Darby English | Scheme and Otherness in Our Work with Art

This is an Archive of a Past Event


Are you missing art during the pandemic? I know I am. But frequent, passionate declarations about missing art imply a devotion that’s hard to square with the techniques of disciplinary control rife in much humanities scholarship. It’s difficult to imagine that art missed us, given our collective tendency to subdue our objects’ otherness by making their silences speak and rearranging any inconveniences they might pose (among other means). Is it possible that, in the actual art situations to which we’re now returning, we occupy a relation—a meeting with difference—that standard practice induces scholars to render productive, rather than inhabit responsibly, accountably? Such are the subjects of this talk, in which I’ll speculate on the possibility of an approach informed—though not organized—by the desire “to be abroad with the Other” (Frantz Fanon), “a commitment to interaction with the object” (Yvonne Rainer), and deep respect for the fact that the object we posit and the object that is are not the same.
—Darby English

About the Speaker

Darby English is the Carl Darling Buck Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago, whose faculty he joined in 2003. His teaching and advising address subjects in cultural studies as well as modern and contemporary American and European art produced since the First World War. English is associate faculty in both the University’s Department of Visual Arts and its Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture. In 2010, he received the University of Chicago’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, the nation’s oldest such prize. From 2014 to 2020, English was Adjunct Curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

His publications include six books. Three are monographs: To Describe a Life: Notes from the Intersection of Art and Race Terror (Yale, 2019), 1971: A Year in the Life of Color (University of Chicago, 2016), and How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (MIT, 2007). Three are coedited volumes: Among Others: Blackness at MoMA with Charlotte Barat (MoMA, 2019); Art History and Emergency with David Breslin (Yale, 2016); and Kara Walker: Narratives of a Negress with Ian Berry, Vivian Patterson, and Mark Reinhardt (MIT, 2002; Rizzoli, 2007). For this work, English has been the recipient of fellowships and awards from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Creative Capital Foundation, the Clark Art Institute, the Getty Research Institute, the Institute for Advanced Study, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, and the College Art Association, which awarded English the 2020 Frank Jewett Mather Award for To Describe a Life. The same book received the 2020 Book Prize of the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (ASAP).

A periodic contributor to exhibition catalogues, he has recently published “Course, Track, Flow,” in Zoe Leonard: Al río/To the river (2022); “The Fluid Part” in Walter Price: Pearl Lines (2022); “The Talking at Money” in Six Scripts for NOT I (2020); “A Way beyond Art” in Rachel Harrison Life Hack (2019); “The Dome as Fact and Façade” in Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertá (2019); and “Awash in Desire” in Silke Otto-Knapp—Bühnenbilder (2019). His short-form writing has appeared in Art Bulletin, Artforum, Art Journal Open, ARTMargins, caareviews, The Guardian, The International Review of African-American Art and other venues. English is a subject of What It Means to Write about Art: Interviews with Art Critics (2018).

About the Series

The Raymond F. West Memorial Lecture series was established in 1910 by Mr. and Mrs. Frederic West of Seattle in memory of their son, a student at Stanford University.

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