John Paul Ricco

John Ricco

Professor of Contemporary Art, Queer Theory, Aesthetics & Ethics
T: 905.828.3749  |  E:


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.

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 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC), 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 doctoral 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, and Colin Ripley, 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 at the University of Chicago, 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 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.

“Ricco’s The Decision Between Us is a beautifully executed book on the execution and extension of being-in-relation. Its articulation of sexuality theory, deconstructive philosophy, and queer art opens up different idioms to each other the way lovers open to each other—excitedly, productively, and yet always enigmatically, pointing beyond what seems present. Ricco is also a brilliant close reader. An enrapturing read.” (Lauren Berlant)

“Reopening ground broken by Jean-Luc Nancy, The Decision Between Us traces the paradoxes of relational being across a range of artistic, literary, and philosophical ‘scenes.’ Through a series of startling juxtapositions, Ricco weaves together scenes of exposure, erasure, and unmaking to reveal the inseparability of aesthetics from ethics.  This is an original and challenging work by one of our most brilliant philosophers of visuality.” (Tim Dean)

Published Reviews of The Decision Between Us:

  • Jacques Khalip, “Of Queer Neutrality,” New Formations, volume 84-85, 2015: 257-260.
  • Tom McDonough, in, Critical Inquiry Review, August 2015.
  • Christa Robbins, “Together Apart,” Art in America, January 2015.
  • Matthew Ellison and Tom Hastings, in Parallax, volume 21, number 2, 2015: 229-234.

With his current book project, The Outside Not Beyond, Ricco 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 was awarded a SSHRC Insight Research Grant in support of this research project on the “risks and pleasures of bodily abandonment and freedom.”

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.

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

Recent articles include:

  • “The Commerce of Anonymity,” in Qui Parle, vol. 26, no. 1, spring-summer 2017 (Duke University Press).
  • “Showing Showing: Reading Mitchell’s ‘Queer’ Metapictures.” In Living Pictures: W.J.T. Mitchell’s Image Theory, 251-263. Krešimir Purgar, Editor. Advances in Art and Visual Studies, London: Routledge, 2017.
  • “Intimacy: Inseparable from Separation,” in Open Set: a journal of arts, humanities and culture, May 2017.
  • “The Art of the Consummate Cruise and the Essential Risk of the Common.” In Feedback. London: Open Humanities Press, February 2016.
  • “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.” World Picture, special issue on “Abandon,” number 10, Spring 2015.
  • “Parasol, Setas, Parasite, Peasant,” 92-95. In Could, Should, Would: J. Mayer H. Architect, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2015.


Ricco was a Keynote Speaker at Aisthesis and the Common: Reconfiguring the Public Sphere conference (McGill University, March 2016); Trans: 26th Annual Conference of the Centre for Comparative Literature (University of Toronto, March 2016); Why Would I Lie? conference (Royal College of Art, London, April 2015), and, the Nordic Society of Aesthetics conference (Oslo, 2013).

He has been an Invited Guest Lecturer at Cambridge University, Rice University, University of Chicago, Brown University, McGill University, 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 junior academics 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.

Academic Appointments, Fellowships and Awards

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 2016-18 he was Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Art History at the University of Toronto and he since January 2019 has been Associated Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature at the U of T.

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 History, 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.

Professor Ricco was 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.”

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.

Ricco currently holds a four-year SSHRC Insight Grant (2015-19) in support of his research project, “The Risks and Pleasures of Bodily Abandonment and Freedom,” that includes a Research Working Group on “Sex, Ethics and Publics.”

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


PhD, Department of Art History, University of Chicago (1998)
MA, 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
VCC490 The Collective Afterlife of Things
VST 101 Introduction to Visual Studies 


COL 5109 Jean-Luc Nancy: Retreating the Aesthetic
COL 5100 Late Barthes: Photography, Neutral, Mourning
COL 5127 Queer Ethics and Aesthetics of Existence

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). Link

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

The Collective Afterlife of Things (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).

Links to Recent Essays

“The Art of the Consummate Cruise and the Essential Risk of the Common.” In Feedback. London: Open Humanities Press, February 2016. Part 1: Part 2:

“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).

 “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).

“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).

“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.”


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

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

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