John Ricco

John Paul Ricco (On Leave)

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. He is widely recognized for his engagement with the work of French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy.

Professor Ricco is a Full Professor with primary faculty appointments in: Department of Visual Studies (UTM); Graduate Art History (UTSG); and the Centre for Comparative Literature (UTSG) where he is Associate Director (since 2019). He is also an affiliated graduate professor in the Department for the Study of Religion, the Cinema Studies Institute, and the Centre for the Study of the United States (all at the University of Toronto).

Courses Taught

Undergraduate – Department of Visual Studies
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
VIC 304 Praxis and Performance (Literary and Critical Theory Program, Victoria University)

Graduate – Centre for Comparative Literature
COL 5109 Jean-Luc Nancy: Retreating the Aesthetic
COL 5100 Late Barthes: Photography, Neutral, Mourning
COL 5127 Queer Ethics and Aesthetics of Existence
COL 5142 Women and Sex and Talk

Academic Biography 

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)

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, with Michael Camille and Elizabeth Povinelli 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.

Ricco has taught at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Texas Tech University, Cornell University, and University of Nevada, Las Vegas, prior to joining the University of Toronto in 2006.

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. In 2003 he received an Outstanding Faculty Award from the Omicron Delta Kappa and Mortar Board Academic Society, Texas Tech University. 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 was a 2015-16 Chancellor Jackman Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute (University of Toronto), where he pursued a research project on “The Collective Afterlife of Things.” From 2015-2019, he held a SSHRC Insight Grant in support of his research project, “The Risks and Pleasures of Bodily Abandonment and Freedom.” From 2016-18 Ricco was Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Art History at the University of Toronto and since January 2019 he has held the Associated Director position at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto.


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. Endorsements of The Decision Between Us:

“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)

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, Parallax, volume 21, number 2, 2015: 229-234.

Current Book Projects

Ricco is currently completing two monographs. The Intimacy of the Outside: essays on the erotic aesthesis of the common, and Extinction Aesthetics: The Collective Afterlife of Things.

Recent Articles

  • “Moths to the Flame: Photography and Extinction,” in Capitalism and the Camera, edited by Kevin Coleman and Daniel James, Verso Books, forthcoming 2021.
  • “Mourning, Melancholia, Moonlight,” in CR: The New Centennial Review, vol. 19, no. 2, 2019.
  • “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.
  • “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.
  • “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).

Recent Podcasts and Lectures on YouTube

Podcast Interview (Spring 2020): “The Value of Art in Times of Social Upheaval”

Short Video Lecture: “Impotentiality and Resistance” (part of the series, “Philosopher en temps d’épidémie”)

Longer Video Lecture: “Isolation, Loneliness, Solitude: The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Brought Us Too Close Together”

Edited Journal Issues & Essays on Artists and Architects

Ricco is the co-editor of a forthcoming journal issue on “Jean-Luc Nancy: Politics, Poetics, and Erotics of Exscription,” and has previously co-edited an issue of Journal of Visual Culture on Jean-Luc Nancy and edited an issue of Parallax on the conceptual theme of “unbecoming.” From 2003-07 he was a member of the Editorial Board of Art Journal, where from 2004-06, he served as Board Chair.

Ricco has written essays 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.


Ricco has been an invited lecturer and keynote speaker at University of Oslo, Cambridge University, Brown University, McGill University, Royal College of Art, Rice University, University of Chicago, Cal Arts, Reed College, University of Illinois-Chicago, amongst others.


Web Site:

Podcast Interview (Spring 2020): “The Value of Art in Times of Social Upheaval”

Short Video Lecture: “Impotentiality and Resistance” (part of the series, Philosopher en temps d’épidémie)

Longer Video Lecture: “Isolation, Loneliness, Solitude: The COVID-19 Pandemic Has Brought Us Too Close Together”

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

The logic of the lure book cover
The decision between us book cover