Luxurious Renunciations: Wealth, Destruction and Critical Duration in Michael Landy's Breakdown

Rosamond, Emily. 2011. 'Luxurious Renunciations: Wealth, Destruction and Critical Duration in Michael Landy's Breakdown'. In: Luxuries of the Literary Mind Conference. McGill University, Canada 4-5 March 2011. [Conference or Workshop Item]

Conference Schedule Final.pdf - Supplemental Material

Download (393kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

In 2001, British artist Michael Landy completed Breakdown, a site-specific performance-installation in which he catalogued, then systematically destroyed, each of his 7, 227 personal belongings – with the help of twelve uniformed workers – on a factory-like “un-assembly” line, temporarily installed in a recently-vacated department store on London’s busy Oxford Street. As art insiders and curious shoppers wandered into the space, Landy and his team pulverized everything from a cherry-red Saab, to personal photographs, to Calvin Klein underpants, in a grandiose renunciation of personal luxury. While reviewers often lauded – or denounced – this piece as either a successful or failed critique of capitalism, my paper more closely interrogates the assumptions that justify this critical modus operandi. Why have reviewers assumed Breakdown to be a “critique”? Is a straightforward critique of capitalism even possible, given that as capitalist subjects, we are bound by the complicity to which our personal luxuries – however small, and however destructible – attest? Contextualizing Landy’s work within the historical trajectories of factory-esque representation, performance art, and artistic renunciations of wealth, I argue that far from taking a transcendental critical position “against” capitalism, Breakdown opens critique onto a “critical duration:” an adapted Bergsonian term I use to describe the ways in which an ostensibly “critical” position qualitatively shifts and breaks down over an extended contemplation. While Breakdown at first appears to be a simplistic critique, over time this ostensibly simple critique evaporates, leaving viewers to contemplate a duration of ever-changing, critical-complicit positionalities.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Michael Landy, Breakdown, Capitalism

Related URLs:

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


7 January 2011Accepted
5 March 2011Completed

Event Location:

McGill University, Canada

Date range:

4-5 March 2011

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

16 Jan 2019 11:58

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 17:05


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)