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Symposium on American art 1960-80

Minimal. Conceptual. Pop.

Abstracts and biographies

Alexander Alberro

Alexander Alberro, Virginia Bloedel Wright Professor of Art History at Barnard College and Columbia University in New York, is the author of Conceptual art and the politics of publicity (2004). He has published in a broad array of journals and exhibition catalogues, and edited a number of books on contemporary art, most recently The ruin of exchange (2012), Institutional critique (2009) and Art after conceptual art (2007).

Abstract: Conceptual art and language

Conceptual artists in a variety of different ways and contexts in the late 1960s and 70s mobilised language to displace visuality. But what was the impetus for that critical negation? Was the elimination of the visual merely another step in the modernist reduction of art? Or was there something else, something considered more pressing at the time, that led to the need to eradicate visuality in the first place? This paper will reexamine conceptual art’s turn to language, questioning the logic and values that precipitated this phenomenon, and assessing its relevance today.

Jaklyn Babbington

Jaklyn Babington is Curator of International Prints, Drawings and Illustrated Books at the National Gallery of Australia. She recently curated the exhibition Roy Lichtenstein: pop remix and is the author of the publication of the same title. In 2010, she curated Space invaders: Australian street stencils, posters, paste-ups, zines and stickers; in 2007, Robert Rauschenberg: 1967-1978 and in 2006, Against the grain: the woodcuts of Helen Frankenthaler. Babbington was awarded the Sarah and William Holmes Scholarship to study the prints and drawings collection at the British Museum, London in 2008. For the past ten years she has worked closely with the NGA’s Kenneth Tyler Collection of Post-war American Art which comprises works by Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein among others.

Abstract: Roy Lichtenstein: pop art in the remix era

Roy Lichtenstein’s name is synonymous with pop art. In 1962, with his first solo show in New York, Lichtenstein shocked and horrified his audience with works that appeared to be mere copies of kitsch imagery, drawn from trashy teenage comics and newspaper advertising. Cryptically defending his creative process against charges of copying and banality, Lichtenstein stated, ‘The difference is often not great, but it is crucial’. This crucial ‘difference’ was to obsess Lichtenstein, and was developed into a sophisticated process of appropriation, reinterpretation and reissue that saw the artist adopting many of the industrial techniques and advertising strategies of the growing media age. In this way, Lichtenstein not only positioned himself as an early exponent of many of the central principles of post-modernism but also helped to redefine the notion of the artist in the late 20th century.

With today’s new generation of pop art viewers, whose subjectivity has been formed by the language of digital media, contemporary readings of Lichtenstein’s work are markedly different. From the perspective of an audience thoroughly versed in the vernacular of appropriation, sampling and new media advertising, it is interesting to take a second look at Lichtenstein’s conceptual strategy in today’s remix era. This paper is based on research undertaken for the exhibition Roy Lichtenstein: pop remix.

Susan Best

Susan Best teaches art history and theory at the University of NSW. She is the author of Visualizing feeling: affect and the feminine avant-garde (2011). This book examines the way in which women artists in the 1960s and 70s disrupted the impersonal anti-aesthetic tenets that dominated late modern art by introducing an affective dimension to their art.

Abstract: 'Utterly free of human associations’: Impersonality in minimalism and conceptual art

In an interview in 1979, Carl Andre described his work as dedicated to the task of making art 'utterly free of human associations’. He acknowledged the peculiar character of this desire, concluding: 'It is exactly the absurd impossibility of that task which made my art possible. If I had known that it is impossible to make art devoid of human associations because the essence of art is human association, I never would have been able to do what I have done.’ Andre’s desire for an art devoid of associations is echoed by innumerable artists associated with minimalism and conceptual art. However, his acknowledgment of its impossibility is a rare concession. Mostly, this desire is interpreted as a reaction against highly subjective expressive art. Twentieth-century art is then understood as driven by the recurring dialectic between expressive and cool anti-expressive art. This paper examines the strange desire to make impersonal art.

Anthony Bond

A freelance writer and curator, Anthony Bond OAM was until recently Director, Curatorial at the Art Gallery of NSW, where he was responsible for collecting and displaying international contemporary art from 1984 to 2013. He has published widely in journals and catalogues, and curated two international biennales, in Sydney (1992) and the UK (1999). Historical exhibitions he has curated include Body (1997), Self portrait: Renaissance to contemporary (National Portrait Gallery, London and AGNSW, 2005-06), Anselm Kiefer: Aperiatur terra (White Cube, London and AGNSW, 2006-07) and Francis Bacon: five decades (AGNSW, 2012). He has also curated numerous small monographic and themed exhibitions as well as artists’ projects.

Dialogue with John Kaldor See below

Keith Broadfoot

Keith Broadfoot is a senior lecturer in the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Sydney. He has written on modern and contemporary art, including a number of articles on the reception of minimal and conceptual art in Australia. He is currently completing research on Fred Williams and early Australian colonial art.

Abstract: Uncanny landscape: Christo, Jeanne-Claude and the arrival of contemporary art in Australia

In Other criteria, American critic Leo Steinberg famously challenged Greenberg’s reading of modernism, arguing that against where Greenberg speaks of flatness we should alternatively think of what he terms the ‘flatbed picture plane’. The tilt of the picture plane from vertical to horizontal was for Steinberg a fundamental change in ‘the psychic address of the image’, so much so he thought that he regarded it ‘as expressive of the most radical shift in the subject matter of art, the shift from nature to culture.’ How might Steinberg’s insights reflect on the significance of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work in Australia? What happens once we see Wrapped Coast (1969), for example, as a ‘flatbed picture plane’, a work pre-designed to be reproduced, made not necessarily for the spectator but for the camera that can view it from above? Does the moment of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s work in Australia correspond to a shift in the ‘psychic address of the image’? If so, what also of what lies underneath? What is revealed in the concealing?

Charles W (Mark) Haxthausen

Charles W Haxthausen is Robert Sterling Clark Professor of Art History at Williams College, in Williamstown, Massachusetts. He is the author of Paul Klee: the formative years (1981), co-editor (with Heidrun Suhr) of Berlin: culture and metropolis (1990) and editor of the The two art histories: the museum and the university (2002). In 2012 he curated Sol LeWitt: the well-tempered grid at the Williams College Museum of Art, which received an Award for Excellence from the Association of Art Museum Curators. He is currently completing a book on the art theory and criticism of Carl Einstein, to be published by the University of Chicago Press.

Abstract: 'Doing wall drawings’: five notes on Sol LeWitt

In November 2008 a retrospective exhibition of more than 100 wall drawings by the American conceptual artist Sol LeWitt, curated by the artist himself, opened at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Massachusetts. Filling three floors, nearly 30,000 square feet, and on view for 25 years, it offers an unprecedented opportunity to study this unique genre within LeWitt’s art practice. This paper will present some observations and reflections that have grown out of my own repeated encounters with this remarkable body of work, with a focus on five issues: (1) the ontology of the wall drawings with regard to space and time; (2) the evolving relation between medium and format; (3) modes of seriality in the wall drawings; (4) the aesthetics of the wall drawings; (5) the politics of the wall drawings.

John Kaldor

John Kaldor AM is a collector, patron and supporter of contemporary art. Director of Kaldor Public Art Projects since its inception in 1969, he has been collecting and commissioning art since the late 1950s, and since 1969 has shared his love of art with the Australian public through his series of art projects. He has brought the most innovative and groundbreaking art to Australia over 40 years through what is now the not-for-profit organisation Kaldor Public Art Projects, listed since 2004 on the Register of Cultural Organisations. Kaldor has participated on the boards and international councils of many art organisations over the years, including PS1, New York; Tate Modern, London; the Biennale of Sydney; and as chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. He was a founding member of the board of the Power Institute of Contemporary Art and a trustee of the Art Gallery of NSW, and is currently on the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was selected as commissioner for the Australian pavilion at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005 and again for the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007. In 2011, Kaldor gifted his private collection of contemporary art to the Art Gallery of NSW, bringing this significant collection into public view.

Dialogue with Anthony Bond See above

Rachel Kent

Rachel Kent is Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. She curated the MCA survey exhibition Ed Ruscha in 2004, which featured over 40 paintings and 80 works on paper by the artist from the mid 1960s to the early 2000s and a suite of large-scale paintings created especially. She curates, publishes and speaks on contemporary international art and has a strong interest in art from the west coast of America from the 1960s to the present.

Abstract: Language and meaning: the conceptual art of Ed Ruscha

For five decades, Californian artist Ed Ruscha has developed a highly distinctive yet versatile approach to art through photography, printmaking, artists books, drawing and painting. Drawing on pop and conceptual iconography, Ruscha’s art reflects a longstanding engagement with language and typography; words are foregrounded in many of his works on paper and canvas, yet their meaning remains elusive, even enigmatic. Irony, word play, puns and palindromes inform some works whilst others conflate imagery with words that emulate them – creating words that might be visually droopy or dripping, oily and shiny, fast and angular. In his paintings of associative images and words, stencilled silhouettes with overlain text, dotted aerial representations of Los Angeles streets and place names, and panoramic text paintings against mountainous backdrops, Ruscha tests then confounds the possibility for narrative completion. This paper explores the role of text in Ruscha’s art, focusing in particular on the Art Gallery of NSW’s recent acquisition of the painting Gospel (1972).

Chris McAuliffe

Dr Chris McAuliffe is an independent scholar and curator, and is currently an honorary fellow in the Australian Centre, School of Culture and Communications, University of Melbourne. From 2000 to 2013, he was Director of the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne. He took a BA Hons and an MA at the University of Melbourne and a PhD at Harvard University (1997) with a dissertation on postmodern theory and the visual arts. Dr McAuliffe has taught art history and theory at the University of Melbourne (1988-2000). In 2011-12, he was the Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University. His publications include Art and suburbia (1996), Linda Marrinon: let her try (2007) and Jon Cattapan: possible histories (2008). He is currently researching the memic afterlife of Jackson Pollock, Peter Blake’s Elvis paintings and a collection of essays on 19th-century Australian art. He is also a curatorial consultant to the exhibition America: painting a nation at the Art Gallery of NSW.

Abstract: To discard, to repair, to continue: minimalism and a larger modernism

American minimalism is often associated with strategies of reduction and evacuation. Stripping back colour, facture and compositional inflection or denying interiority, representation and connotation, artists seemed to affirm a popular perception of minimalism as an art of simplification. This is a version of minimalism enmeshed in a perverse calculus of presence and absence, as if perpetually asserting, in homage to Gertrude Stein, that there was no there, there. And yet much of minimalism is expansive. It is a fundamentally spatial and phenomenal idiom encompassing far more than the mute geometries of vintage installation shots. Minimalism could also be an art of the environment (Serra, Andre), of the psychedelic (Smithson), of the sublime (Turrell) and even, by the 1970s, allowed for the anthropomorphic and psychological (Shapiro). American minimalism’s own anti-formalist rhetoric underpinned its reputation as an art of evacuation. At the end of the 1960s, minimalist artists positioned themselves against the dominant Greenbergian paradigm, repeatedly defining their practice as doing not what formalism did, as offering what formalism could not. Critics shifted allegiance when formalism’s inability to account for minimalism’s presence became apparent. But what began as an art-world turf war escalated into a broader reassessment of the character and course of modernism, one whose implications are registered throughout the Kaldor collection.
The reductivism, it now seemed, lay in formalism. Minimalism’s expansive character prompted formalist critics such as Rosalind Krauss to embrace a ‘larger modernism’. Mute minimalism turned out to be discursively garrulous, allowing criticism to rediscover the materiality of the sign, to reintroduce subjectivity into art and to embrace post-structuralist theory. Prompting a recovery of modernist values — of, as Krauss put it, ‘our capacity to feel, criticize, analyze, and act’ — minimalism paved the way for the deafening silence and baroque reductivism of key artists in the Kaldor collection (Prince, Koons, Demand, Struth). In this sense, minimalism’s relationship to modernism can be narrated by borrowing from Richard Serra’s 1967–68 Verb list: ‘to discard, to repair, to continue’.

Meredith Morse

Meredith Morse recently completed a PhD in art history at the University of Sydney. She has published articles and a book chapter on dance and performance in relation to visual art practices in New York City in the 1960s, and is currently developing the manuscript for a book on Forti’s work after Cage and Halprin from 1960 to the 1980s, which will be published by the MIT Press.

Abstract: Dance/constructions: Simone Forti’s 'Huddle’, minimalist sculpture and ‘minimalist’ dance

The 1960s works of Yvonne Rainer and Simone Forti, and some other artists of the ‘new dance’, have been discussed in terms of the temporal and perceptual experience of the viewer’s encounter with the minimalist object. Rainer herself asserted in a well-known essay published in 1968 that her dances participated in the formal and procedural concerns of minimalist sculpture. ‘Minimalist’ dance has since been seen as a duality aligned with minimalism that paired the live with its image, and serial structure and affectlessness with idiosyncrasy. These representations, Morse suggests, only partly address Simone Forti’s 1960s practice, which offered an immersive viewing situation in a dilated, not strictly ‘operational’ time, and often featured unusual vocal sound, an element unassimilated by the minimalist model. This paper considers Forti’s signature work Huddle (1961), which has been retrospectively understood as minimalist (following Forti’s own comments on its ‘sculptural’ quality). Morse counters this interpretation, arguing that in this work Forti coupled a radical extension of Cage’s revised score with a concept of movement adapted from her mentor, Ann Halprin, to propose a porous subject-object relation and a new form of sociality.

Robert Slifkin

Robert Slifkin is an assistant professor of fine arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He has been the recipient of fellowships from the Getty Research Institute, Stanford Humanities Center and Henry Moore Foundation. His essays have appeared in such journals as October, American Art, The Oxford Art Journal and The Art Bulletin. His book Out of time: Philip Guston and the refiguration of postwar art recently was awarded the Phillips Book Prize and is forthcoming from the University of California Press in September 2013.

Abstract: The empty room and the end of man

During the 1960s and early 1970s many artists in the United States created works that through their monumental scale, use of refracted light, and architectonic enclosures encouraged viewers to engage in an expansively spatial manner so that the gallery itself became an aesthetically-charged site. Many of the original viewers of these works experienced these unconventional, frequently austere, and affectless objects and installations as threatening and even aggressive. Drawing upon the original reception of some of the most significant public exhibitions of minimal and postminimal art (taking the work of William Anastasi, Dan Flavin, Dennis Oppenheim and Bruce Nauman as key examples), this paper will argue that these works and ‘environments’ (to use a word often invoked around such art) produced experiential situations that served as imaginary figurations of what the world would look and feel like without human habitation or if the viewer was the last person on the Earth. By creating works that imagine uninhabitable or empty physical spaces or, through their massive size or spatial expansiveness, encourage a mode of spectatorship and photographic reproduction that occludes other people, these works channeled a larger cultural anxiety concerning the threat of nuclear annihilation that fundamentally inflected, however unconsciously, significant realms of postwar American culture well into the 1970s.

Ann Stephen

Dr Ann Stephen is Senior Curator, University Art Gallery and University Art Collection, The University of Sydney. She has worked for three decades as a curator and art writer in state museums and as a freelance curator. Her books include: On looking at looking: the art and politics of Ian Burn (2006), Modernism and Australia: documents on art, design and architecture 1917-1967 (2006) and Modern times: the untold story of modernism in Australia (2008), both co-edited with Andrew McNamara and Philip Goad.

Abstract: 1969: Australian landfall for Christo and conceptual art

In 1969 two very different but influential New York art projects were launched in Australia. Christo arrived in person to realise the temporary environmental installation Wrapped Coast – One Million Square Feet. Its success would initiate John Kaldor’s Art Projects. The other, the first conceptual art exhibition in Australia, sent by Ian Burn, Roger Cutforth and Mel Ramsden to Pinacotheca, Melbourne, was by comparison an underground event. Both projects required the artists to consider questions of location and audience in the process of ‘dematerialising’ their work. The ‘decentring’ impulse that arguably underpins both projects has been in recent times reclaimed as part of an evolutionary line to ‘the conditions of contemporaneity’. This paper will assess such a claim by examining the artists’ origins in late modernist debates, particularly how they reacted to ‘Greenbergian’ formalism by using new ‘ordinary’ materials, the readymade, mass reproduction and publicity.