‘Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant’: Recovering Angela Davis’ presence in Robert Barry’s Marcuse Piece

    • Nice November 2018
    • Presentation speakers
      • Sandrine Canac, Stony Brook University, New York, USA


    This paper considers the Marcuse Piece, a 1970 text-piece by the Conceptual artist Robert Barry, as a site of conflictual encounters. In this work, which reads “Some places to which we can come, and for a while “be free to think about what we are going to do,” Barry’s own words meet Marcuse’s, or as I argue, words that invoke the invisible presence, the political struggles, and intellectual contributions of Angela Davis. Davis has remained unnamed in an Essay on Liberation (1969), the book written by the German philosopher and New Left theorist Herbert Marcuse from which Barry excerpted the quote. Davis has not only remained unnamed in Marcuse’s text and in Barry’s work, but has also been absent from the interpretations of Barry’s Marcuse Piece. Recovering Davis’s presence brings to the fore political contexts such as the Black liberation and prison abolition movements that have been ignored in traditional histories of Conceptual art because their very objects–the artists and their works¬–were themselves oblivious to these contexts. This paper proposes unexpected sites of resistance in Barry’s Marcuse Piece, which allow us to rethink the meaning and the history of Conceptual Art in the United States.