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Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph, 1964-1977by Matthew S. (edt) Witkovsky
Synopses & Reviews
Bertolt Brecht once worried that our sympathy for the victims of a social problem can make the problemandrsquo;s andldquo;beauty and attractionandrdquo; invisible. Inand#160;The Beauty of a Social Problem, Walter Benn Michaels explores the effort to overcome this difficulty through a study of several contemporary artist-photographers whose work speaks to questions of political economy.
Although he discusses well-known figures like Walker Evans and Jeff Wall, Michaelsandrsquo;s focus is on a group of younger artists, including Viktoria Binschtok, Phil Chang, Liz Deschenes, and Arthur Ou. All born after 1965, they have always lived in a world where, on the one hand, artistic ambition has been synonymous with the critique of autonomous form and intentional meaning, while, on the other, the struggle between capital and labor has essentially been won by capital. Contending that the aesthetic and political conditions are connected, Michaels argues that these artistsandrsquo; new commitment to form and meaning is a way for them to depict the conditions that have taken US economic inequality from its lowest level, in 1968, to its highest level today. As Michaels demonstrates, these works of art, unimaginable without the postmodern critique of autonomy and intentionality, end up departing and dissenting from that critique in continually interesting and innovative ways. and#160;
Photography played a critical role in conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s, as artists turned to photography as both medium and subject matter. Light Years offers the first major survey of the key artists of this period who used photography to new and inventive ends. Whereas some employed photographic images to create slide projections, photographic canvases, and artists' books, others integrated them into sculptural assemblages and multimedia installations. This book highlights the work of acclaimed international artists such as Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Mel Bochner, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Giuseppe Penone, and Ed Ruscha.and#160;
Matthew Witkovsky's essay provides the larger context for photography within conceptual art, a theme that is further elaborated in texts by Mark Godfrey, Anne Rorimer, and Joshua Shannon. An essay by Robin Kelsey focuses on the pioneering work of John Baldessari in which he explored the element of chance, and an essay by Giuliano Sergio illuminates the lesser-known work of Arte Povera, an Italian movement that sought to dismantle established conventions in both the making and presentation of art.
In the years around 1960, a rapid process of deindustrialization profoundly changed New York City. At the same time, massive highway construction, urban housing renewal, and the growth of the financial sector altered the citys landscape. As the new economy took shape, manufacturing lofts, piers, and small shops were replaced by sleek high-rise housing blocks and office towers.
Focusing on works by Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Donald Judd, art historian Joshua Shannon shows how New York art engaged with this transformation of the city. Shannon convincingly argues that these four artists---all living amid the changes---filled their art withold street signs, outmoded flashlights, and other discarded objects in a richly revealing effort to understand the economic and architectural transformation of their city.
About the Author
Joshua Shannon is assistant professor of contemporary art history and theory at the University of Maryland.
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