The Visual World of French Theory Figurations Sarah Wilson

Publication date:
30 Aug 2010
Yale University Press
240 pages: 254 x 190mm
10 b-w + 120 color illus.
Sales territories:

This book focuses on the remarkable series of encounters between the most prominent French philosophers of the 1960s and 1970s - Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Althusser, Pierre Bourdieu, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Felix Guattari, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Jacques Derrida - and the artists of their times, most particularly the protagonists of the Narrative Figuration movement - Bernard Rancillac, Lucio Fanti, Gerard Fromanger, Jacques Monory, Valerio Adami. Each of these encounters involved either a mutual engagement or the writing of critical texts or catalogue prefaces, and the texts that lie at the heart of each chapter illuminate not only the work of the artists but also the production of the philosopher - writer concerned. While the protagonists of 'French theory' are universally known and studied across all humanities disciplines, their thought is presented without a sense of contiguity, chronology or context in translation, while the artists with whom they engaged are relatively unknown outside the French-speaking world.

This account restores the lived context of artistic production, where political engagement on the Left was a driving factor. What Bourdieu called 'cultural competence' is seen to be essential for these particular philosophers in the wake of Jean-Paul Sartre's writings on art from the 1940s to the 1970s. In this revelatory book, Sarah Wilson shows that it is via the philosophers - whose names are as familiar to an international public as the names of impressionist or cubist painters - that the figurative art of 1970s France can be introduced to the audience it deserves.

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Shortlisted for this year’s R.H. Gapper Book Prize awarded by the Society for French Studies.

Sarah Wilson is professor of modern art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London.

"Wilson’s reappraisal [is] particularly timely…there are many delightful rediscoveries in this book, within both the fields of theory and of painting, as Wilson digs up forgotten texts and suppressed paintings to create a lively portrait of the years flanking the events of May 1968... Wilson’s book is saturated with colour images, which manage to evoke the visual culture of the years she describes… [this is] a welcome invitation to art historians to re-examine their relationship to critical theory and to look at the neglected work of France during this period." - James Boaden, The Burlington Magazine