This book examines the impact of Civil Rights, Black Power, the student, feminist and sexual-liberty movements on conceptualism and its legacies in the United States between the late 1960s and the 1990s. It focuses on the turn to political reference in practices originally concerned with abstract ideas. The book traces key strategies in contemporary art to the reciprocal influences of conceptualism and identity politics. The central concept is a reversal of the qualitative assessment made by artist and theorist Joseph Kosuth in 1969. The book overviews the 1960s-1970s shift from disciplinary-based Conceptual Art to an interdisciplinary conceptualism, crediting the influence of contemporaneous politics dominated by identity and issue-based politics. It offers a survey of Adrian Piper's early work, her analytic conceptual investigations, and her transition to a synthetic mode of working with explicit political reference. The book explores how Conceptual Art is political art, analysing several works by synthetic proposition artists. It then surveys several key 1980s events and exhibitions before taking in depth the 1993 Whitney Biennial as its central case study for understanding the debates of the 1980s and the 1990s. Examining the ways in which Hans Haacke's work referenced political subject matter, simultaneously changing the conception of the processes and roles of art-making and art, the book argues against critics who regarded his work to be "about" politics. It also looks at the works of Charles Gaines, David Hammons, Renée Green, Mary Kelly, Martha Rosler, Silvia Kolbowski, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Lorna Simpson, and Andrea Fraser.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book addresses the artists: Adrian Piper, Joseph Kosuth, David Hammons, Renée Green, Mary Kelly, Martha Rosler, Silvia Kolbowski, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Lorna Simpson, Andrea Fraser, Hans Haacke, and Charles Gaines, based on their practices in Conceptual Art. It overviews the 1960s-1970s shift from disciplinary-based Conceptual Art to an interdisciplinary conceptualism, crediting the influence of contemporaneous politics dominated by identity and issue-based politics. The book asks how Conceptual Art is political art, analysing several works by synthetic proposition artists in relation to the debates about the location of the political. It discusses how Kelly made visible the process of her infant child's "subjectivisation" between an economy of meaning and that of woman's reproductive labor. The book summarises the debates around identity, multiculturalism, representation, and power.
This chapter asks how a precisely articulated set of practices, defined by artists as Conceptual Art, evolved into a broad notion of conceptualism. It shows how, in the United States' context, some of the most important strategies of conceptualism developed through the influence of contemporaneous politics. The chapter also shows the transition from Civil Rights into Black Power, the New Left, the anti-war movement, feminism, and gay liberation, as well as what later came to be collectively named 'identity politics'. Following the surge of Civil Rights activism in the 1950s, rights movements of the 1960s fought for subjects to gain the full benefits of citizenship, equal access to resources, and protection under the law. The synthetic proposition was debated in various guises in colloquies about identity politics and multiculturalism that raised issues of the universal versus the particular, or in conversations that examined the site of the political in art.
This chapter looks at Adrian Piper's transition from Conceptual Art to conceptualism, in the context of Conceptual Art's canonical interpretations. It introduces previously unpublished evidence of Piper's distinct approach to the objectification of the self, to the attempt to isolate the "self" as part of an artistic experiment. Piper's work initially dialogued with a disciplinary Conceptual Art that extended the preoccupations of minimalism and its debate with modernist Abstract Expressionism. Piper wrote "Space, Time, Language, Form" as a statement about her work, from which excerpts appeared in a subsequent letter to Terry Atkinson and as an artwork in the suite Nineteen Concrete Space-Time-Infinity Pieces. Several of the works in the Concrete Infinity series outlined a set of procedures to make a work, while others were closer to concrete poetry, a practice that highlighted the materiality of words.
This chapter takes a comparative look at several models of interdisciplinary conceptualist practices that responded critically to Conceptual Art's original claims. Conceptual Art's transformation into a broad interdisciplinary conceptualism was also manifested in the turn from the analytic to the synthetic. In Mary Kelly's case, as with other synthetic proposition artists, specific and material objects and signs were overlaid so as to bring in multiple types of signifying modes and tropes. Like several of her synthetic proposition contemporaries, Adrian Piper isolated components of the work of art believed until then to be inseparable. Martha Rosler, a "post-conceptual" artist, has been working within traditions and approaches to political art that were considered methodologically contradictory, made common by her insistence on specific and explicit subject matter, and a commitment to a Leftist critique of culture.
This chapter offers a specific set of distinctions made in the debates about political art in the 1980s and 1990s. These distinctions are made by observing a constellation of anthologies, symposia, and exhibitions as a backdrop to understand the curatorial agenda and reception of the 1993 Whitney Biennial for American Art. They are also made by observing the constellation of anthologies, symposia, and exhibitions as a comprehensive examination of the exhibition contributions of Daniel Joseph Martinez, Andrea Fraser, and Lorna Simpson. The 1993 Biennial provides an ideal case study to examine the representation of socio-political issues in art, as it consolidated perspectives on two key terms for the later part of the twentieth century. They are identity politics and multiculturalism. By redefining difference, Thelma Golden continued, the artworks in the exhibition moved beyond essentialist definitions of identity.
From Hans Haacke’s Systems Theory to Andrea Fraser’s feminist economies
This chapter looks at a development within institutional critique as bracketed by the work of Hans Haacke and Andrea Fraser, and highlights their interest in art as a site of social interaction. A fundamental Marxist critique of the political economy shows that money does not produce value only abstract labor can produce value. The chapter then focuses on the connection made by Fraser between the personal and the financial transaction. For the curators to place Haacke's institutional critique into an exhibition concerned with the influences of post-structuralism and psychoanalytic discourses on art was to interpret gender as a type of 'institution'. Descriptions of art from the general catalogue were intercut with civic documents, and reform and philanthropist theory, especially descriptions of the poor. The chapter examines the social relations of the work, and observes its hybridisation of conceptualist and feminist strategies.
The entire career of Charles Gaines has been dedicated to resisting or attempting to circumvent subjectivity. The political referent emerged in his work not as a means to represent himself or his political persuasion, but as a way to examine the relation of the poetic syntax of visual language to subject matter. Conceived as an anti-subjective and therefore an anti-idenitiarian mechanism, in many ways, Conceptual Art came to epitomise a Left-leaning outlook within the history of art, despite the many challenges to its claims. Aiming to intervene into the structure of art's meaning, Conceptual artists attempted to undo foundational categories of what constitutes artmaking. For Leslie Dick, meaning is not inherent to the structure, but rather a function of interpretation that we should endlessly perform, as she put it, "in a state of passionate detachment".