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Theory NOW

Theory NOW
A discursive site about the relevance of art theory now.
Articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7


2012-05-29 13:29:00
?Don?t confuse legibility with communication...and just because something?s legible doesn?t mean it communicates. More importantly, it doesn?t mean it communicates the right thing...something by being difficult maybe initially to read may be sending a completely different message that is valid for where it?s being used and that may require a little more time and more the involvement of the reader.? Quote taken from interview with David Carson in Helvetica, the 2007 documentary by Gary Hustwit.
"Who's Afraid of Accumulation?" (Part 2)
2012-05-01 05:25:00
Part 2 of Dr. Philip Ursprung's guest essay on Thomas Hirschhorn's Swiss-Swiss Democracy: What was the exhibition about? Hirschhorn ?besieged? ? as he put it ? the Cultural Center during 50 days. He was present during most of the exhibitions time. He transformed it into an environment of knowledge. The walls were decorated with the ?democratic? colors pale red, pale blue and pale yellow. Some walls were covered with texts, newspaper clippings, and photographs. A miniature landscape with a toy train evoked the alpine landscape of Switzerland. There was a library containing books about democracy, a computer for free internet access, a photocopy machine for free use and a bar. Hirschhorn printed a daily newspaper, which he distributed for free. In an auditorium the philosopher Marcus Steinweg presented daily lectures. And in the theater space Gwenaël Morin staged his adaptation of William Tell every evening. The presence of the artist, the philosopher and the theater director during...
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"Who's Afraid of Accumulation?" (Part 1)
2012-04-24 17:26:00
Administrator?s Note: Two months ago a group of art theorists, professors and authors sat down at our panel on ?Accumulation? to begin a dialogue on what we perceived as an ?amassing or gathering [of] objects, documents and/or other items for express purposes either of art installations or recognition of such accretion as a legitimate manifestation of art production.? My colleague, Dr. Nana Last, and myself had ?amassed? a strong group for our CAA2012 session and it was a resounding success. Today I have the distinct pleasure of sharing one of the session papers with readers of this site. Dr. Philip Ursprung, Professor of History of Art and Architecture at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, presented the following essay on Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn. ?Who's afraid of accumulation?? considers the question of the structure of accumulation itself and the relations it establishes between the amassing of data, capitalist expansion and the potential loss of contro...
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Our Readymade Centennial
2012-04-08 23:37:00
Duchamp's contribution to conceptual art (and appropriation), the "readymade" turns 100 in 2014. To celebrate the centennial, I proposed an exhibition of "new" readymades to my friend and colleague, Jack Rasmussen, Director of American University's Katzen Arts Center. Jack accepted heartily and the exhibition will open in October 2014. You can follow our progress at Readymade at 100. In January, I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and met with the museum's Department of Modern and Contemporary Art to discuss the possible loan of some of their Duchamp readymades. PMA, of course, has the largest collection of Duchamp artworks in the U.S. and owns several readymades from the 1914-21 era.(1) Just to get us started, let us consider Comb from 1916. This little article sits unassumingly in a glass vitrine in Room 182 at PMA. Obviously ill-advised to use upon a human head, speculation is that this device may have been used on dogs or cattle.(2) The "use value" of this readymade i...
"Accumulation" at CAA 2012
2012-02-14 15:02:00
All apologies to readers of this site for my absence of late which can be attributed to both my regular arts educator duties and extensive preparation for my upcoming session at the College Art Association's 100th Annual Conference. My colleague and friend, Nana Last, will join me to tackle emergent issues and theories surrounding the contemporary practice of accumulation. We have assembled an international roster of speakers for this panel and I look forward to sharing insights and impressions gained from this experience in later posts. Single-event entrance tickets are re-instated this year so if you are in LA and interested in this topic, please join us; information on the session, our presenters and their papers are posted below: ACCUMULATION WHEN: Thursday, February 23, 9:30am?12:00pm WHERE: Los Angeles Convention Center, Concourse Meeting Room 404A, Level 2 Chairs: Nana Danielle Last, University of Virginia; Mark Cameron Boyd, Corcoran College of Art and Design "Contempora...
New Year, New Challenge
2012-01-04 01:37:00
The methodological distinctions between science and art are perhaps obvious when one considers their respective goals. Science for the most part seeks a solution to a problem and maintains a rigorous discipline to achieve that end. Art, on the contrary, has no immediate challenge other than self-expression; with no apparent goal other than expressing one?s concepts or aesthetics, art remains adrift from the moorings of teleological necessity. This tendency of artists to express the ?Self? was born out of Modernist yearnings for freedom of expression late in the 19th Century but has perhaps wrung itself dry in the 21st Century. Beginning with the Fluxus credo of ?art is life? and culminating in the Appropriationists? dismissal of ?authenticity,? we can now almost certainly predict that no ?New Movement? in visual art will arise. Instead, we are surely well immersed in replications of and homage to previous Art Historical tropes and postmodern theory. There is nothing to challenge u...
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Survey Says?
2011-11-26 20:11:00
Periodic ennui and occasional cynicism about the state of the ?Art World? overtakes me now and again, especially when Real World crises and EU ultimatums render our quaint preoccupation with simulacra, irony and context negligible. Moreover, the range of disparity in ?our? World reeks as much of artifice and chicanery as the shenanigans down on Wall Street. It goes without saying as well, that the Occupy movement, though deflated and adrift, clearly without well-defined ?demands,? still has a core sense of moral certitude and social consciousness, desires and goals perhaps all but forgotten among the denizens of said ?Art World.? $61 million dollars for a Clyfford Still? $21 million for a Gerhard Richter abstract? How do we justify such auction prices, clearly the machinations of that ?1%? that control all things, and that the young, old and intransigent Bohos protest against down at Zuccotti Park. With such rambling thoughts as backdrop, I took in a couple of major New York ?sur...
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Orders of Photographic Identity Construction
2011-11-07 23:54:00
In 1865, photojournalist Alexander Gardner had six of the accused Lincoln conspirators brought up on the deck of the USS Montauk, an ironclad monitor anchored in the Potomac River, and posed them for a series of famous photographs. Irrespective of their historic value, these photographs additionally reveal Gardner?s desire for an ?artistic? expression in his photographic work. The accused men were dressed in coats and ties, hair combed and styled, then positioned against the iron turret for the various shots. The above photograph of Lewis Payne then presents quite a conflict of photographer, portrait subject and image. First, we have a young man accused of savagely attacking Secretary of State William Seward with a knife and conspiring with John Wilkes Booth to overthrow the Federal government. Moreover, the photographer appears to disguise Payne?s predicament, draping him in beige overcoat and hat. The Federal guard?s hands, holding a bayoneted rifle, are just visible at edge...
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Critical Fragments: Reification
2011-10-04 05:17:00
As vehicle for conveyance of ideas, language has its weaknesses ? context, semantics, and cognition ? but we persevere. Simply put, the very nature of the language system has built-in fragility and misrecognition within its contextualization. With that in mind, we move blindly forward, optimistic and a little naïve of the futility of the efforts expended in our attempt at communication. In pedagogical models, language is indispensable. The faux determinacy of ?Q&A? promises analyses and documentation of knowledge. In scientific, mathematic and certain biological areas, this inductive reasoning allows for the certainty of gathering, compiling and quantifying such knowledge. Matters of aesthetics have an inherent indeterminacy; the subjective experience, insidious and subsumed within ?taste,? very nearly prohibits absolute answers such as those of science, math and biology. There is the flux of perception, the weight of preference and the foreground of habitus. In essence, wit...
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(e)merge & see
2011-09-27 01:02:00
[Victoria F. Gaitán: Lick] John Baldessari once explained that the art fair is no place for artists, that an artist entering an art fair is like a teenager entering his parents? bedroom and seeing them having sex. ?At fairs, gallerists are reduced to merchants ? a role in which they?d rather not be seen by their artists.?(1) Perhaps this also explains why art fairs tend to gravitate to boutique hotels, where the ?merchants? book adjoining rooms and attempt to peddle their wares to a constant turnover of patrons, collectors, curators and the curious. Prowling through these rooms, one begins to understand what Baldessari meant: art as commerce does seem a bit sordid with the machinations so nakedly revealed. I didn?t tarry long enough in any particular Capital Skyline Hotel room at DC?s (e)merge art fair to observe an actual art transaction. However, I did glance furtively at a lot of art. Some major DC players had representative rooms; Annie Gawlak, George Hemphill, Leigh Conne...
La "Infinite" es Finis
2011-08-08 06:52:00
Administrator's note: It is finished: Roman Opalka died yesterday in Rome at the age of 79. In memoriam, I re-post an essay I wrote on Opalka in November 2008 Roman Opalka?s artistic practice is either an undertaking of resolute heroism or an obsession bordering on insanity. Since 1965, Opalka has been inscribing a progression of numbers on canvas. The canvas size is always the same (196 x 135 cm), as is the brush (size 0) and the pigment (white acrylic). There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the idea came to Opalka while waiting for his wife in a café. If true, this story attests to the fact that the most ?successful? ideas are ?ludicrously simple? or, at the very least, simply ?inevitable.?(1) I want to discuss Opalka?s work from three theoretical vantages, two of which have to my knowledge not been previously suggested as ways to interpret his project. The one theory universally addressed is the idea that Opalka?s counting represents his comprehension of his mortal...
Medium of Exchange
2011-07-30 17:26:00
"This is a participatory installation ? visitors may write directly upon the blackboard with the provided chalk in order to 'decipher' the bisected text. Visitors who decipher words and sentences become 'active participants' in the completion of the artwork and their participation is an 'exchange' of labor. Thus, active participants exchange their labor for a share of possible future profits when the artwork is sold. Active participants may document their exchange by writing their name and email address on a clipboard provided by gallery staff. The 'exchange value' of this artwork is a 'square footage' price of $256 based on the artist?s previous sales average of three sales in three consecutive years. At 32 sq. feet, 'Untitled participatory installation #4' is valued at $8,190." I visited the "Medium of Exchange " show this week to document my work and was pleased to see that it is almost "completed." As I specified in my statement above, visitors that contribute ...
Every Picture Tells A Story
2011-07-26 17:00:00
The tenuous respect once held for a photographic image ? it?s insistence on truth and actuality ? was over as soon as the conspiracy theorists began questioning the Moon Landing. Even in 1969, we knew that ?reality? could be easily constructed in film studios, so why couldn?t the U.S. government have done the same? Fast forward to 9/11, and even though you watched those planes going into the Towers, you engaged in some level of doubt if you read the analyses of why steel buildings cannot collapse that way and that fast. Today?s political agendas, even when documenting seemingly benign events, are fraught with insidious corruptibility and easily manipulated. A photograph showing Syrian President Bashar Assad swearing in his new choice for Governor of Hama, Anas Abdul-Razzaq Naem, has been exposed as a Photoshop fraud ? the two men were probably never in the same room. One might ask what was the intent of the Syrian government in pairing the two men in a seemingly ?friendly? phot...
More About: Story , Picture
Crisis of Ownership
2011-07-15 00:48:00
Regardless of your comfort or impatience with pluralism in visual arts ? whether you condone or disapprove of the multiplicity of ?styles? rampant in today?s contemporary art world ? there is one conclusion we might draw from the abundant varieties of approach to visuality: the apparent unconcern for the once dominant critical hierarchy of visual art focuses our attention on the content of the art object, exclusive of whatever form that object takes. Whether it be figurative, abstract or conceptual, all visual art styles are now permissible and marketable. Perhaps this is the ultimate psychic reversal of a public grown tired of pseudo-intellectualism, critical theory and excessive self-expression; the final irony of ?I don?t know anything about art but I know what I like.? If there?s an artist who paints Neoclassical nudes, while another one crawls around a mound of salt ? no worries, we can sell the art. We will let others with more time, patience and the resources pursue the s...
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R.I.P. Peter Falk
2011-06-25 16:26:00
?Cassavetes, even after his posthumous reputation has flourished as the very model of the off-Hollywood maverick independent film-maker, remains a polarizing figure to this day, and likely always will. His messy, plotless, chaotic, grueling actor-centered cinema aimed to present a narrow band of human emotions and a narrow strata of society in deliberately unflattering close-up. They are as exhausting to watch as they must have been to make (a typical Cassavetes film took a year to write, a year to shoot, and a year to edit). Critics accused the films' faux improvised scripts, picking at small agonizing personal interactions like scabs for seemingly endless duration, as being no more than acting class exercises run self-indulgently amok: this is actually true, but this is also the source of JC's greatest insight. Cassavetes understood that social conditioning turns all of us into actors, forced to don a mask or pose to enact the various roles we are compelled to perform throughout...
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Critical Fragments: Pedagogy
2011-06-11 17:40:00
?Pedagogical models are in imminent change within the contemporary art world. Where once the role of arts education was to prepare the young Apprentice through an immersion in the ways of the Master, today?s art school negotiates precarious vacillations between theoretical engagement, technical hybridity and curatorial placement. Art schools? relationships with the commercial art world remains ethical for the most part with the occasional lapse in judgment and focus. To maintain their autonomous position within the art world, institutions of arts instruction practice a kind of ambivalence that can only be characterized as idealistic.? I wrote the above two paragraphs last June 2010 after completing a semester teaching undergraduate fine art seniors. The practical aspects of my teaching had been inspired by theoretical readings on pedagogy, specifically Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), edited by Steven Henry Madoff. Among the many excellent essayist in the book, ...
On invention
2011-05-07 02:15:00
Administrator's note: This is an excerpt from an email I received about last night's performance; my response follows: "The show was a great chance to get a better understanding of your work by seeing examples made from different stages of your method development. Three years ago, I remember having no idea how you could do something new with the theme. I still don't. But I've no doubt you will find another way to go with it. Does it feel like the entire burden of invention is yours alone?, because generally it takes a society to make something new from what is already there. Where does your input come from when you invent a new way to complete a panel? Is it from all of the books you read?" As usual, Emily, your correspondence inspires. Often I am not moved to consider a piece "post" but in this case it is an on-going continuum of "pieces" - this you are aware of - that remains within the "system," and thus retains whatever "meaning" is to be found by residing within th...
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On site
2011-04-29 18:48:00
A performance by Mark Cameron Boyd & friends creating a spatio-temporal, participatory installation in the conference room at Grupo 7, Georgetown's leading architecture firm; MCB will speak "on site," his words transcribed via his text bisection process that guests may decipher afterward. Sponsored by The Art Registry, Alchimie Forever & Grupo 7; additional artwork by Joan Belmar, Joel D'Orazio, J. Ford Huffman, Ani Kasten, Khanh H. Le & Greg Minah. Where: 1010 Wisconsin Ave. NW, WDC When: reception: 5:30-8; performance: 6:15pm RSVP:
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Payback Time
2011-04-25 22:06:00
A recent and pleasant discovery was that Mavis Staples' Grammy-award winning album, You Are Not Alone, was produced by Jeff Tweedy of Chicago's Wilco. Besides the obvious fact of both Staples and Tweedy being Chicagoans, this news makes perfect musical sense in that Tweedy, a mercurial and unclassifiable "rock" artist as capable of soulful laments as guitar-driven pop, obviously was paying his respects to Staples, a legendary performing artist whose music and history with The Staple Singers melded gospel, R&B, funk and blues. If we add another unlikely but similarly reverential project, wherein sometime White Stripe and Raconteur, Jack White, produced and played on Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose, one might think we had a homage movement afoot; one in which younger artists give long overdue nods and props of appreciation to the"Living Legends" whose work/life has inspired them. So why can't this kind of respect be paid by younger, contemporary artists to those elder figures ...
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Welcome, reader...
2011-03-23 03:47:00
"Welcome, reader!" from Mark Cameron Boyd on Vimeo.
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Prisoners of Our Own Devise
2011-02-25 19:19:00
With their characteristic aplomb and prescience, the New York Times dismissed blogging earlier this week, stating the obvious that blogs have become irrelevant to today?s youth who prefer their Facebook and Twitter ?status updates? to ?express themselves.? Yet buried within this article of cobbled opinion and ?expert? quotes were some intriguing revelations to unearth concerning our current technologic servitude. For instance: ?The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.?(1) Thus, we gather that teens? lack of interest in blogging might be proportionately relational to their acquisition of cellular devices proffering text-based platforms that leapfrog standard keystroke e...
Critical Fragments: Criticism
2011-02-05 17:15:00
The following quote from jazz great, Wynton Marsalis, about music critics strikes me as having the potential to inform us about art criticism as well. If you substitute "artist" for "musician," "art" for "music," and so forth, his comment resonates across media to reveal the challenges inherent in all criticism. I have made the substitutions of the analogous terms for you below; the links go to his original quote: "A lot of times, reviewers don't really know enough about what you're doing to have an intelligent comment on it. It's hard to walk in and see something one time. An artist has worked on something, it has a lot of references, and it's full of things the reviewer doesn't know. A person doing an art review -- how much art do they know? How much art theory do they actually know? I understand the practical aspect of it. Yours is a piece they reviewed on Tuesday. They have a piece to review on Wednesday. I'm not mad at them. I'm just lucky to have the type of friends ...
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Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object
2011-01-31 20:49:00
As originally posited in the 1960?s, Conceptual Art focused attention on the idea behind the art object and questioned the traditional role of that object as the conveyer of meaning. Subsequently, those theories cast doubt upon the necessity of materiality itself as conceptual artists "de-materialized" the art object and began to produce time-based and ephemeral artworks. Although total dematerialization never occurred, the art object became flexible ? malleable ? and that malleability, coupled with semiotics and process, has resulted in the postconceptual object. The possible dematerialization of the art object was always a threat to its exchange value. Conceptual Art questioned the status of the object as commodity and it was no longer possible to insist that artistic value lies solely within the object. Postconceptual artists elicit inquiry on the ability of an art object to contain any value, including ?use value? and ?exhibition value,? without the contextual support provi...
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Other N-Words
2011-01-09 05:56:00
News that a new and politically correct edition of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be published this year by NewSouth Books has been met generally with derision and condemnation from Twain scholars.(1) The concept seemed suspect from the start. As proposed by Auburn University professor and the NewSouth edition's editor Alan Gribben, the plan is to eliminate Twain's over-abundant use of a certain racial slur, the n-word, and replace it with the slightly less offensive, presumably more humane, and thus imminently more "teachable" word, "slave." Gribben's waffling explanation didn't help much to dispel the disingenuousness of it: "The n-word possessed, then as now, demeaning implications more vile than almost any insult that can be applied to other racial groups. There is no equivalent slur in the English language. As a result, with every passing decade this affront appears to gain rather than lose its impact. Even at the level of college and graduate sc...
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The Gouldian Kit
2010-12-29 03:17:00
The basic legend of genius pianist Glenn Gould is that at 31 he stopped playing live, describing his audience as a ?force of evil? who scrutinized his performance, watching for any failure in his perceived and expected greatness.(1) We know, too, of his meteoric classical performing artist career, from the early performances in Toronto and on Canadian radio broadcasts, to his historic New York City debut, at a mere 22 years of age, that quickly lead to a Columbia Records recording contract. The resultant first recording sessions for Columbia yielded Bach: The Goldberg Variations, an album that had the rare distinction of becoming a best-selling classical LP, and Gould's subsequent concert tour of Russia was a resounding success.(2) After 1962, and for the remainder of his life, Gould honed his various mythic eccentricities ? wearing overcoat, gloves and scarf in all seasons, obsessively taking his own blood pressure and self-medicating with prescription pharmaceuticals, humming...
Martin To Go
2010-12-24 17:43:00
?The lure in art collecting and its financial rewards, not counting for a moment its aesthetic, cultural, and intellectual rewards, is like the trust in paper money: it makes no sense when you really think about it. New artistic images are so vulnerable to opinion that it wouldn?t take much more than a whim for a small group of collectors to decide that a contemporary artist was not so wonderful anymore, was so last year. In the ebb and flow of artists? desirability, some collectors wondered how a beautiful painting, once it had fallen from favor, could turn ugly so quickly.?(1) As squeamish indictment of the fickleness of a certain type of art collector, Steve Martin ?s description of moneyed and presumably powerfully influential collectors goes a long way to unveil the kinds of goings-on in the art world that we?d rather not know about. True, we are aware of the fact that artworks are not always collected by people because they are so absolutely moved by them that they cannot l...
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Bad Design
2010-12-17 21:35:00
Design thrives on function; it lives, breathes, eats purpose and use. To achieve good design in something, first a designer asks, ?How is it to be used?? Or designers might also want to know, ?What do you want it to do?? This works universally for architecture, coffee grinders, weapons or pharmaceuticals; you find out what the end-user (client) wants and work out the kinks to make the thing (product) to be made. It?s the philosophy of telos, defining the purpose via the schematics of functionality. When a designer steps outside of that structure he/she becomes something other than a designer; he/she becomes an artist. Don?t get me wrong: I suppose designers can be called ?artists? as long as we understand that doing so is framing them within ancient aesthetics, returning to classic art theories that handed out the title of ?artist? to anyone engaged in the ?right making? of any thing, whatever that entailed, regardless of whether it was culinary or carpentry. A recent New Yor...
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Quinque viae 3
2010-12-10 23:12:00
"Quinque viae: Proof 5" was "erased" on Nov. 18, 2010, in Salve Regina Gallery at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. The work is MCB's text-bisection of the "5th Proof" of God's existence by Thomas Aquinas. Visitors to the gallery were allowed to complete text by using provided dry erase markers to write upon the work which is composed of acrylic paint on clear acrylic sheets. The erasure of the work returned it to original condition to initiate further participation by visitors during the exhibition. © Copyright 2010 by Mark Cameron Boyd. All rights reserved by the artist. No reproduction of artwork /text /image /video without written permission.
Klein-Karmel Continued
2010-11-24 15:35:00
Nov. 22, 2010 Mr. Boyd, I just wanted to say thank you for writing that letter on the topic of Yves Klein's most significant achievements. I think that you were right about Karmel's opinion of the monochromatic canvases--it needed to be challenged, and your response was wonderfully put. It was amusing to see, in his reply, that Mr. Karmel did not understand the meaning of your phrases on the "conceptual objections to ownership." I am researching for a paper currently on the topic of performance art and copyright/notions of ownership, and I wholeheartedly empathize with Klein's experimentation with the purpose of art itself, and with your letter. Thanks again! Suzanna Ritz New Orleans, LA Nov. 23, 2010 Dear Ms. Ritz, Many thanks for your kind words. It is good to know someone is reading a "Letters" column, given that we seem to have our focus mostly on digital text nowadays. Over the years I've written a handful of letters to "AiA" and a few have made print. For instance...
Quinque viae 2
2010-11-19 05:13:00
On November 11, a panel discussion was held during the opening of "A Postmodern Meditation on the Five Proofs of God" with Mark Cameron Boyd and Catholic University of America PhD Candidate in Religion and Culture, Patrick Beldio. The panel was moderated by exhibition curator, Dr. Lisa Lipinksi, and an audiofile of the discussion can be found HERE; digital recording/formatting courtesy of Scott Boyd. Image: "Quinque viae: Proof 4" after one week; © Copyright 2010 by Mark Cameron Boyd.
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