Foucault and the Spaces of Art

“The artist is an inventor of places. He shapes and incarnates spaces which had been hitherto impossible, unthinkable… “


This page introduces some of Foucault’s main writing on the spaces of art  with links to relevant on-line galleries, exhibitions and talks.

My article, published in 2015, explores in detail Foucault’s responses to paintings and photography:  Foucault and Heterotopian Art pdf

1 Paul Rebeyrolle

Foucault responded to Rebeyrolle’s exhibition Dogs held at the Maeght gallery in March 1973 during Foucault’s most active political period in which he was heavily involved in promoting the Groupe d’Information sur les Prisons.

 The exhibition centre L’Espace Paul Rebeyrolle in Eymoutiers has a wide collection of his works.


Foucault, M. (2007 [1973]) ‘The Force of Flight’ in J. W. Crampton and S. Elden (eds.), Space, Knowledge and Power, Aldershot: Ashgate, 169-172.

Foucault, M. (2001 [1973}) ‘La force de fuir’ in Dits et écrits Volume 1: 1954-1975. Gallimard Quarto: Paris. 1575-1583.


2 Duane Michals

Foucault wrote a brief response to a retrospective of Duane Michals’ photography at the Musée a’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1982.

Duane Michals talks amusingly about his outlook on life and illustrates some of his work (filmed at the Denver Art Museum on 7 March 2013 – he starts speaking 10 mins in).

On-line gallery: DC Moore Gallery (selection of photographs)


Foucault, M. (2001 [1982]) ‘La pensée, l’emotion’ [Thought, Emotion] in Dits et écrits Volume 2: 1976-1988. Quarto Gallimard: Paris. 1062-1069.


Alice's Mirror (Duane Michaels)
Alice’s Mirror (Duane Michals)


3 Gérard Fromanger

Foucault’s essay on Fromanger’s paintings appeared as a preface to a catalogue for an exhibition at the Galerie Jeanne Bucher in 1975.

Fromanger introduces exhibition ‘Annoncez la couleur!’ held in Perpignan (5 April – 29 June 2014)

I am captured behind Fromanger’s installtion Souffles (1968) at his exhibition  at the Centre Pompidou (2016)


Foucault, M. (1999 [1975]) ‘Photogenic Painting’ in Revisions: Gérard Fromanger. Ed. S. Wilson. London: Black Dog Publishing. 81-108.

Foucault, M. (2001 [1975]) ‘La peinture photogénique’ in Dits et écrits Volume 1: 1954-1975. Gallimard Quarto: Paris. 1269-1272.


4 Manet

When in Tunis, working in the Department of Philosophy at the University, Foucault gave lectures on many subjects including a course on aesthetics which analysed the development of painting from the Renaissance to Manet. He had intended to write a book on the latter, signing a contract with the provisional title ‘Le Noir et la surface’. Defert recalls that Foucault considered Manet’s A bar at the Folies-Bergère as the ‘inverse’ of Velasquez’s Las Meninas,

The Courtauld Gallery in London owns Manet’s A bar at the Folies-Bergère


Foucault, M. (2009 [1971] Manet and the Object of Painting. London: Tate Publishing.


5 Magritte

In response to the publication of Les Mots et les Choses (The Order of Things) Foucault received a letter from Magritte in which he discussed aspects of resemblance and similitude.  Magritte included some drawings with the letter including a reproduction of Ceci n’est pas une pipe.  This brief exchange of letters led to Foucault’s essay of the same title.

The Magritte Museum in Brussels house an extensive collection of his work with on-line gallery..

Interactive exhibition: selections from: ‘The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-38’ (co-organised by The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), The Menil Collection, Houston, and The Art Institute of Chicago).


Foucault, M. (1983 [1968]) This is Not a Pipe. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Foucault, M. (2001 [1968]) ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ in Dits et écrits Volume 1: 1954-1975. Gallimard Quarto: Paris 663-678


6 Velázquez

Foucault’s study of Velasquez’s painting Las Meninas in ‘The Order of Things’ is his most well-known writing on a work of art.

On-line gallery:  Museo Nacional Del Prado, Madrid.


Foucault, M. (1970 [1966] The Order of Things, Andover, Hants: Tavistock pp 3-16


Playing with Las Meninas - from page in Joseph Cornell's Untitled Book-Object
Heterotopian playing with Las Meninas – from page in Joseph Cornell’s Untitled Book-Object (see my short essay pdf)


7 Frans Hals, Bosch, Brueghel, Dürer, Goya, Blake, Van Gogh

 A range of artists are referred to in Foucault’s History of Madness published in 1961.


Foucault, M. (2006) [1961] History of Madness, London: Routledge.

See also Stuart Elden on the significance of Frans Hals’ The Regents

Pieter_Bruegel_d._Ä._066    The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Brueghel, 1559


Useful texts on Foucault’s approach to visual art

Barr, M. (2007) Michel Foucault and Visual Art, 1954-1988. Thesis (PhD) University ofLondon (Courtauld Institute of Art).

Shapiro, G. (2003) Archaeologies of Vision: Foucault and Nietzsche on Seeing and Saying. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Soussloff, C. M. (2009) ‘Michel Foucault and the Point of Painting’ Art History 32 (4) 734-754.

Soussloff, C. M. (2011) ‘Foucault on Painting’ History of the Human Sciences 24 (4) 113-123.

Soussloff, C. M. (2017) Foucault on Painting, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Tanke, J. J. (2009) Foucault’s Philosophy of Art: A Genealogy of Modernity. London: Continuum.

Tanke, J. J. (2013) ‘On the Powers of the False: Foucault’s Engagements with the Arts’ in C. Falzon, T. O’Leary and J. Sawicki (eds.) A Companion to Foucault. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. 122-136.

Essays on the relation of art to heterotopia:

Boyer, H. C. (2008) ‘The many mirrors of Foucault and their architectural reflections’ in M. Dehaene and L. De Cauter (eds.) Heterotopia and the City. London and New York: Routledge. 53-74.

Johnson, P. (2015) ‘Foucault and Heterotopian Art’ Heterotopian Studies, 1: 1-30.

Manning, D. (2008) ‘(Re)visioning Heterotopia: The Function of Mirrors and Reflection in Seventeenth-Century Painting’, Queen’s Journal of Visual & Material Culture 1 1-19.


Peter Johnson

revised July 2018




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