Poe after Smithson after Rainer

A conversation with Simon Leung and others about art history, readymades, and site-specificity


Fields of Knowledge
  • Artistic legacies
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

Cinema Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania


Office of the Provost (Art in the City Program), The Department of the History of Art, the Department of English, and the program in Cinema Studies at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


75% Formal - 25% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "Poe after Smithson after Rainer," featuring Simon Leung, David Joselit, and Yvonne Rainer in conversation. The two-day event at Slought begins on Monday, March 22, 2010 from 6:00-8:00pm with a lecture by Simon Leung entitled "The (anterior) spectator who later becomes the posterity: a lecture on Étant donnés," with David Joselit as respondent, followed by public conversation. It continues on Tuesday, March 23, 2010 from 6:00-8:00pm with a screening of Simon Leung's POE (2007, 65 minutes), followed by a conversation with Yvonne Rainer.

In 2007 Simon Leung completed POE, an extended video meditation on the figure of Edgar Allan Poe and its relevance to contemporary art and political life. Initially prompted by the position Edgar Allan Poe occupies in literary and theoretical discourses (e.g. Baudelaire, Lacan, Derrida), and in the writings of Robert Smithson, who contended that "Poe's Narrative of A. Gordon Pym seemed to (him) to be excellent art criticism and prototype of rigorous 'non-site' investigations," Leung undertook a three-part diegetic essay on Poe in the form of a single channel 65 minute video installation.

In the video, Leung submits aspects of the writer and his work to a digressional rethinking of the meaning of "Poe": tracing Poe through two former residences he occupied in New York (the Poe Cottage and the simulacral facade of the Poe House) by eliciting the help of choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer (whom Robert Smithson cites in the text where he theorizes the non-site through Pym) to perform as the writer in situ at both sites; sending Poe to Poland (Poe-land, the land of Poe) to further explore Po-e-tic artifice and cliches via forging a composite narrative culled from the setting and tone several of his gothic tales (with the help of writer Warren Niesluchowski); visiting with Gregory Poe, a distant relative, shortly before his death; and working with his students to retell the adventure tale of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym as a story of the current American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, facilitated by a collapse of two modalities of special effects--the "green zone" in Bagdad and the green screen in video production. Bordering on theory and fiction, criticism and performance, POE takes up Robert Smithson's challenge for a rigorous investigation of the "site/non-site" dialectic, and in doing so, makes an intervention in much of contemporary art's referential or art-historically thematic receptions of site-specificity.

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The (anterior) spectator who later becomes the posterity: a lecture on Étant donnés

Monday, March 22, 2010; 6:00-8:00pm
A lecture by Simon Leung, with David Joselit as respondent

In 1969, one year after the death of Marcel Duchamp, Étant donnés was revealed to the public at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Duchamp's final major creation, which he worked on over the course of twenty years (1946-1966) was made during the period when the artist was said to have given up making art in favor of chess. Since its unveiling, Étant donnés overturned, to the astonishment of many, the conventional view of Duchamp as the inventor of the readymade, the master of negation. In the forty years since, artists have paid homage with interpretations and recreations, scholars have and debated over its import and role in the canon, and Duchamp scholars and aficionados have conjectured hermaneutic paths and located secret links toward its meaning.

Simon Leung ventures a reading of Étant donnés that is neither Duchamp archeology nor art history. Rather, by tracing the mechanics of the secret; the apparatus of the work's permanent installation in the museum; and the temporal and spatial unfolding of Étant donnés, which include aspects that fall outside of the author function ("para-intentional," but, as Leung would argue, "Duchampian" qualities that art history cannot digest), Leung began, in the 1990s, to rethink the very category of "the Duchampian" via passages through Étant donnés. Building on his work on the glory hole, Leung looks at Étant donnés askance, with gazes borrowed from, among others, Emmanual Levinas, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Luc Nancy, and engages with several strong past readings of Étant donnés by Jean-François Lyotard, Rosalind Krauss and Kaja Silverman. In doing so, he submits that Étant donnés recasts the received views of terms we inherited from Duchamp (the readymade, chance, the infra-thin), and proposes the Duchampian oeuvre as an ethical project; and Étant donnés as a work of art that teaches philosophy.

Download Leung's visual presentation

Simon Leung's work is project-based and very often collaborative such as Proposal for The Side of the Mountain, an opera/film/sculpture, written in collaboration with composer Michael Webster), that was presented at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2002. He has exhibited in New York in the Whitney Biennial 1993, The Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; PS1 Museum, and Pat Hearn Gallery; and internationally the Venice Biennale in 2003, Venice, Italy; NGBK, Berlin, Germany; the Kunstahlle Fredericianum, Kassel, Germany; the MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA; the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA. He earned his BA from the University of California, Los Angeles, and attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program.

As a scholar and a critic David Joselit has worked on pivotal moments in modern art ranging from the Dada movement of the early 20th century to the emergence of globalization and new media over the past decade. His latest book, Feedback: Television Against Democracy (MIT Press, 2007) addresses television as a closed circuit that video artists and media activists have broken into in a variety of ways since the 1960s. Joselit's first book, Infinite Regress: Marcel Duchamp 1910-1941 (October Books; MIT Press, 1998), positions Duchamp's art at the intersection of a waning industrial world and the emergence of consumer culture in the late teens and twenties. American Art Since 1945 (Thames and Hudson, 2003) is a synthetic survey that grows in part out of Joselit's years as a curator at The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston during the 1980s, and his longstanding practice as a critic for such publications as Artforum and Art in America. In addition to his main areas of research Joselit has a strong interest in gender, queer, and feminist studies.

When Yvonne Rainer made her first feature-length film in 1972, she had already influenced the world of dance and choreography for nearly a decade. From the beginning of her film career she inspired audiences to think about what they saw, interweaving the real and fictional, the personal and political, the concrete and abstract in imaginative, unpredictable ways. Her bold feminist sensibility and often controversial subject matter, leavened with a quirky humor, has made her, as the Village Voice dubbed her in 1986, "The most influential American avant-garde filmmaker of the past dozen years, with an impact as evident in London or Berlin as in New York."