Archie Rand's The Eighteen and postmodern (mis)recognition

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Author: David Kaufmann
Date: Winter 2003
From: Shofar(Vol. 21, Issue 2)
Publisher: Purdue University Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,993 words

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Archie Rand's series of paintings, The Eighteen, presents an interesting test for the supposed inclusiveness of "postmodern" theory. A frankly redemptive investigation of Jewish prayer, it rejoices in the freedoms of postmodern figuration, but because it offers neither critique nor an account of identity formation, it is not--or rather cannot be--recognized as a "valid" postmodern work. In the end, this judgment says less about the quality of the work than it does about the limits of postmodernism as it has been construed.


A great deal of the critical energy of both postmodern painting and theory has been spent on the complicated dialectics of (mis)recognition: who gets recognized and as what; what gets recognized and by whom. One of the points of this often feverish and sometimes hyperbolic activity has been to open up new ranges of conceptual and artistic possibility, and to grant serious attention to new groups, practices, and themes.

In this article, I want to look at what appear to me to be the limits of our hard-won inclusiveness by investigating an unlikely case, that of Archie Rand's series, The Eighteen. Technically, these paintings seem to partake of all the freedoms of pastiche and appropriation that postmodernism offers. Nevertheless, they have not been recognized as belonging to the critical sphere of postmodern interests. Unlike Rand's early underground hits, the Letter Paintings of the early 1970s, which served as beautiful and witty hommages to Afro-American music, and which are now shown world-wide, The Eighteen has been relegated to the Jewish museum circuit. In the first section of my piece, I will try to reconstruct the project of these paintings in order to argue that they are unrecognizable to postmodernism because they are inscribed within a historical horizon of redemptive hope, which has apparently been lost. In the second section, I will go on to maintain that in the larger field of contemporary painting, especially in the field of works that are devoted to the dense peculiarities of ethnic experience, The Eighteen is too dense and too peculiar to be recognized. My guess is that this relative invisibility is a sign not of the weakness of Rand's paintings, but of a new kind of critical foreclosure, an unwillingness to entertain certain themes.


Archie Rand's series of paintings, The Eighteen, takes as its subject Hebrew benedictions that date back to the Talmud. How do you paint a prayer? I do not mean those prayers--you find the practice amongst Native Americans and Indians--which actually are paintings, where the painting itself is part of the ritual. I am referring instead to the standard prescribed prayers of the three major monotheistic religions. How do you catch both the text and the phenomenology of prayer, that is, its interiority, concentration, and direction?

It could be argued that Rothko's later paintings evince that intense inwardness. Rothko's uncanny, hovering dark rectangles are both monumental and ill defined. As such they provide seductive and vaguely threatening intimations of both a complete otherness and an equally complete lack...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A97730637