The synthetic proposition

Conceptualism and the political referent in contemporary art

Author: Nizan Shaked

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.

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Winner of the 31st annual Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art, 2019

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