In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Strategy is the Status Quo
  • Samuel Nigro (bio)

[The following letter was written to Larry Qualls, Associate Editor of PAJ, on June 1, 2001.]

Dear Larry,

I would like to write an article for PAJ. . . . Unabashedly, the piece is about STRATEGY in art.

The crafting and implementing of any strategy imply positions on Ideology, Morality, Propaganda, and Coercion. These are not always fully realized by the crafter, but are usually discussed, if only indirectly, when trying to identify a strategy.

The article will be seven different strategies to explain one artistic piece, The Command List:

  • • Request—this letter

  • • The Command List—adapted to the proportions of this journal

  • • Synopsis—similar to a scientific abstract. Short and to the point

  • • Image—A visual explanation: broken stone; elaborate structure

  • • Context—past artistic strategies, including Richard Serra's Verb List and The Guerrilla Girls

  • • Relevance—a raw rhetorical justification

  • • Story—an autobiographical story reflecting a similar tension within The Command List

This format may raise more questions than it answers. Good. I am not interested in purporting another Grand Mythology or Utopian Vision with my efforts. It is my hope to investigate the contradictions and reflexive aspects of all strategies, including those used in contemporary art.

I will call later this week to see if you would be interested in such an article. But in the meantime, feel free to call me at 718.XXX.ABCD.

Best Regards,

Samuel Nigro [End Page 21]

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[End Page 22]

Synopsis of The Command List

The Command List considers the need to justify or undermine a command in light of its authority and implications. The list should be taken as a whole. The two outer columns flirt with being a list of opposites, depicting a constant undoing and redoing, commanding an affirmation and a denial. The middle column bids these outer columns to a seemingly impossible meeting that would yield an unpredictable and irreversible outcome.

The Command List offers a rendering of that which drives me to put my concerns into the form of sculpture, video, drawings, and images; the breaking of a stone is a physical manifestation of this. [End Page 23]

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Samuel Nigro, images and video stills from Staying Calm Under Duress, April 2001. Top image: 80 x 65 x 48", granite, cement, stainless steel, wood, and video. Video includes footage from: Dodging Balls, Removing Blindfold, and Holding Breath in the East River, 10 minutes. Photos: Courtesy Samuel Nigro.

[End Page 24]


In 1967-68, sculptor Richard Serra wrote a list of verbs and proceeded to make a piece of sculpture for each word. To Cut: he embedded a large sheet of cor-ten steel halfway in and perpendicular to the ground, and, then cut the sheet just above and parallel to the new foundation, letting the loose piece fall. To Roll: he took a large flat sheet of lead and rolled it into a tight bundle, as one would roll a rug. Down the list of 108 he went. . . .

Serra made this Verb List as a reaction to the Minimalist movement in order to find a way to get the artist's hand back into the process of making sculpture, the very thing that made Minimalism such a forceful and challenging art movement. The Verb List was a strategy devised by Serra to communicate that which he thought important within his historical moment and thereby contribute to the future by making relevant sculpture.

Our own present moment is not so straightforward. With the many cultural platforms and strategic positions that seek to create knowledge, revise histories, and influence world views, our identities seem to be in constant flux. The contingency of the self is center stage, and its liberation the priority. However, the question of the self and what constitutes its liberation are far from resolved. At the risk of simplifying the far from trivial problem of how change occurs and how the individual develops in society, we are subject to everything but ourselves. Oppression comes in many forms. The options seem clear: either negotiate the multiplicity of positions and constant restructuring of existent views or be subject to...


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