Since the late 1990s a growing interest in historical representation has emerged in the field of contemporary art. A significant strand of the current ‘historical turn’ is characterised by a marked nostalgic impulse. Several lens-based works of contemporary artists display an overt fascination with architectural ruins, obsolete technologies, discarded films, and past works of art. This nostalgic impulse has been harshly dismissed by critics and historians. For some, the current tendency of many artists to dig up lost pasts is a telling symptom of a pathological escapist fantasy, of incapacity to look at the present, and to think and even imagine the future. Against this criticism, I contend that, given nostalgia's protean nature, a fair assessment of its critical significance can be formulated only after each individual artistic practice in which this impulse can be traced has been carefully examined. After reviewing some of theoretical and historical reasons for the dismissal of nostalgia in modernism and postmodernism, the paper looks at the practice of the Danish artist Joachim Koester in order to explore a model of critical nostalgia.