Arthur C. Danto, “The Koch Collaboration”

Arthur Danto

The great art historian and philosopher of art Arthur C. Danto died several weeks ago at the age of 89, and his passing has prompted a number of interesting reassessments and tributes.

Danto is best-known for the theories and arguments he developed after a profound encounter with Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes in the early 1960s about the “end of art,” the “transfiguration of the commonplace,” and art as a form of philosophy.

Among Danto’s lesser-known works, though, is a brief but incisive essay piece he wrote about the collaborations of Kenneth Koch.  In 1994-1995, the Tibor de Nagy gallery held a wonderful exhibit devoted to Koch’s collaborations with a wide range of artists, including Nell Blaine, Joe Brainard, Red Grooms, Alex Katz, Alfred Leslie,  Roy Lichenstein, Fairfield Porter, and Larry Rivers.

Danto contributed a little essay, entitled “The Koch Collaboration,” to the exhibition catalog.  (Danto taught at Columbia University for many years, where he was a longtime colleague and friend of Koch’s).

As far as I know, this piece is hard, if not impossible, to find, so I thought it might be useful to reproduce it here.

Danto on Koch 1

Danto on Koch 2

In it, Danto first mentions the vogue for artistic collaboration in the late 1980s, and explains, with some irritation, the fashionable argument that was swirling around the art world at the time that collaboration could be a powerful form of political protest and subversion : the notion that jointly-produced art was an attack on “the profoundly disenabling myths” of individuality, the masterpiece, and genius, which were all deemed to be artifacts of capitalism.

In contrast to the “ressentiment” and “social metaphysics” of Late Eighties Collaboration, Danto posits “the Koch Collaboration” as a kind of antidote.

The Koch Collaboration involves, by contrast, being just who you are, celebrating what makes you an artistic you, participating in a game of creativity in which identities are enhanced and augmented in a work which none of us could have made on our own but which could not have been made without us.  When Kenneth Koch talks about collaboration, he has in mind something that is fun at every instant, and in which our selves and souls are not something to be overcome but are part of what we hope to find in the process of making the work, which brings things out of us none of us knew were there.  It is as much as anything a strategy of self-discovery, like making love.

Whether or not one agrees with his skepticism about the political implications of collaboration, Danto advances an important argument about the philosophical and aesthetic stakes of collaboration — especially “the spirit of play and interplay” at the heart of the sort of collaborations undertaken by Koch and other poets and artists of the New York School.

This entry was posted in Alex Katz, Arthur C. Danto, collaboration, Fairfield Porter, Joe Brainard, Kenneth Koch, Larry Rivers, Nell Blaine, Tibor de Nagy Gallery, Visual Art. Bookmark the permalink.