Materiality has reappeared as a highly contested topic in recent art. Modernist criticism tended to privilege form over matter—considering material as the essentialized basis of medium specificity—and technically based approaches in art history reinforced connoisseurship through the science of artistic materials. But in order to engage critically with the meaning, for example, of hair in David Hammons’s installations, milk in the work of Dieter Roth, or latex in the sculptures of Eva Hesse, we need a very different set of methodological tools.
For five decades, the artist Hans Haacke (b. 1936) has created works that explore the social, political, and economic underpinnings of the production of art. His works make plain the hidden and not-so-hidden agendas of those—from Cartier to David Koch—who support art in the service of industry; they expose such inconvenient social and economic truths as the real estate holdings of Manhattan slumlords, and the attempts to whitewash support for the Nazi regime, apartheid, or the war on terror through museum donations.
Jack Burnham is one of the few critics and theorists alive today who can claim to have radically altered the way we think about works of art. Burnham’s use of the term “system” (borrowed from theoretical biology) in his 1968 essay “System Aesthetics” announced the relational character of conceptual art and newer research-based projects. Trained as an art historian, Burnham was also a sculptor. His first book, Beyond Modern Sculpture (1968), established him as a leading commentator on art and technology.
Lee Friedlander’s The Little Screens first appeared as a 1963 photo-essay in Harper’s Bazaar, with commentary by Walker Evans. Six untitled photographs show television screens broadcasting eerily glowing images of faces and figures into unoccupied rooms in homes and motels across America. As distinctive a portrait of an era as Robert Frank’s The Americans, The Little Screens grew in number and was not brought together in its entirety until a 2001 exhibition at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco.
During the 1960s and 1970s, magazines became an important new site of artistic practice, functioning as an alternative exhibition space for the dematerialized practices of conceptual art. Artists created works expressly for these mass-produced, hand-editioned pages, using the ephemerality and the materiality of the magazine to challenge the conventions of both artistic medium and gallery.
Yayoi Kusama is the most famous artist to emerge from Japan in the period following World War II. Part of a burgeoning international art scene in the early 1960s, she exhibited in New York with Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, Claes Oldenburg, and other Pop and Minimalist luminaries, and in Europe with the Dutch Nul and the German Zero artist groups. Known for repetitive patterns, sewn soft sculptures, naked performance, and suggestive content, Kusama’s work anticipated the politically charged feminist art of the 1970s.
When Alfred Jarry died in 1907 at the age of thirty-four, he was a legendary figure in Paris—but this had more to do with his bohemian lifestyle and scandalous behavior than his literary achievements. A century later, Jarry is firmly established as one of the leading figures of the artistic avant-garde.
In 1959, the electronics manufacturer Stromberg-Carlson produced the S-C 4020, a device that allowed mainframe computers to present and preserve images. In the mainframe era, the output of text and image was quite literally peripheral; the S-C 4020—a strange and elaborate apparatus, with a cathode ray screen, a tape deck, a buffer unit, a film camera, and a photo-paper camera—produced most of the computer graphics of the late 1950s and early 1960s. At Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, the S-C 4020 became a crucial part of ongoing encounters among art, science, and technology.
Bauhaus has established itself with designers and architects as a standard work and the most comprehensive collection of documents and visual material ever published on this famous school of design. Now this definitive work on Bauhaus is available again in a boxed hardcover edition.
In the late 1950s, experiments such as the cybernetic sculptures of Nicolas Schöffer or the programmatic music compositions of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis transposed systems theory from the sciences to the arts. By the 1960s, artists as diverse as Roy Ascott, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Sonia Sheridan, and Stephen Willats were breaking with accepted aesthetics to embrace open systems that emphasized organism over mechanism, dynamic processes of interaction among elements, and the observer’s role as an inextricable part of the system.