Robert Slifkin

Director of Graduate Studies; Edith Kitzmiller Professor of the History of Fine Arts

I am scholar of modern art with a specialization in the art and culture of the United States since 1945. My research aims to expand and complicate the conventional understanding of the history of modern art by considering the ways in which works of art operate within complex cultural networks that inform aspects of aesthetic production and reception. For me the larger stakes of such a project entail not simply providing a more nuanced and historically-specific understanding of a wide spectrum of artistic practices but also reevaluating the social functions of modern art. My approach to the study of art is predicated upon a conception of the work of art as a complex and often contradictory node within a multifaceted array of cultural practices, often offering a privileged perspective for understanding the epistemological foundations of significant issues and events that constitute modern society. Consequently the practice of art history is for me essentially and fundamentally interdisciplinary, always leading one to make interdiscursive connections in order to understand how works of art signify and resonate beyond the aesthetic realm.

My published work addresses these dynamics in a variety of contexts, principally in the history of postwar art of the United States, but also in the nineteenth century and more recently the history of photography. My first book, Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of Postwar American Art reconsiders the history of postwar American art and the conception of figuration in modern art history more generally. Replacing the conventional opposition of abstraction and figuration with the rhetorical dichotomy of the ‘the literal’ and ‘the figurative,’ Out of Time provides an innovative conceptual paradigm to reconsider Guston’s art and the broader artistic production and the 1960s. My book, The New Monuments and the End of Man: American Sculpture Between War and Peace, 1945-1975, addresses the history of postwar sculpture in the United States, and in particular the increasing importance given to its spatial modes of address, in terms of the historical context in which such practices emerged, examining how these artistic practices and their accompanying discourses operated within broader cultural ideals and anxieties, particularly those related to the threat of nuclear war and the annihilation of the human race. I am currently writing a critical biography of the photographer and therapist Chauncey Hare and working on a book project that will consider the nexus of Hollywood cinema, street photography, and conceptual art through the prism of American liberalism in the 1970s.

Many of my most recent publications have focused on the history and theorization of photography, a field that I have become increasingly committed to both as a scholar and a teacher because of what I see as its crucial place within a wide spectrum of visual practices in contemporary culture.

My interest in contemporary art, and in particular the disciplinary implications of the integration of contemporary art into the broader field of art history, have similarly been driven as much by pedagogical motives as intellectual ones and I have also strived to perform what a rigorous and archivally-based analysis of contemporary art might look like in a series of essays I have written about recent art for various museums and galleries.

Sample Courses

Photography and Facticity
Land Art and its Antecedents
Contemporary Art and the Plight of Publicness
Appropriation between Form and Culture
Is Contemporary Art History?
Abstract Expressionism
The Slow Decade: Hollywood 1967-1977
The Real and the Fictive in Contemporary Art

Selected Publications


Quitting Your Day Job: Chauncey Hare’s Photographic Work (London: MACK, 2022).

The Present Prospects of Social Art History (co-edited with Anthony Grudin (London: Bloomsbury, 2021).

The New Monuments and the End of Man: U.S. Sculpture Between War and Peace, 1945-1975 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019).

Out of Time: Philip Guston and the Refiguration of Postwar American Art (Berkeley: University of California Press , 2013).

Essays and Book Chapters

“Editions of You: Questions for Thomas Ruff and James Welling,” in Dark Matter: Thomas Ruff James Welling,” exh. cat. (Kunsthalle Bielefeld, 2023), 76-81.

“Changing (with all kinds of delays),” in Berenice Abbott’s Greenwich Village (New York: Marlborough Gallery, 2023), 7-17.

“Et in Arcadia Entropia,” in William Eggleston: The Outlands (New York: David Zwirner, 2022), 92-98.

“Abstract Animism,” Text Zur Kunst 122 (June 2021), 152-169.

“Abject Art History,” in Robert Slifkin and Anthony Grudin, eds. The Present Prospects of Social Art History (London: Bloomsbury, 2021), 175-187.

“Vulgar Metamorphosis,” in David Smith, Sculpture, 1932-1965, exh. cat. (West Bretton: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2021), 27-32. 

“Transitive Abstraction and Homeless Representation,” in Manoucher Yektai (New York: Karma, 2021), 7-18.

“Inner and Outer Space,” in Alexander Calder: Minimal/Maximal, exh. cat (Berlin: Neue Nationalgalerie, 2021), 56-70.

“Orienting Frankenthaler,” in Imagining Landscapes: Paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, 1952-1976 (New York: Rizolli, 2021), 4-13.

“Afterwards,” in Joan Mitchell: I Carry My Landscapes Around with Me (New York: David Zwirner, 2020), 15-21.

“Plantation Owner and His Field Hands, Mississippi Delta,” in Sarah Hermanson Meister, ed.  Dorothea Lange: Words and Pictures (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2020), 84-85.

“Lee Friedlander, Madison, Wisconsin, 1966,” in Darby English and Charlotte Barat, eds. Among Others: Blackness at MoMA (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2019), 206-207.

“On Dennis Oppenheim's Marionette Theater,” Journal of Art Historiography 21 (December 2019), 1-14.

“Indecisive Moments: Five Photographs by Ari Marcopoulos,” Racquet 7 (Summer 2018), 114-121.

Response to “A Questionnaire on Monuments,” October 165 (Summer 2018), 161-162.

“The Empty Room and the End of Man,” in Alexander Nemerov, ed., Experience (Chicago: Terra Foundation, 2017), 156-187.

“Exceptional Failure,” American Art 31 (Summer 2017), 15-16.

“Christian Marclay’s Real Time Fiction,” in Jas Elsner, ed. Comparativism in Art History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 165-179.

“Methodological Position for a Second Degree Art History,” in Sabine Kreibel and Andrés Zervigon, eds. Photography and Doubt (London: Routledge, 2016), 239-255.

“The Mobile Line,” in Calder and Picasso (New York: Almine Rech Gallery, 2016), 83-92.

“Alan Sonfist: Natural History,” in Alan Sonfist: Natural History (Portland, OR: Companion Editions, Distributed by D.A.P., 2016).

“A Complex Social Life,” in Ari Marcopoulos Not Yet (London: Phaidon, 2016).
“Reality Testing: Photography and/as Mass Media,” in Photography at MoMA: 1960 until Now, Volume III (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2015).

“Philip Guston’s Modernist Follies,” in New Perspectives on Philip Guston (New York: New York Review of Books, 2015).

“Painting/Withdrawing,” in Francis Alys Reel-Unreel (Milan: Mandadori Electra, 2014).

“Paul Evans and the Legacy of Modern Welded Sculpture: Between Decoration and Expression,” in Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism, exh. cat. (Doylestown, PA: James A. Michener Art Museum, 2014), 70-91.

“Fitz Lane and the Compromised Landscape in Antebellum American Art c. 1850,” American Art 27 (Fall 2013), 64-83.

“Bruce Nauman Going Solo,” in Bruce Nauman Going Solo (Portland, OR: Companion Editions, Distributed by D.A.P., 2012)

“Now Man’s Bound to Fail, More,” October 135 (Winter 2011), 49-69.

“Philip Guston’s Return to Figuration and the Thirties Renaissance of the 1960s,” Art Bulletin 93 (June 2011), 220-242.

“Donald Judd’s Credibility Gap,” American Art 25 (Summer 2011), 57-75.

“The Tragic Image: Action Painting Refigured,” Oxford Art Journal 34 (June 2011), 227-46.

“James Whistler as the Invisible Man: Anti-Aestheticism and Artistic Vision,” Oxford Art Journal 29 (Spring 2006), 53-75.

“The Allusion of Anxiety: Donald Judd’s Untitled (1969),” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2004), 114-119.

Selected Book and Exhibition Reviews

“Alan Sonfist at Shin Gallery,” Artforum (February 2022), 159.

“David Hammons: Day’s End” The Brooklyn Rail (June 2021), 32.

“Justine Kurland: SCUMB Manifesto,” The Brooklyn Rail (April 2021), 27.

“Ugly Feelings: On Philip Guston and White Privilege,” Artforum (January/February 2021), 112-117.

“Theater of Operations: The Gulf Wars 1991-2011, MoMA PS1,” Burlington Magazine 162 (February 2020), 161-163

“Martha Rosler Irrespective, Jewish Museum,” Burlington Magazine 161 (March 2019), 248-251.

Review of Darby English, 1971: A Year in the Life of Color, Art Bulletin (September 2019), 179-181.

“Ladytron,” review of Peter Weibel, et. al., Lynn Hershman Leeson, Civic Radar, Art Journal 76 (Winter 2017), 133-136.

“The Wire: On Frank Heath,” Artforum (May 2017), 125.

“James Welling at David Zwirner” Artforum (March 2016), 273.

“Truly, Skeptical,” review of Peter Plagens, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist, Art Journal 74 (Summer 2015), 93-95.

Review of Jo Applin, Eccentric Objects: Rethinking Sculpture in 1960s America, Modernism/Modernity 21 (September 2014), 855-857.

“Outside the White Cube (With Occasional Political Overtones),” review of Philip Kaiser and Miwon Kwon, eds. Ends of the Earth: Land Art to 1974 and Catherine Morris and Vincent Bonin, eds. Materializing Six Years: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, Oxford Art Journal 37 (2014), 103-107.

“Is Contemporary Art History?,” review of Katy Siegel, After 45 and Terry Smith , What is Contemporary Art?, Oxford Art Journal 35 (March 2012), 111-114.

“Thek’s As If,” review of Elisabeth Sussman and Lynn Zelevansky, eds. Paul Thek: Diver, A Retrospective and Harold Falckenberg and Peter Weibel, eds. Paul Thek: Artist’s Artist, Art Journal 70 (Fall 2011), 103-105.

“Against Indeterminacy,” review of Joshua Shannon, The Disappearance of Objects: New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City and Michael Lobel, James Rosenquist: Pop Art, Politics, and History in the 1960s, Oxford Art Journal 32 (October 2009), 458-464

Mechanic Mythologist,” review of David Smith, A Centennial Exhibition, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Journal of Modern Craft (Winter 2008), 157-160.

“One More Time with Feeling,” review of Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses and Jonathan Harris, Writing Back to Modern Art: After Greenberg, Fried, and Clark, Oxford Art Journal 30 (Spring 2007), 341-345.

“Mirror Man,” review of Jennifer Roberts, Mirror Travels: Robert Smithson and History and Ron Granziani, Robert Smithson and the American Landscape, Art Journal (Spring 2006), 125-29.

“Fast Times,” review of Pamela Lee, Chronophobia: On Time and the Art of the 1960s, Art Journal (Spring 2005), 109-111.

“Dark, Unfathomed Retrospect,” review of Michael Auping et. al., Philip Guston Retrospective, exh. cat. Art Journal (Winter 2004), 105-08.

Academic Degrees

PhD, History of Art, Yale University, 2007
MA, History of Art, Williams College, 2002
BA, History, minor Folklore, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1995

Selected Honors

Hauser and Wirth Institute Fellowship, 2018
Beinecke Fellow, Clark Art Institute, 2016 
Phillips Book Prize, 2012
Henry Moore Foundation, Fellow, 2011-12
Stanford Humanities Center (declined), 2010
Henry Luce Foundation/ACLS Dissertation Fellowship, 2006-7
Getty Research Library Travel Grant, Getty Institute, 2006