The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art
318 pp., 8 x 9 in, 98 illus.
- Published: August 15, 2003
- Published: February 18, 2005
An exploration of transformations in the nature of the art object and artistic authorship in the last four decades.
In this book, Martha Buskirk addresses the interesting fact that since the early 1960s, almost anything can and has been called art. Among other practices, contemporary artists have employed mass-produced elements, impermanent materials, and appropriated imagery, have incorporated performance and video, and have created works through instructions carried out by others. Furthermore, works of art that lack traditional signs of authenticity or permanence have been embraced by institutions long devoted to the original and the permanent. Buskirk begins with questions of authorship raised by minimalists' use of industrial materials and methods, including competing claims of ownership and artistic authorship evident in conflicts over the right to fabricate artists' works. Examining recent examples of appropriation, she finds precedents in pop art and the early twentieth-century readymade and explores the intersection of contemporary artistic copying and the system of copyrights, trademarks, and brand names characteristic of other forms of commodity production. She also investigates the ways that connections between work and context have transformed art and institutional conventions, the impact of new materials on definitions of medium, the role of the document as both primary and secondary object, and the significance of conceptually oriented performance work for the intersection of photography and the human body in contemporary art. Buskirk explores how artists active in the 1980s and 1990s have recombined strategies of the art of the 1960s and 1970s. She also shows how the mechanisms through which art is presented shape not only readings of the work but the work itself. She uses her discussion of the readymade and conceptual art to explore broader issues of authorship, reproduction, context, and temporality.
To say, as many traditional modernists do, that art's meanings reside exclusively in its strict formal qualities and stated conventions begs many questions. Among them are how those conventions came into being and how they have evolved, why a material has been chosen and what its history was and its future might be, where the work is encountered and by whom, what social, political, and economic contexts impinge on our experience, and whether the work is permanent or intentionally mutable, ephemeral, or even perishable. With admirable clarity, Martha Buskirk asks all these questions and more of a wide range of situationally-defined contemporary art, much of which was created expressly with the idea of making these factors visible and exploring their implications. The result is both an overview of a diverse array of conceptual and process-driven art since the 1960s, and an observation-based, jargon-free consideration of the basic issues raised by the recognition that more than ever before, our significance is not fixed but contingent by design.
Robert Storr, Rosalee Solow Professor of Modern Art, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University
The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art is an indispensable user's guide to the last forty years of art. Buskirk ably contends with the knotty legacies of conceptual art: in particular, the strange fact that 'almost anything can be and has been called art.' A patient critic, she takes the skepticism, and the curiosity, of art's audiences seriously, and makes a persuasive case for the historical coherence of a heterogeneous field of art.
Mignon Nixon, Courtauld Institute of Art
Buskirk examines questions of authorship, originality and the notably ephemeral object through specific examples.
...Buskirk surveys a range of artists through various thematic lenses.
Rain Taxi Review of Books
[This] highly engaging book presents the 'greatest hits' of the sixties through the nineties as well-defined case studies.
Gloria Sutton, Rhizome