Glorious catastrophe

Jack Smith, performance and visual culture

By Dominic Johnson

Glorious catastrophe


  • Hardcover

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9147-6
  • Pages: 256
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £17.99
  • Published Date: November 2013
  • BIC Category: Art History, Performance art, Individual film directors, film-makers, Individual artists, art monographs, History of art, The arts / Individual artists, art monographs, ART / History / Contemporary (1945-), The arts / Individual film directors, film-makers, ART / Performance
  • Series: Rethinking Art's Histories


Glorious catastrophe presents a detailed critical analysis of the work of Jack Smith from the early 1960s until his AIDS-related death in 1989. Dominic Johnson argues that Smith's work offers critical strategies for rethinking art's histories after 1960. Heralded by peers as well as later generations of artists, Smith is an icon of the New York avant-garde. Nevertheless, he is conspicuously absent from dominant histories of American culture in the 1960s, as well as from narratives of the impact that decade would have on coming years. Smith poses uncomfortable challenges to cultural criticism and historical analysis, which Glorious catastrophe seeks to uncover. The first critical analysis of Smith's practices across visual art, film, performance and writing, the study employs extensive, original archival research carried out in Smith's personal papers, and unpublished interviews with friends and collaborators. It will be essential reading for students and scholars interested in the life and art of Jack Smith, and the greater histories that he interrupts, including those of experimental arts practices and the development of sexual cultures.


'In Glorious Catastrophe, Johnson celebrates the fabulous, freakish spectacle of Jack Smith and his work to its fullest extent in a manner that reflects his subject's contempt for assimilation. In this, he seems inspired by Kathy Acker's injunction to writers 'to scream, to forget, to do anything except reduce radical difference, through representation, to identities, singularity, calculable and controllable' in the rethinking of art's histories.'
Fiona Anderson, Contemporary Theatre Review 24:1



TaPRA Early Career Research Prize


Introduction: Jack Smith's glorious catastrophes
1. 'Little triumphs of disaster': failure, boredom and excess
2. 'Beyond self-disappearance': Jack Smith and art's histories
3. Flaming Creatures and the burden of disgust
4. Innocent monsters and Normal Love
5. The deaths of Maria Montez
6. 'Glamorize your messes': scenes of writing
7. Rehearsals for the destruction of Atlantis


Dominic Johnson is Senior Lecturer in Drama at Queen Mary University of London

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