The reputation of the art critic Rosalind E. Krauss is the kind of paradox one only finds in the art world. Though the theory-heavy art journal she’s famous for founding—October—only has a circulation of about 2,000 people, and her myriad books and articles remain little-read outside of academic circles, she is considered one of the most influential critics of Modern and contemporary art of the past half-century. Most specifically, she’s credited with helping introduce the American art scene to French post-structuralist thinkers like Michel Foucault and Jaques Derrida in the 1970s and ‘80s, whose ideas have since become almost de rigueur for talking about and teaching art history in the 21st century (for better or worse).
The ideas in her work, however, and her influence on today's art community are intensely important to understand even if you're not about to wade into the Columbia University professor's scholarly oeuvre. For the time-impaired, here’s a quick primer on Krauss to get you started.
While Krauss first achieved prominence for her articles in Artforum and October (many of which, such as her legendary "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," included her infamously inscrutable diagrams) her books have proven especially significant in establishing her place in contemporary art criticism.
Her 1985 collection of essays The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, for instance, takes the mythos of the historical avant-garde to task. Krauss claims that the developments of postmodern art theory call for a thorough reevaluation of Modernist masters like Rodin and Giacometti, as well as an overall overhaul of the ways in which we evaluate art to include (perhaps unsurprisingly) the analysis of the philosophers she admires. In contrast to claims about these artist’s boundary-breaking originality and continual inventiveness, Krauss finds repetition and reproducibility to be at the heart of their work, and positions it as a challenge to their late-20th-century celebrants, who are now tasked with proving the artistic value of their achievements through appeals to framing (both physical and metaphorical) or what she calls “the authorial mark of emotion,” better known as feeling.