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The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture3.98 · Rating details ·  968 Ratings  ·  21 Reviews

For the past thirty years, Hal Foster has pushed the boundaries of cultural criticism, establishing a vantage point from which the seemingly disparate agendas of artists, patrons, and critics have a telling coherence. In The Anti-Aesthetic, preeminent critics such as Jean Baudrillard, Rosalind Krauss, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said consider the full range of postmodern cFor the past thirty years, Hal Foster has pushed the boundaries of cultural criticism, establishing a vantage point from which the seemingly disparate agendas of artists, patrons, and critics have a telling coherence. In The Anti-Aesthetic, preeminent critics such as Jean Baudrillard, Rosalind Krauss, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said consider the full range of postmodern cultural production, from the writing of John Cage, to Cindy Sherman's film stills, to Barbara Kruger's collages. With a redesigned cover and a new afterword that situates the book in relation to contemporary criticism, The Anti-Aesthetic provides a strong introduction for newcomers and a point of reference for those already engaged in discussions of postmodern art, culture, and criticism. Includes a new afterword by Hal Foster and 12 black and white photographs....more

Paperback, 183 pages

Published April 1st 2002 by The New Press (first published 1983)

This article is about the art critic and Princeton professor. For the comic strip artist, see Hal Foster.

Harold Foss "Hal" Foster[1] (born August 13, 1955) is an Americanart critic and historian. He was educated at Princeton University, Columbia University, and the City University of New York. He taught at Cornell University from 1991 to 1997 and has been on the faculty at Princeton since 1997. In 1998 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Foster's criticism focuses on the role of the avant-garde within postmodernism. In 1983, he edited The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, a seminal text in postmodernism. In Recodings (1985), he promoted a vision of postmodernism that simultaneously engaged its avant-garde history and commented on contemporary society. In The Return of the Real (1996), he proposed a model of historical recurrence of the avant-garde in which each cycle would improve upon the inevitable failures of previous cycles. He views his roles as critic and historian of art as complementary rather than mutually opposed.

Early life and education[edit]

Foster was born Aug. 13, 1955, in Seattle, Washington.[2] His father was a partner in the law firm of Foster, Pepper & Shefelman.[3] He attended Lakeside School in Seattle, where Microsoft founder Bill Gates was a classmate.[4]

He graduated from Princeton in 1977 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Art History.[1] He received a Master of Arts in English from Columbia University in 1979.[2] He received his Ph.D. in art history from the City University of New York in 1990, writing his dissertation on Surrealism under Rosalind Krauss.[5]


After graduating from Princeton, Foster moved to New York City, where he worked for Artforum from 1977 to 1981. He was then an editor at Art in America until 1987, when he became Director of Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Whitney Museum.[2][5]

In 1982,[6] a friend from Lakeside School founded Bay Press to publish The Mink's Cry, a children's book written by Foster.[3] In the following year Bay Press published The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, a collection of essays on postmodernism edited by Foster[7] that became a seminal text of postmodernism.[5] In 1985, Bay Press published Recodings, Foster's first collection of essays.[5]The Anti-Aesthetic and Recordings were, respectively, Bay Press's best and second best selling titles.[3] Foster founded Zone in 1985 and was its editor until 1992.[8]

In 1991, Foster left the Whitney[2] to join the faculty of Cornell University's Department of the History of Art. That same year, Foster became an editor of the journalOctober;[5] he was still on the board as of 2011.[9] In 1997 he joined the faculty of his undergraduate alma mater, Princeton University, in the Department of Art and Archaeology.[5] In 2000 he became the Townsend Martin Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton.[8] He chaired the Department of Art and Archaeology from 2005 to 2009.[10] In September 2011 he was appointed to the search committee to find a new dean for Princeton's School of Architecture.[11] He is a faculty fellow of Wilson College.[12]

Foster received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998.[13] In 2010 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[14] and awarded the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing by the Clark Art Institute.[8] Spring 2011 he won a Berlin Prize fellowship of the American Academy in Berlin.[15] In 2013-14 he was appointed practitioner in residence at Camberwell College of Arts in London.


In his introduction to The Anti-Aesthetic (1983), Foster described a distinction between complicity with and resistance to capitalism within postmodernism.[7] The book included contributions by Jean Baudrillard, Douglas Crimp, Kenneth Frampton, Jürgen Habermas, Fredric Jameson, Rosalind Krauss, Craig Owens, Edward Saïd, and Gregory Ulmer.[16]

In Recodings (1985), Foster focused on the role of the avant-garde within postmodernism. He advocated a postmodernism that engages in both a continuation of its historical roots in the avant-garde and contemporary social and political critique, in opposition to what he saw as a "pluralistic" impulse to abandon the avant-garde in favor of more aesthetically traditional and commercially viable modes. He promoted artists he saw as exemplifying this vision, among them Dara Birnbaum, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Allan McCollum, Martha Rosler, and Krzysztof Wodiczko. Foster favored expansion of the scope of postmodernist art from galleries and museums to a broader class of public locations and from painting and sculpture to other media. He saw postmodernism's acknowledgment of differences in viewers' backgrounds and lack of deference to expertise as important contributions to the avant-garde.[5]

By the mid-1990s, Foster had come to believe that the dialectic within the avant-garde between historical engagement and contemporary critique had broken down. In his view, the latter came to be preferred over the former as interest was elevated over quality. In The Return of the Real (1996), taking as his model Karl Marx's reaction against G. W. F. Hegel, he sought to rebut Peter Bürger's assertion – which he made in Theory of the Avant-Garde[17] (1974) – that the neo-avant-garde largely represented a repetition of the projects and achievements of the historical avant-garde, and therefore it was a failure. Foster's model was based on a notion of "deferred action" inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud. He conceded the failure of the initial avant-garde wave (which included such figures as Marcel Duchamp) but argued that future waves could redeem earlier ones by incorporating through historical reference those aspects that had not been comprehended the first time around. Gordon Hughes compares this theory with Jean-François Lyotard's.[5]

Foster has been critical of the field of visual culture, accusing it of "looseness". In a 1999 article in Social Text, Crimp rebutted Foster, criticizing his notion of the avant-garde and his treatment in The Return of the Real of sexual identity in Andy Warhol's work.[5] Furthermore, this criticality spreads to both the practice and the field of design in his book Design and Crime (2002).[18]

Foster views his roles as art critic and art historian as complementary rather than mutually opposed, in accordance with his adherence to postmodernism.[5] In an interview published in the Journal of Visual Culture, he said, "I've never seen critical work in opposition to historical work: like many others I try to hold the two in tandem, in tension. History without critique is inert; criticism without history is aimless".[19]


This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.


  • Foster, Hal (1982). The mink's cry. Bay Press. 
  • —, ed. (1983). The anti-aesthetic : essays on postmodern culture. Bay Press. 
  • Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics, 1985. Bay Press.
  • —, ed. (1988). Vision and visuality. The New Press. 
  • —, ed. (1988). Discussions in contemporary culture. The New Press. 
  • Compulsive Beauty, 1995. MIT Press.
  • The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, 1996. MIT Press.
  • Design and Crime (And Other Diatribes), 2002. 2nd. ed, 2011. Verso Books.
  • Art Since 1900: Modernism, Anti-Modernism, Postmodernism, 2005. With Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin Buchloh. Thames & Hudson.
  • Pop (Themes & Movements), 2006. With Mark Francis. Phaidon Press.
  • Prosthetic Gods, 2006. MIT Press.
  • The Art-Architecture Complex, 2011. Verso Books.
  • The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha, 2011. Princeton University Press.
  • Bad New Days: Art, Criticism, Emergency, 2015. Verso Books.


Reprint DetailsOriginally Published
Foster, Hal, ed. (1985). Postmodern culture. Pluto Press. Foster, Hal, ed. (1983). The anti-aesthetic : essays on postmodern culture. Bay Press. 

Book reviews[edit]


  1. ^ abPrinceton University senior thesis catalog: Foster, Harold. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  2. ^ abcd"Curriculum vitae: Hal Foster"(PDF). Princeton University Department of Art and Archaeology. Retrieved 2011-11-04. [permanent dead link]
  3. ^ abcMudede, Charles (2002-01-30). "The mysterious disappearance of Bay Press". The Stranger. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  4. ^Miller, Brian (2002-07-31). "Kmart vs. Koolhaas". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  5. ^ abcdefghijHughes, Gordon (2002). "Hal Foster (1955–)". In Vickery, Jonathan; Costello, Diarmuid. Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers. Berg Publishers. pp. 79–82. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  6. ^"The Mink's Cry". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  7. ^ abHarrison, Charles; Wood, Paul, eds. (2009). Art in Theory, 1900-2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 1037. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  8. ^ abcClark Art Institute. "The Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing". Archived from the original on 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  9. ^MIT Press Journals. "October". Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  10. ^Foster, Hal (Spring 2009). "Department of Art and Archaeology newsletter"(PDF). p. 1. Archived from the original(PDF) on 2013-06-26. Retrieved 2011-11-04.  
  11. ^Altmann, Jennifer Greenstein (2011-09-28). "Search committee appointed for architecture dean". Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  12. ^Wilson College. "Hal Foster". Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  13. ^John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. "Hal Foster". Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  14. ^Worthen, Tory (2010-04-21). "American Academy of Arts and Sciences elects nine professors as fellows". The Daily Princetonian. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 
  15. ^"Siemens Fellow - Class of Spring 2011". American Academy in Berlin. Retrieved March 20, 2012. 
  16. ^Foster, Hal, ed. (1983). The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Bay Press. 
  17. ^Theory of The Avant-Garde was originally published in 1974, in German, as "Theorie der Avantgarde", by Suhrkamp Verlag. In 1980 the second edition came out, the first English translation was based on that, in 1984, published by the University of Minnesota. ISBN 0-7190·1453-0
  18. ^Guffey, Elizabeth; Guins, Raiford (2010). "Electrifying the Enlightenment". Design and Culture. 2 (3). 
  19. ^Foster, Hal (2004). "Polemics, postmodernism, immersion, militarized space". Journal of Visual Culture. 3 (3): 320–35.  Interviewed by Marquard Smith.

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