Let us ask questions that storm through historical material in all its forms. They concern the grasp of reality. Let us permit the concepts of our time, our philosophers, and our artists to mix into a collective discussion in which these questions are shared, if not always answered or answerable.

The essays collected here take up the problems posed by specific works of art set outside institutions and the institutional definitions of modernism. They right away dispense with the doctrines of strict separation. They take their cues from words of specific artists and writers, beginning in the late 1960s, a time when commentary found itself in a crisis that was both political and critical. Outside the museums, for example, nothing seemed fatally separated from anything else. The old question of engagement was posed repeatedly, but differently. Is it still realism? Is it still materialism? It is still historical in nature. The case studies build up to form new lines of continuity and investigation; they cut across the efforts to erect new systems; they ask that research be weighed. They assume history to be understood as a thick, complex, ongoing exchange between people, not abstractions. The resulting book records forty years of this work in progress. It will be published by Periscope Press.

Molly Nesbit is a Professor of Art History at Vassar College and a Contributing Editor of Artforum. Her books include Atget’s Seven Albums (Yale University Press, 1992) and Their Common Sense (Black Dog, 2000). She has received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and was a Getty Scholar at The Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. With Hans Ulrich Obrist and Rirkrit Tiravanija, she has been organizing Utopia Station, an ongoing book, exhibition, seminar, Website, street, and newspaper-page project.