Is Contemporary Art Lacanian?
Josefina Ayerza and Gérard Wajcman

From LACAN, THE EXHIBITION When Art Meets Psychoanalysis
at the The Centre Pompidou, December 31 - May 27, 2024
Photograph by Veronique Voruz

GW: Is contemporary art Lacanian?

JA: Early enough, Lacan says, and this is Seminar II, “You must start from the text, start by treating it, as Freud does and as he recommends, as Holy Writ. The author, the scribe, is only a pen-pusher, and he comes second… Similarly, when it comes to our patients, please give more attention to the text than to the psychology of the author––the entire orientation of my teaching is that.” 1

I say minimalism is what mostly applies to art being Lacanian, there where the minimal exposes the structure. The structure––the discourse, why not think of psychoanalysis in the gaze of contemporary art. Let us say so, and watch the Writ appear for the patient/the artist—Holy in that it sends him to work, in that it worships the scribe––the pen-pusher that comes second and gets to love it.

The Holy: the art that is psychoanalysis gives utmost attention to the actual text. Feelings, complaints, the whole psychology of the patient to stay alongside, in the wait—the Holy Writ to insist.

The Holy is the art.

0. Not the sublime descent of the infinite into the finite, the Holy is the production of the infinite in subjective series.
2. Again, not the particular, the Writ accounts for the impersonal production of a truth.
3. And the process of a truth, for a sensible/sensual one.
4. Holy Writ, its principal tool, is a plurality––no way of totalizing it.
5. It will develop from an impure form into purification.
6. An art truth, the Holy is the set of words which compose it.
7. An infinite configuration in an analytic context, the art is its generic totality.
8. The real of psychoanalysis is ideal impurity throughout the process of its purification.
9. The contemporary word is not to be Imperial––not to be democratic.
10. Thus non-Imperial, the word is necessarily abstract: it abstracts itself from all particularity.
11. Non-Imperial it relates to an aristocratic-proletarian ethic.
12. Non-Imperial it must be as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, and as elevated as a star.
13. Today the art––Holy Writ, can only be made from the starting point of that which doesn’t exist. Psychoanalysis renders this inexistence visible. Renders visible to everyone that which for the Empire doesn't exist.
14. The Empire no longer censures anything.
15. The visible is that which the Empire already recognizes as such: ex-sistence.2

GW: The pathways of Lacanism are diverse, sometimes mysterious. There are countries where Lacanism has entered through clinical channels; others where it has entered through theory; one has the feeling that in the US, and especially in New York, Lacanism has entered through art. Not the hospitals, not the university––the galleries.

JA:Gérard, it flatters me that you say that in New York the actual Lacanism was introduced by art. If somebody did that, indeed it could be me––for good, or for bad.

A kind of gallery hopping, as they call the walking through, in your hand the one glass getting filled once and again, the New York Soho gallery streets had their quite theatrical manner.

With Jacques-Alain Miller we did our hopping tour… the Drawing Center pulled his attention. It was the very American in Raymond Pettibon’s work in site. Nice indeed, we ambulated in silence till, his look directed to what, after Lacan, we call a phallus, a very well-drawn phallus, he exclaimed “Josefina, this is all we want.” Somehow later on, the Wooster Press, chose Pettibon for J-A Miller’s book-covers.

You and me, Gérard, if you remember, we had our particular gallery hopping through Carroll Dunham’s erotic work at B. Gladstone, and through the sweetest figure in Mike Kelley’s little boy––at Gagosian–– “trying to see through the slot inside a giant butt, the mother’s butt…” was it you that said that?

Though it had another sense in each one of you, my writers, with Slavoj Žižek the hopping turned into talking, as it got to be vast. Our crowd following throughout the New Museum, the Drawing Center, Jack Tilton, Miguel Abreu, Jeffrey Deitch…I would introduce the subject of the new Lacanian ink, comment it… Žižek’s speech followed through.

One of the best gallery anecdotes calls upon J. Deitch’s particular humor. Related to Žižek, “Josefina is bringing this phallic figure, nobody’s looking at the art anymore.” The public wouldn’t fit in the gallery, the line of fire being 600 people, the discriminated against, stood knocking on windows while shouting their anger, disgust… Slavoj attempting to lessen our blame… the next day the event was published in the New Yorker as “the year’s best work of art.”

With Alain Badiou the gallery list is exactly the same. Something though changed at times the panorama––the three of us sat together sharing the one table. I introduced the new Lacanian ink, Badiou and Žižek followed up… The funniest already at the beginning, Badiou would whisper in my ear, “I’m afraid he won’t let me say a word,” and later, “is he going to do all the talking?” …

Another one of Alain Badiou’s funny anecdotes, at the start, very much fighting the English, was his choice to recite Mallarmé in the French. It happened only once because Badiou brought his English to completion, so very quickly.

The year 1994 Lacanian ink had a show at Tim Nye’s “The Thread Waxing Space.” organized by Raphael Rubinstein. The artists were given paper and ink, what made for the 40 drawings hanging on the TW Space walls… Richard Foreman and me, we acted a dramatic show, he labeled it More Hysteria Please: the women in the crowd yelling, I got the microphone and said “can the women please stop their screaming and shouting?” To my surprise they stopped… also to my fright the stopping wasn’t in the script, what to do next? The screaming stopped, the show went on—some attending others, especially the ones that believed the screaming and shouting was for real…

This is the story of the galleries, in behalf of the tale of Lacanism entering the United States by the arts—by the hand of J-A. Miller, E. Laurent, M.H. Brousse, G. Wajcman, S. Žižek, A. Badiou, F. Régnault… and more, if we want to count them.

GW: It is also that you have played and that you are playing a role in the history of contemporary art in the United States. This is the first time that a psychoanalyst has played a role in the field of art. Can you say something about that?

JA:On behalf of the role I could be playing in the history of contemporary art in the United States, let’s bring in Richard Kostelanetz’s quote in his book Soho: The Rise and Fall. Of Bomb and Lacanian Ink, he said that “they are the witnesses to what happened in NYC galleries at the end of the century and at the beginning of the new century.”

A remarkable event that may come to add to your theory of Lacan playing a role in the field of art could well address Jacques-Alain Miller’s call for the publication of my article, “Non-monumental” in Le Nouvel ne #9, September 2008. The event was about the brand-new building of the New Museum. Three of the artists I talk about belong in the Museum sumptuous opening, the other two were exhibited at David Zwirner and Jack Tilton galleries.

And for the stunning on behalf of Lacan playing a role in the universal —field of art—we had Marc Fumaroli recount the event in his latest book, Republic of Letters, April 2008.

Of Lacanism in hospitals Gérard, I do not know, however the universities had their say. Yes, I got to teach Lacan in universities. As it happened, my teaching story along the years took place at New York University, the Deutsches Haus and the Steinhardt Art Department, and also at The Cooper Union…

I started at the Literature Department; my friend Rena Grant was the head of the Department. When we were lucky enough to have her in class it was so much fun… But it didn’t last long because Rena died, young enough, at 32. I tried for a while the video Dept., till my friend Jan Avjikos introduced me to Nancy Barton‚ she invited me to give my class at the Art Dept., again in NYU.

Steinhardt art, NYU, meant five consecutive years. Starting with Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, followed Seminar XX, Encore, followed Seminar X, Anxiety

Of Lacanian Ink...

JA: I met Oscar Masotta. No more flower power, we talked Lacan in bars—it was a punk thing to do. The talking derived from studying Lacan, now my teacher was German Garcia. Soon I invited him to give a talk at NYU… And then came my analysis with Stuart Schneiderman, in NYC of course—for 6 years—and my studies with him, at Barnard College. The very finish of my analysis took place in Paris, with Éric Laurent.

An NYC congress took place at the French Consulate; the topic was perversion. Lacanian Ink 1, appearing soon after, the first article listed on the cover was, “Jacques-Alain Miller’s Perversion” by Josefina Ayerza. G. Garcia scolded me so much I was crying my eyes off.…

I must have made it up. In To resume again… issue 2, I write, “says J-A Miller smiling gently to my delight ‘Lacanian Ink, this is what I call lalangue.’”

In To resume again, issue 13, I quote Lacan, “If I am anything in the picture it is always in the form of a screen.” 3

The screen casts a shadow, Lacan calls it scotoma––as in medicine––or a stain, or a spot. Set out to cause perplexity and desire, Lacanian Ink should be a disquieting object for the US culture. Say it spills, marks… “Something of the ink resembles the stain…”4 Perhaps Lacanian Ink is akin to the function of silence as regards the analyst.

The subject divides: the desire to be seen goes together with the desire to see more. Split between perseverance when the cause is a good one, and obstinacy when the cause is bad, I hope Lacanian Ink is a blend of both—perseverance and obstinacy.

Our certain authors became enduring contributors, as well as permanent speakers at the twice a year Lacanian Ink event to follow both, the Autumn and Spring issues. “This is the only publication,” says Žižek, “I write for on a regular basis.”

A witness to the New York Arts scene Lacanian Inkset out a Lacanian critique. Today, the special kind of critique spreads way beyond the journal.

1. Jacques Lacan, The Ego in Freud's Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Book II (1954-1955), edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, translated by Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 153.
2. After Alain Badiou’s “Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art,” The Drawing Center, December 4/2003.
3. Lacan, Lacanian Ink 13
4. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictée (New York: Tanam Press, 1982) 64-65.