avait-elle appris cette corruption, presque immatérielle à force d’être profonde et dissimulée?" —Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
This is a comprehensive overview of my history as a writer. It excludes my work as a curator, with the exception of books and catalogues produced thereby. However, for me, curating always followed on my practice as a writer. Even being a director of an art gallery I saw as a writer’s project. So this website is a history of my publishing, though some unpublished texts and other documents appear.
I published my first article in 1977 in the Montreal art magazine Parachute after I had decided not to continue studies in art history but instead to follow my teenage interests in contemporary art. I had determined to become a writer, specifically an art writer. At that time in Canada, it was virtually a profession in name only with no recompense, except for those who wrote for newspapers, so it was only after several years of publishing articles that I started to write reviews as well, once Canadian magazines started to pay in a token way, in order to make a living of sorts as a freelance writer. I lived this way, living within the Toronto art scene, until I took a job as a senior curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1985. That neatly ended my status as an independent art critic … and precipitated an identity crisis. I’m a curator, but also a critic, I would say for years, until I acknowledged that, yes, I am actually a curator—for whom writing leads, nonetheless.
Those first eight years as a writer, and nothing but, were formative. They had an informative arc to them: forming me and informing the issues I was dealing with. In spite of the fact that I was not pursuing a doctorate, I was developing a thesis: a critique of presence in contemporary art. That phrase alone, “the critique of presence,” will make you recognize that I came then under the fateful influence of Jacques Derrida. But in those years in the late 1970s, you must recognize as well, that this fateful attraction was not to the Derrida we know now, or rather that of twenty or even thirty years ago, but the still obscure Derrida of Speech and Phenomena and Of Grammatology. At that time, Derrida and deconstruction were not given to us; there was no post-structuralist doxa; it was an open field. There was not only Derrida, but also Lyotard, too, and Deleuze, and Bataille, Foucault and Lacan, Barthes, Benveniste, and Blanchot, Girard and Faye, not to mention Althusser, Adorno, Benjamin, Lukács and Gadamer, and others, and behind them moreover Saussure, Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche. So in this untutored environment of influences, a hothouse really, strange combinations were fabricated. I manufactured my own: my own thesis, or antithesis actually, but these two thetics were fundamentally undercut, the ground pulled out from them by my statement of the problem: the problem was the way we faced art, stood in front of it.
We thought we were simply looking at art but we were facing an abyss, an abgrund....
Image: Based on Douglas Gordon, left is right and right is wrong and left is wrong and right is right, 1999, design by Bryan Gee