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.
example, from a taxonomical enquiry into nature, to a biological
diagram of pregnancy (as natural phenomenon), to the naturalisation of the
The synthetic proposition
role of women in childcare, to the indoctrination of children into gender as
destiny, to the cultural implications that pregnancy connotes.
In Kelly’s case, as with other syntheticpropositionartists, specific and
material objects and signs were overlaid so as to bring in multiple types of
signifying modes and tropes: indices, symbols, memorabilia, specimens, slips
of tongue, and systems of
, “The synthetic proposition: conceptualism as political art,”
asks how Conceptual Art is political art, analysing several works by syntheticpropositionartists in relation to the debates about the location of the political.
It summarises key claims of early Conceptual artists in New York and Art
& Language in the United Kingdom, placing them within a historiographical
account of the movement’s main debates. Defining the synthetic proposition,
its philosophical origins, and relationship to the Duchampian legacy, I trace
the intersection of ideas that stemmed from
the political referent. Gaines’s method epitomises the claims
this book advances about conceptualism, identity politics, and artmaking,
as his work takes identity not solely as the property of the artist’s subject
position, but as an element in a social field that can be referenced in a variety
of ways. His career trajectory echoes the thrust of the movement from the
analytic to the synthetic.
Syntheticpropositionartists resolved their historical objectification, when
they became the subjects and not the objects in their work, as Fraser has
identified about Mary
anti-capitalist analysis, retaining enough principles of the universal to draw
analogies between various particularities and, thus, form a basis for solidarity.
In many ways the identity model of the Panther Party, one rooted in a/the
materialist analysis of socio-economic and political circumstance of subjects
and communities, defined the approach to the politics of identity by syntheticpropositionartists. A closer look reveals a set of practices that since the late
1960s tackled political issues at this junction of form and content, where the
(and of its pictorial equivalents in the painting of Mangold, Ryman, and Stella)
and in the consequences the generation of artists emerging in 1965 drew from
those readings—just as the divergences also resulted from the impact of various
The syntheticpropositionartists within the Minimalist movement as one or another was chosen by the
new generation as its central figures of reference.27
Common to the practices of LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and the postminimalist artists were the ways in which they produced a work without
composing, by making