Postcolonial Thoughts: Book Review of Nicholas Bourriaud’s “The Radicant”

by Christopher Hutchinson

Nicholas Bourriaud is one of the leading art theorists/curators presently.  He is behind the Relational art movement, globalism, and postproduction.  This is a review of his third book The Radicant.

Radicant & Breaking modernity

Rad´i`cant    (răd´ĭ`kant)

a. 1. (Bot.) Taking root on, or above, the ground; rooting from the stem, as the trumpet creeper and the ivy.                           –

Initially, The Radicant was an encouraging read.  It lays out the problematical perspective of the linear Western art world.  Bourriaud’s derision for the immobile art world was very engaging.  The Radicant recognizes the necessity for numerous evaluations that are not based on the canon of Western art history. Let us no longer encourage the formal elements of line, color, shape, space, texture and form.  Permit us to leave the language of white spaces occupied with eye-level paintings, sculptures on pedestals and holy institutions that have become so banal.  Leave the devotion to this practice in the past; all of the rubrics used to add value are out-of-date and exclusionary.

Formalism, abstraction, painting and sculpture in the West all have excluded the vast number of cultures and societies form being equal participants in the world of art.  Bourriaud invites us to have Radicant histories; here all histories are of equal value in globe.

This ethereal concept all falls apart at the end of the book where he suggests that we can achieve this Radicant understanding through the lens of Marcel Duchamp.

“In generating behaviours and potential reuses, art challenges passive culture, composed of merchandise and consumers. It makes the forms and cultural objects of our daily lives function. What if artistic creation today could be compared to a collective sport [play!], far from the classic mythology of the solitary effort? ‘It is the viewers who make the paintings’, Duchamp once said, and incomprehensible remark unless we connect it to his keen sense of an emerging culture of use, in which meaning is born of collaboration and negotiation between the artist and the one who comes to view the work. Why wouldn’t the meaning of a work have as much to do with the use one makes of it as with the artist’s intentions for it? Such is the meaning of what one might venture to call a formal collectivism.”-THE RADICANT

Radicant quote

 Bourriard’s Duchamp suggestion does the most damage to his credibility in changing the thought process of the West.  How could Duchamp be the Radicant history necessary to break modernism, when Duchamp is the Western canon?  This book proves that historians & philosophers, like Bourriaud, even when they try with all their might cannot escape their own linear methodology.  It is in their blood.  This is the reason why, any new concept that actually changes the direction of the West, has been appropriated from some other indigenous culture.  Appropriated without crediting its origins.

This is important to note because they are many who believe that one day West will write something of worth about indigenous non-white people, but here is the proof, it can’t be done.  Bourriaud, a French Art critic, is doing exactly what he is supposed to, expressing National pride and lineage as the way to access the future through Duchamp.  It is up to each culture to document, protect, and preserve its own history before it becomes the newest jewel for the new global West.

Rirkrit Tiravanijia & Globalism

 According to art critic Jerry Saltz, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s works do nothing less than “bridge a mind-body gap that often exists in Western art.” Meaning: Tiravanija’s installations — which often combine food and communion among strangers within intimate, temporary worlds that contain all forms of social interaction from conversation to sex — stimulate the viewers’ brains and their bodies and open them up to experiences beyond just art appreciation.

So what does this mean for Bourriaud sponsored artists like Rirkrit Tiravanija?  We now have the inclusion of westernized indigenous people interpreted through a Duchampian lens.  These westernized non-white people also look to Duchamp as the example set.  Magical non-white people will show the West once again how to create art that is not dismal. This is not new; by any means it is identical to Gauguin and Tahiti, Picasso and Africa.

The artists, critics, institutions that have been celebrated in this global Radicant history, are indoctrinated in the history of the West. For Bourriaud’s initial Radicant to be realized, there would not be a designation of folk art.  As long as folk art exists we are talking about a commercial viability of indigenous contribution to the West. Not equal respect. The Radicant ends up being just as linear as every other Western art history and philosophy.

“…’globalization.’ Like most terms of political discourse, this term has two meanings: a literal meaning and a technical meaning employed for doctrinal warfare. In the literal sense, ‘globalization’ means international integration. Its leading advocates are those who meet annually at the World Social Forum, coming from countries all over the world and all walks of life, working together to craft and debate forms of international integration—economic, cultural, political—that serve the interests of people: real people, of flesh and blood. But in the doctrinal system, their commitments are called ‘antiglobalization.’ The description is correct if we use the term ‘globalization’ in its technical sense, referring to a particular form of international economic integration, with a mixture of liberal and protectionist measures and many related to investor rights, not trade, all designed to serve the interests of investors, financial institutions, and other centers of concentrated state-private power—those granted the rights of super-persons by the courts.“-Hopes and Prospects – Noam Chomsky


If  you would like to submit a book or essay or an eBook to be reviewed by Christopher in the “Postcolonial Thoughts” column, send an email with your interest to

Christopher HutchinsonChristopher Hutchinson is an Assistant Professor of Art at Atlanta Metropolitan State College and Archetype Art Gallery Owner in Atlanta, Ga. He received his Master of Fine Arts Degree in Painting from Savannah College of art & Design, Atlanta and his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Alabama. He lived in Alabama for 10 years before moving to Atlanta in 2008. His installations mostly consist of black folded paper airplanes.

Learn more about Christopher and his work at Black Flight 144.

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Categories: Art, Postcolonial Thoughts


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  1. End of the Year issue of Creative Thresholds ROCKS! | Melissa D. Johnston - December 31, 2013

    […] In the “Postcolonial Thoughts” column Christopher Hutchinson reviews leading art theorist/curator Nicholas Bourriaud’s The Radicant. […]


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