After the Great Refusal

After the Great Refusal

Essays on Contemporary Art, Its Contradictions and Difficulties

A Western Marxist, Avant-garde reading of contemporary art.


After the Great Refusal offers a Western Marxist reading of contemporary art focusing on the continued presence (or absence) of the avant-garde’s transgressive impulse.

Taking art’s ability to contribute to a potential radical social transformation as its point of departure, Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen' analyses the relationship between the current neoliberal hegemony and contemporary art, including relational aesthetics and interventionist art, new institutionalism and post-modern architecture.

'...a trenchant critique of neoliberal domination of contemporary art.'
Gene Ray, author of Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory


In a time of headlong social and biophysical 'dissolution into capital', social reproduction crashes and dark political phenomena spring up on all sides. Friendly phantoms of reform surface here and there with their jolts of short-lived radical affect, while fascist libidinal economies go to work on everything from urban cultural life to state power. Meanwhile art institutions mind the crisis by widening the sphere of representation without traction that has long been the modus operandi of their stability. Rather than deploy cultural theory's well-worn genres of determinist allegory or fractal anecdote, Mikkel Bolt offers precision analysis grounded in the constitutive contradictions of the fact that art is a form of autonomy derivative of the value form, yet a space which can still figure social experience that goes through and past it into a non-capitalist time. Surveying art, architecture and revolutionary theory from the past half-century, After the Great Refusal makes a strikingly historical and sharply material argument in favour of negation and abolition as the only imperatives that still make any sense. ~ Marina Vishmidt, author of Reproducing Autonomy: Work, Money, Crisis and Contemporary Art

As much as I hate art, I really loved reading the book. That may have been the point. Could also be my blurb. ~ Joshua Clover, author of Riot. Strike. Riot

Informed by Western Marxism and the avant-garde and combining in-depth analysis of specific cases with historical insight and theoretical rigour, Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen thinks through contemporary art’s manifold and deepening contradictions. Art’s promesse de bonheur has been coopted and corrupted to an extent that likely would have horrified even Adorno and Marcuse - though it would not have surprised Debord, while the revolutionary Long March Through the Institutions has become a series of desperate compromises. Refusing to be satisfied with mourning a radical past and condemning a dismal present, Bolt sounds out how contemporary practice and theory can offer openings and create forms with a future - forms of futurity. ~ Sven Lütticken, author of Cultural Revolution: Aesthetic Practice after Autonomy

Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen’s After the Great Refusal is a trenchant critique of neoliberal domination of contemporary art. Incisively analyzing relational aesthetics, interventionist art, new institutionalism and postmodern architecture, Rasmussen renews Marxist critical theory and holds open the promise of radical culture “after the self-murder” of the artistic avant-gardes. ~ Gene Ray, author of Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory

Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen
Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen is an art historian and cultural critic. He is Associate Professor at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, Uni...
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