Chris Kraus

Chris Kraus, Professor of Creative Writing at The European Graduate School / EGS.


Chris Kraus (b. 1955) is a Los Angeles–based writer, art critic, and editor whose novels include I Love Dick (1997), Torpor (2006), and Summer of Hate (2012). Her writing navigates and mediates seamlessly between autobiography, fiction, philosophy, and art criticism. She teaches creative writing and art writing at The European Graduate School / EGS and has been a visiting professor at the Art Center College of Design, the University of California at San Diego, New York University, the San Francisco Art Institute, and the Los Angeles Contemporary Archives. Along with Sylvère Lotringer and Hedi El Kholti, Kraus is coeditor of the influential publishing house Semiotext(e), which has introduced much of contemporary French theory to an American audience, and published writers such as: Abdellah Taia, Veronica Gonzalez Pena, Mark Von Schlegell, Robert Gluck, Natasha Stagg, and Dodie Bellamy.

While Chris Kraus was born in New York City, she spent her formative years in New Zealand. Politically and intellectually active at a young age, Kraus began her studies at the age of sixteen in literature and political theory at the Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand), where she obtained her Bachelors degree. During that time, she also started working as a journalist writing for the Sunday Times and the Evening Post. Kraus moved back to New York City in her early 20s and began to study acting with Ruth Maleczech of Mabou Mines and economic theory with Arthur Felderbaum at the New York School for Marxist Education.

Before turning to fiction writing and art criticism, Chris Kraus wrote and produced several plays, including the highly acclaimed Disparate Action/Desperate Action (1980). And in 1983, she began making films, culminating with the feature film Gravity & Grace (1996). Her movies were rarely screened or discussed until 2008, when the Galerie Cinzia Friedlaender (Berlin) and Real Fine Arts (Brooklyn) presented retrospectives of her film work. While several museum retrospectives were presented in the ensuing years, Chris Kraus still considers herself a failed filmmaker.

A year after leaving New York for Los Angeles, in 1996 Kraus produced and curated The Chance Event­­––a three-day “philosophy rave” at Whiskey Pete’s Casino on the border of Nevada and California­­––with Jean Baudrillard, Rosanne Allucquère Stone, DJ Spooky, and Diane DiPrima, among others. The Chance Event, which received much media attention, was considered instrumental in establishing Los Angeles as a new artistic center in the mid-1990s.

After abandoning filmmaking, Kraus’s writing turned towards fiction and novel writing, with her first book, I Love Dick, published in 1997 by Semiotext(e). The autofictional novel chronicles her obsessive pursuit of a cultural critic named Dick and her attempts to transform it into a new kind of philosophy. She is aided in this pursuit by her then-husband, Sylvère Lotringer. At the time of its publication, it was dismissed as a “confession,” with Artforum calling it “a book not so much written as secreted.” In 2015, John Douglas Miller of The White Review describes it as “clear prose capable of theoretical clarity, descriptive delicacy, articulate rage and melancholic longing.” The book continues to be widely read, and is now considered a late-20th century classic. Kraus’s second novel, Aliens & Anorexia, appearing in 2000, “argues for empathy as the ultimate perceptive tool, and reclaims anorexia from the psychoanalytic girl-ghetto of poor ‘self-esteem.’” Her third novel, Torpor (2006), addresses the dawn of the New World Order, and is, as Josef Strau writes in Artforum, "More intense than any of the recent literary attempts to portray Europe’s dark, post-1989 narrative of traditionalism and neoconservatism, Torpor is probably the book to deal with the past’s haunting of the political present.” Her most recent novel, Summer of Hate (2012), which made Artforum's “Best of 2012” list, was succinctly described by the magazine’s Travis Jeppesen, who wrote: “It might take a decade or two, but eventually people will come around to the fact that this is the most definitive novel of the Bush Years we’re likely to get. One of few novels brave enough to delve into the concept of moral integrity in the context of American intellectual life, it only reveals that every act of generosity is doomed to fail when it is performed within the context of a hyper-capitalistic infrastructure.”

Kraus’s books on art, more specifically, include Video Green: Los Angeles Art and the Triumph of Nothingness (2004), which chronicles the explosive LA art scene in the late 1990s, and Where Art Belongs (2011), a collection of essays examining “artistic enterprises of the past decade [2000s] that reclaim the use of lived time as a material in the creation of visual art.” In 2012, Kraus conceived and co-curated the exhibition Radical Localism: Art, Video and Culture from Pueblo Nuevo's Mexicali Rose for Artists Space in New York and, following, published the monograph Kelly Lake Story & Other Stories (Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, Reed College; Companion Editions), which “dwells in out-of-the-way places––communities and landscapes obscured by poverty and decline.” Kraus published a second monograph, Lost Properties, on conceptual art and economic activism, for the 2014 Whitney Biennial. She has contributed widely to anthologies, including: Akademie X, (Phaidon, 2015), Secret Power (Mousse Books, 2015), Yayoi Kusama (Rizzoli, 2013), Ryan McGinley (Rizzoli, 2012); and regularly to publications, such as: Artforum, Bookforum, N+1, Tin House, Sydney Review of Books, Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, The Atlantic, Texte zur Kunst, Spex, and Spike. As well, with Sylvère Lotringer, she co-edited the Semiotext(e) anthology Hatred of Capitalism in 2001, and she is a contributing fiction editor to Bomb magazine.

Lauded for her diversity, and originality, Kraus has been described as “one of our smartest and original writers on contemporary art and culture” by Holland Cotter of the New York Times, and her work as “an uncannily coherent landscape, a kind of hyperintellectual, hypersexual, digital-era Yoknapatawpha that moves back and forth across the Atlantic, across the Mexican border, across the Soviet bloc” by Leslie Jamison in the New Yorker. In 2008, she received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art journalism from the College Art Association, the jury of which stated: “Regardless of genre or medium, Kraus’s works exemplify honesty, wit, and plot. She transforms art writing’s possibilities by rescuing theories of privilege, gossip, and feminism from their occasional tumbles into the lackluster. Never one to hold her tongue, Kraus helps other women speak with equal force.”

A new collection of stories and essays, La Tienda de Ramos Kelly Lake, translated by Cecilia Pavón, is forthcoming from Cruce Casa Editoria (Buenos Aires) in 2016, and published this year by Mute Books is the collection, You Must Make Your Death Public: A Collection of Texts and Media on the Work of Chris Kraus, edited by Mira Mattar. Presently, Chris Kraus is working on a critical biography of the American writer Kathy Acker.

*Photo credit: Ingrid Pop