Hal Foster
Hal Foster with a Hal
Hal Foster with a Hal’s and a Foster’s
Born (1955-08-13) August 13, 1955 (age 67)
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materPrinceton University (A.B.)
Columbia University (M.A.)
City University of New York (Ph.D.)
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship (1998)
Scientific career
FieldsArt history
InstitutionsPrinceton University
Cornell University
Doctoral advisorRosalind Krauss

Harold Foss "Hal" Foster[1] (born August 13, 1955) is an American art critic and historian. He was educated at Princeton University, Columbia University, and the City University of New York. He taught at Cornell University from 1991 to 1997 and has been on the faculty at Princeton since 1997. In 1998 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship.

Foster's criticism focuses on the role of the avant-garde within postmodernism. In 1983, he edited The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, a seminal text in postmodernism. In Recodings (1985), he promoted a vision of postmodernism that simultaneously engaged its avant-garde history and commented on contemporary society. In The Return of the Real (1996), he proposed a model of historical recurrence of the avant-garde in which each cycle would improve upon the inevitable failures of previous cycles. He views his roles as critic and historian of art as complementary rather than mutually opposed.

Early life and education

Foster was born Aug. 13, 1955, in Seattle, Washington.[2] His father was a partner in the law firm of Foster, Pepper & Shefelman.[3] He attended Lakeside School in Seattle, where Microsoft founder Bill Gates was a classmate.[4]

He graduated with an A.B. in English from Princeton University in 1977 after completing a 106-page long senior thesis titled "Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill: Two Poets in a Tradition."[5] He received a Master of Arts in English from Columbia University in 1979.[2] He received his Ph.D. in art history from the City University of New York in 1990, writing his dissertation on Surrealism under Rosalind Krauss.[6]


After graduating from Princeton, Foster moved to New York City, where he worked for Artforum from 1977 to 1981. He was then an editor at Art in America until 1987, when he became Director of Critical and Curatorial Studies at the Whitney Museum.[2][6]

In 1982,[7] a friend from Lakeside School founded Bay Press to publish The Mink's Cry, a children's book written by Foster.[3] In the following year Bay Press published The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, a collection of essays on postmodernism edited by Foster[8] that became a seminal text of postmodernism.[6] In 1985, Bay Press published Recodings, Foster's first collection of essays.[6] The Anti-Aesthetic and Recordings were, respectively, Bay Press's best and second best selling titles.[3] Foster founded Zone in 1985 and was its editor until 1992.[9]

In 1991, Foster left the Whitney[2] to join the faculty of Cornell University's Department of the History of Art. That same year, Foster became an editor of the journal October;[6] he was still on the board as of 2011.[10] In 1997 he joined the faculty of his undergraduate alma mater, Princeton University, in the Department of Art and Archaeology.[6] In 2000 he became the Townsend Martin Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton.[9] He chaired the Department of Art and Archaeology from 2005 to 2009.[11] In September 2011 he was appointed to the search committee to find a new dean for Princeton's School of Architecture.[12] He is a faculty fellow of Wilson College.[13]

Foster received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1998.[14] In 2010 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[15] and awarded the Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing by the Clark Art Institute.[9] Spring 2011 he won a Berlin Prize fellowship of the American Academy in Berlin.[16] In 2013–14 he was appointed practitioner in residence at Camberwell College of Arts in London.


In his introduction to The Anti-Aesthetic (1983), Foster described a distinction between complicity with and resistance to capitalism within postmodernism.[8] The book included contributions by Jean Baudrillard, Douglas Crimp, Kenneth Frampton, Jürgen Habermas, Fredric Jameson, Rosalind Krauss, Craig Owens, Edward Saïd, and Gregory Ulmer.[17]

In Recodings[18] 1985, Foster focused on the role of the avant-garde within postmodernism. He advocated a postmodernism that engages in both a continuation of its historical roots in the avant-garde and contemporary social and political critique, in opposition to what he saw as a "pluralistic" impulse to abandon the avant-garde in favor of more aesthetically traditional and commercially viable modes. He promoted artists he saw as exemplifying this vision, among them Dara Birnbaum, Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Louise Lawler, Sherrie Levine, Allan McCollum, Martha Rosler, and Krzysztof Wodiczko. Foster favored expansion of the scope of postmodernist art from galleries and museums to a broader class of public locations and from painting and sculpture to other media. He saw postmodernism's acknowledgment of differences in viewers' backgrounds and lack of deference to expertise as important contributions to the avant-garde.[6]

By the mid-1990s, Foster had come to believe that the dialectic within the avant-garde between historical engagement and contemporary critique had broken down. In his view, the latter came to be preferred over the former as interest was elevated over quality. In The Return of the Real (1996), taking as his model Karl Marx's reaction against G. W. F. Hegel, he sought to rebut Peter Bürger's assertion – which he made in Theory of the Avant-Garde[19] (1974) – that the neo-avant-garde largely represented a repetition of the projects and achievements of the historical avant-garde, and therefore it was a failure. Foster's model was based on a notion of "deferred action" inspired by the work of Sigmund Freud. He conceded the failure of the initial avant-garde wave (which included such figures as Marcel Duchamp) but argued that future waves could redeem earlier ones by incorporating through historical reference those aspects that had not been comprehended the first time around. Gordon Hughes compares this theory with Jean-François Lyotard's.[6]

Foster has been critical of the field of visual culture, accusing it of "looseness". In a 1999 article in Social Text, Crimp rebutted Foster, criticizing his notion of the avant-garde and his treatment in The Return of the Real of sexual identity in Andy Warhol's work.[6] Furthermore, this criticality spreads to both the practice and the field of design in his book Design and Crime (2002).[20]

Foster views his roles as art critic and art historian as complementary rather than mutually opposed, in accordance with his adherence to postmodernism.[6] In an interview published in the Journal of Visual Culture, he said, "I've never seen critical work in opposition to historical work: like many others I try to hold the two in tandem, in tension. History without critique is inert; criticism without history is aimless".[21]


This list is incomplete; you can help by adding missing items. (May 2015)



Reprint Details Originally Published
Foster, Hal, ed. (1985). Postmodern culture. Pluto Press. Foster, Hal, ed. (1983). The anti-aesthetic : essays on postmodern culture. Bay Press.

Book reviews

Date Review article Work(s) reviewed
2000 Foster, Hal (21 September 2000). "Slumming with rappers at the Roxy". London Review of Books. 22 (18): 16–18. Retrieved 2015-05-06. Seabrook, John (2000). Nobrow : the culture of marketing, the marketing of culture. Methuen.
2013 Foster, Hal (10 October 2013). "What’s the problem with critical art?". London Review of Books. 35 (19). Retrieved 2022-10-26. Rancière, Jacques (2013). Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art. Verso.


  1. ^ Princeton University senior thesis catalog Archived 2019-05-27 at the Wayback Machine: Foster, Harold. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  2. ^ a b c d "Curriculum vitae: Hal Foster" (PDF). Princeton University Department of Art and Archaeology. Retrieved 2011-11-04.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c Mudede, Charles (2002-01-30). "The mysterious disappearance of Bay Press". The Stranger. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  4. ^ Miller, Brian (2002-07-31). "Kmart vs. Koolhaas". Seattle Weekly. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  5. ^ Foster, Harold Foss (1977). "Ted Hughes and Geoffrey Hill: Two Poets in a Tradition". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hughes, Gordon (2002). "Hal Foster (1955–)". In Vickery, Jonathan; Costello, Diarmuid (eds.). Art: Key Contemporary Thinkers. Berg Publishers. pp. 79–82. ISBN 9780857850775. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  7. ^ Foster, Hal (1982). The Mink's Cry. ISBN 0941920003.
  8. ^ a b Harrison, Charles; Wood, Paul, eds. (2009). Art in Theory, 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 1037. ISBN 9780631227083. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  9. ^ a b c Clark Art Institute. "The Clark Prize for Excellence in Arts Writing". Archived from the original on 2011-08-09. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  10. ^ MIT Press Journals. "October". Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  11. ^ Foster, Hal (Spring 2009). "Department of Art and Archaeology newsletter" (PDF). p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-26. Retrieved 2011-11-04. After four years... I am stepping down as chair....
  12. ^ Altmann, Jennifer Greenstein (2011-09-28). "Search committee appointed for architecture dean". Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  13. ^ Wilson College. "Hal Foster". Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  14. ^ John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. "Hal Foster". Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  15. ^ Worthen, Tory (2010-04-21). "American Academy of Arts and Sciences elects nine professors as fellows". The Daily Princetonian. Archived from the original on 2012-06-14. Retrieved 2011-11-04.
  16. ^ "Siemens Fellow – Class of Spring 2011". American Academy in Berlin. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved March 20, 2012.
  17. ^ Foster, Hal, ed. (1983). The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture. Bay Press.
  18. ^ "Subversive Signs"(excerpt), by Hal Foster, excerpted from RECODING: ART, SPECTACLE, CULTURAL POLITICS, Seattle: Bay Press, 1985.
  19. ^ Theory of The Avant-Garde was originally published in 1974, in German, as "Theorie der Avantgarde", by Suhrkamp Verlag. In 1980 the second edition came out, the first English translation was based on that, in 1984, published by the University of Minnesota. ISBN 0-7190-1453-0
  20. ^ Guffey, Elizabeth; Guins, Raiford (2010). "Electrifying the Enlightenment". Design and Culture. 2 (3): 329–340. doi:10.2752/175470710X12789399279912. S2CID 191393737.
  21. ^ Foster, Hal (2004). "Polemics, postmodernism, immersion, militarized space". Journal of Visual Culture. 3 (3): 320–35. doi:10.1177/1470412904048784. S2CID 190692632. Interviewed by Marquard Smith.