– 1950: Craig Owens is born in Pittsburgh. He is the oldest of two children born to a middle-class family.
– Summer 1966: Owens attends the Summer Theater Program, Carnegie Tech, at Ohio State University in Pittsburgh, Ohio. He is fascinated by avant-garde playwrights and Off-Off-Broadway theater.
– 1971: Owens earns a B.A. with honors at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, Pa. Major: English, Phi Beta Kappa.
– 1972: Owens produces Mystery Play by playwright Jean Claude van Itallie, which is presented on January 3, 1973 at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York. Van Itallie is known for his collaboration with the Open Theater, an experimental theater group founded in New York in 1963 by Joe Chaikin.
– 1974 – 1980: Owens studies in the History of Criticism and Critical Theory program at the Graduate School of The City University of New York. He studies under Leo Steinberg and Milton Brown. Along with Rosalyne Deutsche, Douglas Crimp and David Deitcher, he attends Rosalind Krauss’ seminar. She becomes his thesis director.
In November 1976, Owens, who has a passion for classical ballet, publishes “Politics of Coppélia” in Christopher Street, which deals with the staging of the ballet Coppélia that George Balanchine had just produced with the New York City Ballet. The following year, his interest in theatre leads him to write an essay on Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach (1976) as part of Rosalind Krauss’ seminar. The essay is published in the 4th issue of October in the fall of 1977 and is his first contribution to the magazine.
From 1978 to 1981, thanks to the recommendation of Rosalind Krauss, Owens obtains a position as an Adjunct Instructor in the Art History Department at Hunter College. The artist Silvia Kolbowski is one of his students.
In 1978-1979, Owens becomes one of the founding editors with Andrew McNear of the monthly journal Skyline which, along with Oppositions (1973-1984), is published by the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS), an institute founded in 1967 by architect Peter Eisenman in New York City. Owens also serves as Course Director at the IAUS in 1979.
In the summer of 1978, Owens publishes “Photography ‘en abyme'” in the 5th issue of October. This article was composed in the context of Krauss’ seminar on photography during the year 1977-1978. He also gives two conferences dedicated to photography and postmodernism at the 66th Annual Meeting of the College Art Association of America in New York in January 1978 and at Princeton University in March 1978.
In 1979, Owens’ collaboration with October intensifies. He translates Jacques Derrida’s “The Parergon” for the summer 1979 issue, as well as “Observations on the Long Take” (1967) and “What is Neo-Zhdanovism and What Is Not?” (1968) by Pier Paolo Pasolini for the summer 1980 issue. But above all he becomes Associate editor in the autumn of 1979, a position he held until summer 1980. During this period, the magazine clarified and defended its version of postmodernism in the artistic field. The essay “The Allegorical Impulse”, the two parts of which appear in the spring and summer 1980 issues respectively, was Owens’ contribution to this reflection, conducted in dialogue with Krauss and Crimp. The essay is well received and Owens is invited to present it at the colloquium “Multidisciplinary Aspects of Performance, Postmodernism” at the University of Quebec in Montreal from October 9 to 11, 1980, in which Jean-François Lyotard is also a participant.
Starting in the summer of 1980, Owens progressively disengages himself from October: he still appears as a contributing editor in the autumn issue, but he definitively leaves the editorial board of the magazine during the winter of 1980. The study day dedicated to the notion of postmodernism that the artist and teacher Jack Goldstein organizes at the Hartford Art School on January 21, 1981, is the last common public intervention of Krauss, Crimp and Owens.
– 1981: In January, Owens begins working as an associate editor at Art in America. He becomes senior editor in November.
On March 30, he takes part, alongside Christian Hubert, Sherrie Levine, David Salle, Julian Schnabel, in the group discussion “Postmodernism in the Visual Arts” organized at the IAUS. The transcript of the discussion is published in the summer issue of REAL LIFE Magazine. In October, he gives the lecture “The Politics of Postmodernism” at the California Institute of the Arts and the Foundation for Arts Resources in Los Angeles.
In parallel with these activities, he translates the book Romantisme (1980) by Jean Clay, the founder of Macula Editions in Paris, from French into English for Vendôme Press.
1982: In April, Owens is invited to give a lecture on the work of John Baldessari as part of a retrospective of his work organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston from 6 March to 18 April 1982. Owens devotes his 1982 essay “Telling Stories” to the artist. It is published in May 1981 in Art in America.
In May 1982, Owens takes part in the panel discussion “What’s Wrong with Photography Criticism?” at the Nikon House in New York City. That same month, he publishes the essay “Representation, Appropriation and Power” in Art in America, which begins an undertaking on the necessity “[t]o investigate representational systems as apparatuses of power ”.1
In June, he goes to Documenta 7 in Kassel, where so-called neo-expressionist painters such as Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz take center place. In September, he publishes a review of the event in Art in America entitled “Bayreuth ’82”, which is highly critical of the international success of this type of painting. He expands his thoughts on the subject in the lectures “On the Loss of Reality in Contemporary European Art” given in September to the Society for Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago and “Honor, Power, The Love of Beautiful Women” presented in November at the State College in Kutztown (Pa.), a lecture from which he publishes an article of the same title in January 1983 in Art in America.
– 1983: He becomes a Lecturer at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) where he taught until 1987. Andrea Fraser, Gregg Bordowitz, Mark Dion, Tom Burr, Fareed Armaly, Daphne Fitzpatrick and Marina Zurkow took his “Art in Ideas” course.
Owens re-examines his understanding of postmodernism in the light of his new interest in feminism in the essay “The Discourse of Others” which appears in Hal Foster’s collection The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. He presents this new perspective during the lectures “Marked Women” delivered in January at the University of Illinois at Chicago and “Feminism and Postmodernism” delivered in March at Trinity University in San Antonio and in April at the City University of New York Graduate Center.
At the same time, he is frequently invited to speak publicly on a variety of topics ranging from the photographic medium to the international situation of the art world. He appears in the following panels: in January, “Hype” at the New School of Social Research; in April, “Is the U.S. Losing Art World Supremacy?” at Rutgers University, “The ’70s” at the Whitney Museum, and “Painting and Photography: Defining the Difference” at Artists Talk on Art with Joseph Kosuth, Jack Goldstein, Sarah Charlesworth, Barbara Kruger, Mark Tansey and Robert Mapplethorpe; in May, “The Creative Response” at Wellesley College; in June, “Style Through the Arts: Are There Concepts in Common?” with Dale Harris, Kennedy Fraser, Viveca Lindfors, John Rockwell and Ashok Bhavani, at the Dance Critics Conference at the Milford Plaza Hotel in NYC; in July, “Postmodernism and Critical Practice(s)” at the University of Illinois in Champaign/Urbana; in August, at the Symposium on Dance Criticism at Stanford University; and in October, at the “Postmodernism” evening organized by Social Text in New York.
– 1984: While continuing to teach at the SVA, he becomes Faculty of the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, a position he held until 1987. In February, he takes part in the “Art and Politics” panel at the SVA, and gives the lecture “Art World Politics/Real Politics” at the 72nd Annual Meeting of the College Art Association of America in Toronto. This lecture is presented in a session devoted to “Cultures of Resistance” in which Martha Rosler and Lyn Blumenthal also intervene. The same year, Lyn Blumenthal and Kate Horsfield film an interview with Owens as part of the series “On Art and Artists” preserved by Video Data Bank. On the occasion of the exhibition The Heroic Figure organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston from September 15 to November 4, Owens renews his criticism of the resurgence of a romantic framing of artists that he had formulated after Documenta 7 concerning the neo-expressionist painters. In the essay “Under Arrest” published in the exhibition catalogue, he looks at the various artistic strategies used by artists such as Cindy Sherman, Nancy Dwyer and John Ahearn to defuse the heroism embodied by painters like Julian Schnabel and David Salle.
In parallel with these activities, Owens starts to renew his thinking about representation, which he initiated in 1982, with the essay “The Medusa Effect, or, The Specular Ruse” devoted to the work of Barbara Kruger and published in the catalogue of her exhibition We Won’t Play Nature to Your Culture, which was held from March 23 to April 25 at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in London. In it, Kruger’s photomontage practice is analyzed as a rhetoric of posing aimed at doubling the stereotypes conveyed in society in order to better undo them. He continues this analysis of posing by addressing the notion of masquerade developed in the feminist literature on sexual difference in the lectures “Sexuality and Representation” delivered in March at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and “Art and Masquerade” presented in October at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, as well as in the essay “Posing” published in the catalogue of the exhibition Difference: On Representation and Sexuality, which was held at the New Museum from December 8, 1984, to February 10, 1985. On the occasion of this exhibition, he takes part on December 12 in the panel “Sexuality Identity” moderated by Kate Linker with Jane Weinstock, Judith Barry, Laura Mulvey, Mary Kelly and Victor Burgin.
– 1985: The text “Repetition and Difference”, which Owens originally published in September 1983 in Art in America, is republished in the catalogue of the exhibition of Allan McCollum’s Surrogates held at the Lisson Gallery in London from October 3 to November 2. In March, he speaks at the symposium “The Avant-Garde Then and Now” at Yale University.
During the summer, Gregg Bordowitz, Mark Dion, Jason Simon and Craig Owens organize a reading group on the subject of the first book of Karl Marx’s Capital.
In October, Owens presents the lecture “Visual Narratives: the Body as Landscape” at the University of Notre Dame.
– 1986: Owens presents the lecture “The Institution of Criticism/The Criticism of Institutions” in January at the University of Texas at El Paso, in February at The University of New Mexico, and in April at Oberlin College as part of the Baldwin Lectures. He expands on his interest in institutional critique in the essay “From Work to Frame, or Is There Life After the Death of Author?” published in the catalogue of the exhibition Implosion. A Postmodern Perspective organized by Lars Nittve at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 1987.
At the same time, his ideas on sexual politics are nourished by reading works associated with Queer Studies. In May, he returns to his text “The Discourse of Others” at the School of Architecture at Columbia University and in October presents the conference “Outlaws” at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. The latter lecture was later published as an essay under the same title in the anthology Men in Feminism edited by Alice Jardine and Paul Smith in 1987.
Finally, Owens begins to take an interest in Post-colonial Studies, as evidenced by the article “Improper Names” that he publishes in reaction to the work of artist Lothar Baumgarten in October in Art in America.
– 1987: In February, Owens becomes Contributing Editor to Art in America. During the 1987-1988 academic year, he is Visiting Professor in the McIntire Department of Art at the University of Virginia, Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History at Barnard College, and Whitney Halsted Visiting Professor of Art Criticism at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In February, he travels to London where he participates in the “Drawing” panel at The Architectural Association, and delivers the lectures “The Conventional Attitude” at the Royal College of Art, “The Death of the Viewer” at the ICA, and “Outlaws: Gay Men and Feminism” at the University of Leeds.
He is also invited to contribute to panels on “Postmodernism” at Yale University in February and “Art Appreciation” at the Socialist Scholars Conference in April in New York City.
In May, he presents the lectures “The Death of the Viewer: Art and Politics in the Age of Ronald Reagan” at The Art Institute of Chicago and “On Protectionist Discourse” at Hampshire College. The subject of the latter is taken up in the essay “The Yen for Art” published in the Hal Foster edited collection Discussions in Contemporary Culture, in which Owens addresses the AIDS crisis.
– 1988: Owens is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History at Yale University.
He begins working on the exhibition Exoticism: a Figure for Emergencies for the I.C.A. in London. At the same time he is preparing an essay about the filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini, Derek Jarman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. He is particularly interested in Fassbinder’s posthumous film Querelle (1982), which is an adaptation of a novel by Jean Genet.
– 1989: Owens obtains a position in the art department of the University of Rochester, where the first Visual and Cultural Studies Program had opened the previous year.
In September, he becomes Senior Editor at Art in America.
– On July 4, 1990, Craig Owens dies from HIV/AIDS.
– In 1992, Douglas Crimp is recruited to the art department at the University of Rochester, where he institutes the Craig Owens Memorial Lectures.
- 1. Craig Owens, “Representation, Appropriation and Power,” Art in America 70, no. 5 (May 1982): 9-21; reprinted in Craig Owens, Beyond Recognition: Representation, Power and Culture, eds. Scott Bryson, Barbara Kruger, Lynne Tillman, and Jane Weinstock (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), 91.