Currently chair of the Department of Visual Arts, Matthew Jesse Jackson teaches courses grounded primarily in the contemplation of cultural experience since 1945. His recent scholarship has focused on two related phenomena: the performative character of scholarly activity (“The Lecture”) and the fictive character of scholarly narration (“The Text”). Most of his work of the preceding decade, often produced with collaborators as Our Literal Speed, has been dedicated to investigating how lectures and texts might manifest wisdom and knowledge. In 2021, “Vernacular Modernism All Over the Deep South,” a research fiction by OLS, will appear in The Present Prospects of Social Art History, edited by Robert Slifkin and Anthony Grudin.
Jackson’s most recent monograph, Il’ia i Emiliia Kabakovy: Gde nashe mesto? [Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Where Is Our Place?] (Moscow: Breus Foundation, 2019), presents the most comprehensive Russian-language survey of Russia’s most famous living artists. Jackson is also the editor and co-translator from the Russian of Ilya Kabakov: On Art (University of Chicago Press, 2018), the definitive collection of Kabakov’s writings in English, and the author of The Experimental Group: Ilya Kabakov, Moscow Conceptualism, Soviet Avant-Gardes (University of Chicago Press, 2010; new paperback edition, 2016), winner of the Robert Motherwell Book Award from The Dedalus Foundation for outstanding publication in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts, as well as the Vucinich Book Prize for the most important contribution to Russian, Eurasian, and East European studies in any discipline of the humanities or social sciences from the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies; the prize citation reads, in part: “Matthew Jesse Jackson's The Experimental Group is an engaging, beautifully written, and erudite study of unofficial Soviet art. It provides brilliant readings of numerous individual drawings, albums, mixed media work, and installations…[T]his monumental study of creativity in and after the late Soviet period is a remarkable scholarly achievement.” The volume was also named runner-up for Book of the Year in art history and criticism at the American Publishers (PROSE) Awards, and placed on the short list for Book of the Year by the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL). Reviews appeared in Artforum, Art in America, Art Journal, Art Monthly, Artkhronika, Kunsttexte, The Nation, Oxford Art Journal, Russian Review, Slavic Review, Slavic and East European Journal, and Third Text.
Along the way Jackson co-authored and co-curated the 2011-12 book/exhibition Vision and Communism (an exhibition described as “maverick” and “genius” by Lori Waxman in The Chicago Tribune), while several of his texts appeared as the voice of the character “Matthew Jesse Jackson” in Christian Matthiessen’s “theory novels” On Tour Mit Art & Language und Niklas Luhmann (Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2012) and Miller: Ein Theorie Roman in the Style of the Jackson Pollock Bar (Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2018). Jackson’s own writing can be found in Apollo, ARS, Afterall, Artforum, Art Journal, ARTMargins, Berfrois, BlackBook, Bookforum, The Brooklyn Rail, caareviews, Critical Inquiry, InterReview, The Journal of Comparative Literature and Aesthetics, M/E/A/N/I/N/G, Museum International, New Left Review, October, Oxford Art Journal, Shifter, Slavic Review, Slavic and East European Journal, Slavonic & East European Review, and Third Text.
For many years he has been “doing” Our Literal Speed—about which Catherine Wood (Senior Performance Curator, Tate Modern) once wrote in Artforum: “The messy, unresolved productiveness—at times brilliance—of ‘Our Literal Speed’ lay in its complicated challenge to the neutralizing assumptions about a ‘community’ constituting an artwork peddled by and after relational aesthetics.” While Adrienne Edwards, co-curator of the 2021 Whitney Biennial, writes: “Our Literal Speed often writes texts as a group that shifts and changes as need be, and the final texts are often presented or performed by a third party as a mocking ventriloquism…[W]hat is interesting is that the relative anonymity of the collective (outside of their public events, though we don’t know if participants in those events are members or presenters) veils the voice but not the language.” The project’s managed to participate in the Whitney Independent Study Program as a Studio Fellow, received a Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Grant and an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Creative Capital Foundation Arts Writers Grant, won the Epson Fondazione Antonio Ratti Prize for Artistic Research, and was named a Paul D. Fleck Fellow at the Banff Centre, while being invited to appear, curate, exhibit or perform at various locales, including Art Institute of Chicago; Banff Centre (Banff, Alberta); Bergen Assembly Triennial (Bergen, Norway); Blue Star Contemporary (San Antonio); Canadian Centre for Architecture (Montreal); Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA); Center for Contemporary Art Lagos (Lagos); Critical Distance Centre for Curators (Toronto); Documenta 13 (Kassel, Germany); Fondazione Antonio Ratti (Milan); Gallery 400 (University of Illinois, Chicago); Welch School of Art & Design, Georgia State University (Atlanta); Gund Gallery at Kenyon College (Gambier, OH); Graduate School of Design, Harvard University Institute of Fine Arts (New York); Kolnischer Kunstverein (Cologne); MACBA (Barcelona); McIntosh Gallery (London, Ontario); Museum of Modern Art (New York); The New School (New York); Performa (New York); Pitzer College Art Galleries (Claremont, CA); Princeton University; REDCAT (Los Angeles); Renaissance Society (Chicago); Rhode Island School of Design; TEMP Gallery (New York); University of Southern California; Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Cape Town, South Africa), and ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany). The project was particularly honored to appear in Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh and David Joselit’s Art Since 1900, Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson’s Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present, and to be designated as an exemplar of “Performative Scholarship”—one of the “Ideas of the Decade” according to the American Comparative Literature Association’s recent Report on the State of the Discipline of Comparative Literature. The Report states, in part: “Too often we assume that advances in modern scholarship will arrive as content-ideas and not as form-ideas…[W]e should rethink academic labor as constituted by innovations in form, remapping scholarship as performance...What might such scholarship look like? Consider, as an example, the academic cabaret organized by the academic-artist hybrid group Our Literal Speed…”
Jackson’s own research has been supported by fellowships and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Clark Art Institute, the Getty Research Institute, and the Social Science Research Council. He earned a Ph.D. in History of Art from the University of California, Berkeley, thanks to Anne M. Wagner and T.J. Clark, and is also A.B.D. in Russian Literature, having been awarded M.Phil. and M.A. degrees from Columbia University, where he studied as a President’s Fellow. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa summa cum laude with a B.A. in French and German from the Florida State University.
His writings about art and artists have been translated into Catalan, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, and Turkish, and he was honored to have been a guest on Viewpoint with Randy Williams on Selma, Alabama’s WHBB 1490 AM Radio.
Jackson was born, raised, and (barely) graduated from high school among the gently rolling hills of Shelby County, Alabama.