People make their own history, but they do not make it of their own free will; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances but under immediate circumstances, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with transforming themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to perform this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and with borrowed language.

Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte


The Whitney Independent Study Program has met annually since 1968, beginning in September and running through the following May. The program brings together participants from different parts of the world, with a range of practices and positions, to study in New York City. Together, we comprise three cohorts: the Studio Program, the Curatorial Program, and the Critical Studies Program. The ISP is a collective project of its participants, our visiting faculty and seminar leaders, our Instructor for Curatorial Studies, Sadia Shirazi, our Program Assistant, Stephen Sewell, and our Director, our friend and mentor, Ron Clark.

Ron Clark has helmed the ISP since its inception, and the seminars he offers throughout the year anchor the program’s critical intellectual framework. When not in a seminar or an individual meeting, he can be found in his office from 12-6 every weekday, with a few choice words from Karl Marx, Bertolt Brecht, Raymond Williams, or Stuart Hall always close at hand. We have found his perspective invaluable to the inquiries we have pursued this year and would like to express our deepest gratitude to him.

This year, the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic forced the cancelation of the ISP in mid-March, with two months of the program remaining. Many of us continued to meet informally online, discussing readings and offering one another support under the changed circumstances. With the cancelation of the program also came the cancelation of our customary year-end events. For the studio cohort, this has meant the adaption of our projects into the book you now have before you.

From the upkeep of its facilities to the conversations between its participants, the Whitney Independent Study Program is a communal endeavor. The friendships it fosters are the outcome of the countless hours we share together. This book does not pretend to be the sum of that experience. It does, however, take after the form of the ISP as a collective project: the product of countless debates and discussions, it is rough-hewn, forever in progress. It’s something we made together, like the project we undertook at 100 Lafayette Street.

The 2019-20 Studio Program

June 2020

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