John Paul Ricco

John Ricco

Professor of Contemporary Art, Media Theory, and Criticism 


John Paul Ricco is an art historian and queer theorist whose interdisciplinary research, teaching and writing draws connections between late-twentieth-century and contemporary art and architecture; continental philosophy; and issues of gender and sexuality, bodies and pleasures, pornography and eroticism.

Professor Ricco graduated from New York University in 1988 where he majored in art history, and minored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies. In 1986 he was part of the first cohort of summer interns at The Cloisters (Metropolitan Museum of Art), where he continued to conduct research and to publicly lecture until 1992. With the support of a Mellon Doctoral Fellowship he completed a Ph.D. in the Theory, Historiography and Criticism of Art History at the University of Chicago (1998) under the supervision of W.J.T. Mitchell, and with Michael Camille and Elizabeth Povinelli as the other members of his committee. In 1992-93, during his doctoral studies at Chicago, Ricco was a Graduate Exchange Scholar in the School of Architecture at Princeton University. While at Princeton, he was a member of a Working Group on Queer Theory that also included Jürgen Mayer H., Henry Urbach, Rodolphe el-Khoury, amongst others.

As a young scholar in the early-1990s, Ricco contributed to the formation of three newly emerging fields of study: Gay and Lesbian Art History, Visual Culture, and Queer Theory. He was a contributor to the first anthology of essays in gay and lesbian art history (edited by Whitney Davis, 1994); he worked closely with W.J.T. Mitchell as Mitchell was outlining some of the founding methods of visual culture studies; and with his doctoral dissertation, Fag-o-sites: geopolitics of queer everyday life, Ricco was one of the first scholars to bring questions of space, geography and architecture to bear upon the discourses of queer theory and the politics of AIDS.

With his first monograph, The Logic of the Lure (University of Chicago Press, 2003), Ricco combined a close reading of Maurice Blanchot’s philosophy of the outside with discussions of contemporary queer art and the anonymity, imperceptibility, itinerancy and illicitness of cruising, in order to articulate an ethics and aesthetics of social-sexual promiscuity. Recipient of an award from the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) for one of the top 50 best book designs of 2003, The Logic of the Lure also holds the distinction of being the first published monograph in queer art history.

Ricco’s recently published second monograph, The Decision Between Us: art and ethics in the time of scenes (University of Chicago Press, 2014), offers an extended theoretical mediation on the space of separation that is intimately shared and sustained in aesthetic and ethical social relations to everyday places and things. With his current book project, The Outside Not Beyond: pornographic faith and the economy of the eve, he is completing the third in a trilogy of books on “the intimacy of the outside.” That is, from the outside of attraction that draws one out toward that which lies beyond oneself (Lure), to the space of decision as a socially shared sustaining in the outside that is argued to lie just between us (Decision), to the outside as the instant and point of departure and abandon, not transcendentally “beyond,” but here now, as that which conditions and exceeds the body (Outside). Ricco argues that this spacing of exteriority is the source and sense of the experience of freedom as always thoroughly corporeal.

In addition to these monographs, Ricco has edited issues of Parallax (on the conceptual theme of “unbecoming”) and Journal of Visual Culture (co-edited with Louis Kaplan, on the work of Jean-Luc Nancy). He has also served as the Chair of the Editorial Board of Art Journal, and was a member of the Publications Committee of the College Art Association.

He was a Keynote Speaker at the Nordic Society of Aesthetics conference (Oslo, 2013) and has recently been invited to lecture at: Cambridge University, Rice University, University of Chicago, and Reed College. In 2012 and 2013 he was the Guest Professor at the ReSet Summer Research Seminar on Media and Philosophy, held in Istanbul and Bodrum Turkey. Attended by young academic from countries of the former Soviet Bloc, the research seminars were funded by the Open Society Foundation, and organized by Professors Brian Price, John David Rhodes, and Meghan Sutherland.

Ricco has also written on the work of a number of contemporary artists and architects including: Jürgen Mayer H., Doug Ischar, Francesco Vezzoli, Frédéric Brenner, Oliver Herring, Matts Leiderstam, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, and Jeffrey Byrd.

Recent and forthcoming scholarly articles include:

  • “Pornographic Faith: Two Sources of Naked Sense at the Limits of Belief and Humiliation,” in Porn Archives, edited by Tim Dean, Steven Ruszczycky, and David Squires (Duke University Press, 2014).
  • “The Separated Gesture: Partaking in the Inoperative Praxis of the Already-Unmade,” in Jean-Luc Nancy and the Political, edited by Sanja Dejanovic (Edinburgh University Press, 2015).
  • “The existence of the world is always unexpected” a conversation with Jean-Luc Nancy, in Art in the Anthropocene, edited by Etienne Turpin and Heather Davis (Open Humanities Press, 2015).
  • “Drool: Liquid Fore-speech of the Fore-scene” in a special issue of the queer theory journal inter/Alia on “bodily fluids” (2015).

John Paul Ricco is Professor of Contemporary Art, Media Theory, and Culture in the Department of Visual Studies, and Graduate Professor in the Centre for Comparative Literature, at the University of Toronto, where he has taught since 2006. From 2006-2012, he was Director of the undergraduate specialist program in Visual Culture and Communication in the Department of Visual Studies at the University of Toronto, Mississauga.

Professor Ricco is an affiliated graduate professor in the Department of Art, the Department for the Study of Religion, the Cinema Studies Institute, and the Centre for the Study of the United States. He has previously taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Cornell University; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Texas Tech University. At the latter, he was the recipient of a university-wide Outstanding Faculty Award.

In 1999-2000 he was a Fellow at the Society for the Humanities, Cornell University; and in 2001 was a participant in the School of Criticism and Theory at Cornell. Professor Ricco is a 2015-16 Chancellor Jackman Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute (University of Toronto), where he is pursuing a research project on “The Collective Afterlife of Things.” For a description of this project, go to:

Office Location: Communication, Culture and Technology Building, Room 3057, University of Toronto Mississauga


PhD, Department of Art History, University of Chicago (1998)
AM, Department of Art History, University of Chicago (1991)
BA, Department of Fine Arts (Art History) New York University (1988)

Courses Taught


FAH 289 Art since 1945
VCC 304 Visual Culture & the Politics of Identity
VCC 407 Architectures of Vision
VCC 409 Capital, Spectacle, War
VST 101 Introduction to Visual Studies 


COL 5109 Jean-Luc Nancy: Retreating the Aesthetic
COL 5100 Late Barthes: Photography, Neutral, Mourning
COL 5111 Queer Ethics and Aesthetics of Existence
FAH 1494 Queer Theory, Visuality & Sexuality

Select Publications


The Logic of the Lure (University of Chicago, 2003).

The Decision Between Us: art & ethics in the time of scenes (University of Chicago, 2014)

The Outside Not Beyond: pornographic faith and the economy of the eve (in progress).

Edited Journal Issues

Parallax, 35, volume 11, no. 2, April-June 2005. Conceptual theme: “Unbecoming.”

Journal of Visual Culture, volume 9, number 1, April 2010; special issue on Jean-Luc Nancy (co-edited with Louis Kaplan).

Recent Essays

“Pornographic Faith: Two Sources of Naked Sense at the Limits of Belief and Humiliation,” in Porn Archives, edited by Tim Dean, Duke University Press (2014)

“The Separated Gesture: Partaking in the Inoperative Praxis of the Already-Unmade,” in Jean-Luc Nancy and the Political, edited by Sanja Dejanovic, Critical Connection Series, Edinburgh University Press (2015)

 “Drool: Liquid Fore-speech of the Fore-scene,” in a special issue of the journal inter/Alia on “bodily fluids,” edited by Michael O’Rourke, Karin Sellberg, and Kamillea Aghtan (2015).

“The Existence of the World is Always Unexpected”—Jean-Luc Nancy in conversation with John Paul Ricco, in Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, edited by Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin, Open Humanities Press (2015).

 “Barebacking Bataille: de la economía sexual a la economía general,” in Reflexiones Marginales, special issue on Jean-Luc Nancy, edited by Maria Konta, (published by La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) volume 4, number 23, October-November 2014

“Parasol, Setas, Parasite, Peasant,” in Megastructures: Juergen Mayer H. Architect, United Asia Art & Design, Beijing, China, (forthcoming, 2015).

 “The Inoperative Praxis of the Already-Unmade,” in Transmission. Art, Labour, Work, edited by Elizabeth Legge (Artwords Press, 2014).

“Drool: Liquid Fore-speech of the Fore-scene,” in the journal Scapegoat, issue 5 on “Excess,” edited by Etienne Turpin. This is a much shorter version of the essay listed above.

“Us to-come: Francesco Vezzoli’s non-consensual futures,” Journal of Visual Culture, volume 9, number 1, April 2010; Co-Editors John Paul Ricco and Louis Kaplan, special issue: “Regarding Jean-Luc Nancy.”

“The Surreality of Community: Frédéric Brenner’s Diaspora: Homelands in Exile,” Culture Machine 8, 2006, “Community,” edited by Dorota Glowacka.


For further information on Prof. Ricco’s research and copies of some of his presentations and publications go to: Profile


Chancellor Jackman Faculty Research Fellow Profile

Ricco’s Blog, “Unbecoming Community: notes on a shared sense of things: unbecoming community

An interview with The Medium (a student newspaper at the University of Toronto Mississauga) about Professor Ricco’s book The Decision Between Us: art and ethics in the time of scenes.

The Logic of the lure book cover   The Decision Between Us book cover