In 1967, Art in America published an article that attempted to define the sensibility of the sixties. The critics Barbara Rose and Irving Sandler asked artists working in a wide variety of styles to define this sensibility. They also raised some other interesting questions:
Is there an avant-garde today? If so, what is its nature?; has the sensibility of the sixties hardened into an academy?... Has the speedup of communications and the attention of the mass media made yesterday's avant-garde today's academy? Does the growing participation of art schools and colleges make for a more academic situation?
Of the 35 who answered their questionnaire, many of whom were also influential teachers, most characterized the sensibility of the period as slick, hard, and impersonal. According to Gene Davis, "Coolness, passivity, and emotional detachment seemed to be in the air. Pop, op, hard-edge, minimal art and color painting share it in some degree" Philip Perlstein noted a similar connection between apparently diverse styles: "Pop art, constructions of all kinds, hard edged abstraction and my own kind of hard realism—it's all 'herd, sharp, clear, unambiguous" For Jack Tworkov, "The emphasis is on thingness. Polish, smoothness, brightness on the one hand—uninvolvement, indifference and heartlessness on the other" A number of artists mentioned the use of new materials and the adoption of industrial techniques. Of these, only George Segal suggested that there might be a connection between the use of unconventional media and a more pervasive spirit of experimentation, citing as characteristic of the period "openness of attitude, a willingness to use unfamiliar material, forms and stances in the work produced, an unwillingness to accept standard value judgments" Almost all the artists addressing the question of the relationship between artists and public stayed firmly within the context of the art world. "Today the establishment, art public, and avant-garde are one congenial alliance," wrote James Wines. "This is a cause for anxiety" A few artists insisted that despite all the attention in the media new art remained irrelevant and incomprehensible to the rest of the world. Alan Kaprow was the only one to perceive a change in the artistic climate responding to events in the larger realms of politics and history:
As the 'cool' outlook of artists in the late fifties and early sixties seemed in accord with the philosophies of passive resistance in the Civil Rights movement, and even the strategies of the cold war on the international level (a relief after the hysteria of the McCarthy era), the temperature began to rise with the Black Muslim movement, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Malcolm X. . . Artists don't have to illustrate current events to respond to their pressures. If the sensibility of the mid-sixties is warming, I suspect it will get even warmer.1
Looking back after twenty years, the art world of 1968 seems both familiar and oddly different from the situation today. Hotly debated aesthetic issues have been superseded—not so much resolved as abandoned by the art magazines we subscribed to then and subscribe to now. Many of the same critics are still writing, and most of the artists who were interesting then are still showing. But both the art magazines and the art world itself are much larger, the magazines bloated with advertising, the world infinitely more populated-filled with new faces, not only of younger generations, but of mature artists as well, often female or black, whose work, ignored then, now seems more central, more visible. The structure and customs of this world are the same, but there is more of everything now: more artists, more galleries, more collectors, more museums. Not only are there a few more art journals; there is a far greater volume of art coverage in the popular press. Just as no one could have predicted the astronomical auction prices of 1988, no one would ever have guessed that artists and dealers would be written up in mass-distribution magazines, or that museum curators would be models for clothing ads.
Geographically, like Saul Steinberg's famous map of the United States as seen from New York, the art world used to consist mainly of midtown Manhattan with California on the horizon and not much in between. In New York, the center of gravity was much further uptown than it is today. Galleries were on Fifty- seventh Street or in the seventies; their architectural scale was that of apartments or small stores. Quite a few artists lived south of Houston Street in a manufacturing district which had no boutiques, or restaurants, and no special neighborhood name. (The term "SoHo" was coined in 1969.) Of course there were fine museums in other cities, some with strong programs in contemporary art, but nowhere near as many as now. There were artists' co-ops but no government supported "alternative spaces,' either in New York or elsewhere, and relatively few scattered university galleries.2 People were already worrying about the atmosphere of excessive commercialism, the inflated prices, and the appetite for novelty that characterize the art market today, but outside of New York, California, and Chicago, there were few serious galleries.
The concept of affirmative action had not yet been articulated in 1968, and the art world then as now, was predominantly white and male, only more so. The fact that women were treated as intellectual equals and that the strongest could achieve success was presumed to indicate that no special barriers were raised against them. In spite of the unanimous support of the civil rights movement, black artists found it exceedingly hard to get exposure. Artists with Hispanic surnames were presumably nationals of Spain or of a Latin American country. Of the groups which are militant minorities today, homosexuals were the most nearly accepted. In a context where individualism was an essential quality, blacks alone were willing (or forced) to define themselves as a group. Yet the art world was more liberal than other spheres—in many ways a genuine meritocracy.
Throughout much of the sixties, the mainstream art world remained apolitical. The social realism of the thirties and forties had been superseded by abstraction; formalist issues were fiercely debated, and form itself seemed to be the subject of much of the work to be seen. The concept of the avant-garde was still powerful, modernism still an ideal, though there was heated argument as to what kinds of art were actually extending the modernist tradition. Post-painterly abstraction and pop art were already well established as the prevailing vanguard styles; minimalism had recently emerged as a definable phenomenon. A characteristic of all three was the cool, dispassionate tone which had replaced the expressive intensity of both social realism and abstract expressionism. And yet it was a moment of exhilarating freedom and boundless potential, when no idea was too wild to try, no aesthetic premise too extreme to push to its logical conclusion.
Sculpture was the dominant medium, much of it architectonic in scale, and various permutations of artists' performance, experimental dance, and new music were a vital feature of the New York scene. Much of the work that seemed most new and exciting had a machine made look: op art, kinetic art, and light sculpture all projected the glamour of technology with an optimism that soon became hard to sustain. A basic grid pattern, sometimes consisting of serial imagery, was a common structural device in both abstract and representational painting, and in some sculpture as well.3 Many artists were experimenting with nontraditional materials, especially plastics, for their special sensual and physical properties, but also as symbols of the technological present.
E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), founded in 1966 by Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver, an engineer at the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey, and The Center for Advanced Visual Studies at M.l.T., which opened in the fall of 1967, fostered collaborations among artists, engineers and scientists. These resulted not only in discrete objects but in complex multimedia environments. Along with installations employing video technology, artists experimented with broadcast video discovering the purely visual potential of the electronic medium and devising innovative techniques that have since become the staple of MTV. And in 1968, the introduction of the Sony Portapak gave a tremendous impetus to artists' performance, permitting the documentation and dissemination of highly personal, intimate work in this genre.
The experimentation with new media and industrial techniques had a particularly profound impact on printmaking. Tatiana Grosman was able to interest a number of outstanding artists who did not define themselves as printmakers in using lithography at the ULAE workshop, which she had founded in 1957. Working with superb master printers and unhampered by a prior knowledge of the limitations of the medium, Rauschenberg and Johns made prints which refined and expanded the capacities of lithography. In the autumn of 1964, Rosa Esman, a young art collector who was a passionate admirer of both pop art and Tanya Grosman, also began to publish prints, attracted by the idea of creating affordable works by her favorite artists. Inspired by a collection of signed, limited-edition serigraphs published in Paris under the title "UR" (and perhaps, too, by the screenprint technique in the newest paintings of Warhol and Rauschenberg), she became intrigued by the idea of using silk-screen as a medium for original fine-art graphics:
UR was a challenge, and it was this publication that inspired me to publish American artists in collection form, using techniques appropriate to art at that time, but which were untraditional and therefore unacceptable by Tanya Grosman's standards. Silk-screen printing, for example, was traditionally used for reproduction only.4
Rosa Esman and, soon after, Marian Goodman of Multiples, Inc. became intrepid collaborators with artists who wanted to try out unusual techniques and work with peculiar materials, while other more conventional workshops like Sillman and Ives perfected the technique of screen printing, an incredibly adaptable medium. Prints were made on all kinds of surfaces—mylar, Plexiglas, aluminum and fabrics. Plastics were used for collage elements and vacuum-formed to create reliefs. Among the memorable portfolios published by Esman's Original Editions/Tanglewood Press were three sets called "11 Pop Artists," featuring Lichtenstein, Dine, Rosenquist, Segal, Warhol and Wesselmann. Esman also worked with abstract artists: Frankenthaler, Motherwell, Ad Reinhart, Richard Anuszkiewicz. "Four on Plexiglas," an outstanding set published by Multiples in 1966, included work by Guston, Rivers, Oldenburg, and Newman. Both publishers also produced limited edition three-dimensional objects. Some of these were industrially fabricated, but many were partially or entirely handmade, simulating the appearance of mass production.
The vitality, technical inventiveness, and sheer quantity of prints produced in the sixties by these and other publishers, including the superb facilities of Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, amounted to a revolution in printmaking. Not only were there hundreds of new images, there were often hundreds of copies of each image, making it possible for original works by major artists to be shown and collected more widely than ever before. Created in part in response to a new interest in contemporary art, these prints did much to acquaint a broader public with innovative art, and ultimately contributed substantially to the decentralization of the art world in the seventies.
Although more and more prints were made to benefit political candidates or causes, the use of art as a means of persuasion was frowned on as illustrative and propagandistic. Even among the pop artists, explicitly political content was rare. Robert Rauschenberg's heterogeneous imagery, borrowed from the media, frequently included a public dimension. Images of John Kennedy, soldiers, and military equipment appear in his drawings and silk-screen paintings, along with sports figures, works of art, and everyday objects in mysterious juxtapositions that have a distinct though ambiguous political resonance. Andy Warhol included in his Disaster series powerful news pictures of the civil rights struggle and created a series of intensely moving portraits of Jacqueline Kennedy immediately after the assassination. The dispassionate treatment of these highly charged subjects paradoxically increased their emotional impact. James Rosenquist was perhaps the most overtly political of the pop artists. His F-111, 1962, is a huge, multi-paneled work, almost environmental in effect in which pictures of the controversial warplane are disturbingly insinuated into a montage of other, less deadly American products, and reflective surfaces incorporate the viewer. It was placed on display at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in February 1968, a symptom, perhaps, of renewed public interest in art with a political message.
Like most Americans, artists responded to the events of the turbulent sixties as individuals—with varying degrees of engagement, passion, or indifference. Though many were strong supporters of the civil rights movement and deplored the U.S. involvement in Vietnam collective action was rare. There were exceptions. A number of artists supported political candidates or causes by donating works for sale and creating commemorative prints. Beginning in 1962, Artists for CORE produced annual benefit exhibitions for the Congress for Racial Equality. In 1962, as well, a group calling itself "Artists and Writers Protest" took out a letter-ad in the New York Times in favor of disarmament; in 1965 the same group denounced U.S. intervention in Vietnam and the Dominican Republic. In 1967 the group sponsored Angry Arts Week; over a hundred performances and events to protest the war were organized throughout New York City, including "The Collage of Indignation,' a collaborative work by over 150 artists in a cacophony of different styles which Leon Golub, one of the organizers, described as "not political art, but rather an expression of popular revulsion."5 In another collaborative gesture, 400 artists sent works to be affixed to the Peace Tower designed by Mark di Suvero and erected by the L.A. Artists Protest Committee in the Watts area, which had been devastated by riots in the summer of 1965. But these were exceptions rather than the rule. In 1968, whatever the intensity of their political feelings, few artists expressed them in their art. The artists who participated in the memorable benefit exhibition organized by Lucy Lippard at the Paula Cooper Gallery in support of the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam in October 1968, contributed characteristically experimental nonobjective works.
Sol LeWitt, who made his first wall drawing for that exhibition, spoke for most of his peers when he declared:
I don't know of any art of painting or sculpture that has any kind of real significance in terms of political content, and when it does try to have that, the result is pretty embarrassing. . . Artists live in a society that is not part of society. . . The artist wonders what he can do when he sees the world going to pieces around him. But as an artist he can do nothing except be an artist. 6
Yet, in spite of the apolitical nature of the work included, it was significant that artists chose to participate in such an exhibition. According to Lucy Lippard, a critic who has been personally and passionately involved with both radical art and political activism since the mid-sixties, it was in 1968 that:
The slowly evolving public opposition to the Vietnam War. .. came to a head, sweeping large numbers of artists into the resistance. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and events in Southeast Asia made a newly conscious white constituency aware of the ties between oppression of Third World people abroad and at home. . . Political consciousness and racial or sexual identity met to provide a ground on which artists could relate. Similarly, many of us began to understand how the power structures of the art world reflected those of the world around us.7
Among the notable antiwar art produced in 1968, Nancy Spero's poignant metaphorical drawings of atrocities and Oyvind Fahlstrom's pop culture images of militarist villains and Third World victims were part of an ongoing meditation. Edward Kienholtz' environmental tableau, The Portable War Memorial, 1968, with its ironic juxtaposition of the Iwo Jima monument and the depressing tawdriness of military life, powerfully conveys the moral devastation of war. (A later print version includes the names of hundreds of countries wiped off the map in earlier wars.) An ad placed by Artists and Writers Protest in the Times linked the war in Vietnam with "the other war, the war against Black America,"8 an idea succinctly embodied in Faith Ringgold's American Flag whose stripes spell out the words "die rigger" Indeed, as Benny Andrews' tragic painting of a young black G.I. reminds us, most of the American victims of the war were poor and black.
If 1968 was the year that white artists became more politically aware, it was also the year that black visual artists began to define a specifically black aesthetic, and that white America began to take more notice of their work. While a number of ad hoc artists' collaboratives had been founded earlier in the sixties to foster the creation and exhibition of works by black artists, most shows until 1968 were seen only at black institutions and in black neighborhoods. Those directed to a wider audience were mainly historical surveys. In March of 1968, New Voices: Fifteen Black Artists was shown at the American Greetings Gallery in downtown New York. It provided the nucleus of a more extensive survey of contemporary black artists which appeared in Minneapolis in October and subsequently traveled to several other museums.
A stronger institutional base for the exhibition of black contemporary art was established with the opening of The Studio Museum in Harlem in September. In Chicago, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. served as a focus for the creation of another significant black arts organization: AFRI-COBRA (African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists). Like the Organization of Black American Culture in the same city, which had created the Wall of Respect, the first of many murals by community arts organizations, AFRI-COBRA sought "to liberate its audience and define a national Black consciousness"9 This effort was in part a response to a climate that permitted what now seem acts of amazing insensitivity by mainstream institutions. Although the Museum of Modern Arts Junior Council was instrumental in founding the Studio Museum, when MOMA itself planned a memorial exhibition for Dr. King in November 1968, not a single black artist was included; a few were finally added at the last moment in a separate room. The same combination of patronage and exclusion was displayed by the organizers of the documentary audiovisual extravaganza Harlem on My Mind, which opened at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in January of 1969. By the fall of 1968, Benny Andrews, Romare Bearden, and other black cultural leaders were already demanding greater participation by black curators and the inclusion of original works by black artists in the first show at a major museum to focus on the negro in America. In the protests by the Black Emergency Cultural Coalition and the Art Workers Coalition, formed in 1969 in response to the passions of 1968, a new kind of artists' activism was born.
In 1968, confrontation was becoming an increasingly frequent feature of political discourse. It was "the dawning of the Age of Aquarius," as the hit musical Hair, which moved from the Public Theater to Broadway in April, described it—a time of youth, freedom, equality, and love. Liberals were encouraged by the fact that President Johnson tacitly admitting the bankruptcy of his Vietnam policy, declined to run for another term. The passage of the Civil Rights Bill, banning racial discrimination in housing and making it a crime to interfere with civil rights workers, seemed an important step forward, and the presidential candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy offered the possibility of inspiring, effective leadership for the future. To some of the nation's young people, the substantial gains already made by the civil rights and antiwar movements seemed insignificant. They found all forms of authority oppressive, all injustice intolerable. In 1968, their impatience led to an explosion. Student radicals added a new element to the volatile blend of hope, violence and hysteria of that extraordinary year. The "Yippies" engaged in a kind of anarchist agit-prop in a spirit similar to that of Dada manifestations in the earlier part of the century. A group of them demonstrated at the opening of the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism, protesting the fact that this most vital and revolutionary of all modern movements was being embalmed alive, as it were, at what one of them called 'the Mausoleum of Modern Art'."10 Students for a Democratic Society, more bitterly radical, conceived of protest as a form of open war. On April 23, 19 days after the assassination of Dr. King, a group of students organized by S.D.S. occupied five buildings at Columbia University to protest the treatment of blacks on campus and in Harlem where the university was a major landlord, as well as other "repressive" University policies. The university was closed down for over a month. Student unrest was a worldwide phenomenon that spring. Uprisings in Paris, Berkeley, Tokyo, and Mexico City pitted rioting students against police and the militia. At least a part of the trauma of 1968 was due to generational conflict, as idealistic youth challenged the authority and the failure of its elders.
The assassinations, first of Dr. King and only three months later of Robert Kennedy, jolted the country. "The best leaders of our time were dead," Tom Hayden, one of the founders of S.D.S., recently told a reporter from Time Magazine .11 By 1968 1 knew I was part of an apocalypse." It was the apocalyptic political theater of the Democratic Convention in Chicago that finally crystallized the consciousness of the art world. "The whole world is watching," chanted the demonstrators, provoking the Chicago police to blind rage and total loss of self-control. Police brutality, until then a remote problem experienced by blacks and civil rights workers, was directed against the children of the middle class, and witnessed over television by the entire country. Claes Oldenburg, who was visiting the city at the time, told Time Magazine reporters that he was "tossed to the ground by six swearing troopers who kicked me and choked me and called me a Communist."
"After watching with the rest of a horrified liberal community," wrote Tom Hess in an editorial in Art News in November, about 50 artists decided to join Oldenburg in a boycott of Chicago for the balance of Mayor Daley's term in office, stating in a telegram to the mayor:
The recent actions by Chicago's police directed and supported by Mayor Daley and not repudiated by the people of Chicago have marked that city as being unfit for membership in a civilized society.12
The boycott was temporarily suspended for a protest exhibition organized by Oldenburgs dealer, Richard Feigen, in October. Among the works inspired by the convention was Oldenburg's extraordinary multiple edition sculpture of a Chicago fireplug, whose expressive surface texture and violent red color evoke the bleeding meat of the city's stockyards and the blood drawn by its policemen's clubs, and James Rosenquist's slashed portrait of Mayor Daley, which vividly conveys the politician's brutal presence and the hostility of the artist.
It was against this background of increasing political chaos that what Jack Tworkov had referred to as the "thingness" the monolithic and glossy integrity of mid-sixties art objects-was superseded by radical, apparently chaotic new ways of making art. In many instances, tendencies inherent in minimalism, pushed to their logical conclusion, led to the phenomenon that Lucy Lippard christened "dematerialization": the tendency of art to become more conceptual, to include and sometimes even substitute mental activity for sensual experience.
The spirit of Marcel Duchamp informed this tendency. In a full-page obituary-advertisement in Artforum, occasioned by Duchamp's death in October, Jasper Johns emphasized Duchamp's pioneering act of "mov[ing] his work through the retinal
boundaries which had been established with Impressionism into a field where language, thought, and vision act upon one another.''13 In this spirit,
Lawrence Weiner decided, after the accidental destruction of a temporary installation at Windham College, to present his work henceforth solely in the form of the written proposals embodying the conceptual essence of each piece. Similarly, Joseph Kosuth, who saw in Duchamp's Readymades the "beginning of 'modern' art and the beginning of 'conceptual' art,"14 compiled a series of works consisting of enlarged photostats of definitions from a dictionary. Displayed on the gallery wall, the white words floating in a black space resonate in the mind as purely mental images.
Above all, the essential, iconoclastic Duchamp, who reveled in paradox, trusted chance, and possessed a subtle and quirky sense of humor was reflected in the work of John Baldessari. Beginning in 1966, Baldessari made paintings consisting of words alone or together with primitive photographic images. Some were sentences quoted directly from textbooks on art, others, like "a painting which is its own documentation" or "everything is purged from this painting except art," were self-descriptive. All attempted to identify the nature of art in ways simultaneously absurd and profound.
In 1968, Baldessari changed the name of his course in painting at the University of California at San Diego to "Post Studio Art" His "A 1968 Painting," incorporating an awful reproduction of a Frank Stella 'protractor' painting from earlier in the year, both depicts and embodies the written text, using pictorial and written language to evoke two d disparate but equally current strategies for making art, while satirizing journalistic and critical clichés and challenging empty notions about style.
Accompanying the "dematerialization" of art was a broadening of the kinds of media considered suitable for artistic purposes. For the minimalists the most neutral and appropriate vehicles for formal aesthetic investigation were industrial production techniques and materials—not only rigid ones, but also soft, floppy materials, like felt rubber and latex, and malleable substances, such as tar and lead. The new plastics often had an ambiguous, viscous appearance, with strange biomorphic connotations,while remaining obdurately and disturbingly synthetic. The industrial landscape comprised not only gleaming skylines and glossy consumer products but landfill and detritus.
The use of unmodified chunks of industrial and natural materials in their raw state, often loosely juxtaposed rather than constructed or manipulated was by 1968 an international phenomenon. In February, Germano Celant's influential exhibition at the Galeria Foscherari in Bologna and the accompanying book (published in English in 1969) brought together Americans and Europeans working in this vein and suggested the emergence of a new kind of art. Robert Smithson's first "non-site" was shown in March 1968 in a one-man exhibition otherwise devoted to minimalist serial structures. A jumble of rocks placed in a series of crate-like bins constructed to suggest a false perspective was accompanied by a geological survey map of the site from which the rocks had been removed. The "non-site," according to Smithson, "in a physical way contains the disruption of the site." Conceptually, the artist transforms a physical space into mental space. Visually, the 'non-site' presents an intersection of rigid minimalist geometry and natural dispersion. Smithson later pursued this juxtaposition in his 'mirror displacements, more Iyrical visual re-organizations of casually scattered piles of rocksalt or gravel, located either in natural settings or within the gallery, and in such vast environmental works as the celebrated Spiral Jetty, 1970.
Smithson's writings were influential in suggesting the possibility that artists might designate as works of art not only 'ready-made' objects but locations and indeed whole environments. In "A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects," published in Artforum in September, he compared geological process to the texture of thought:
One's mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptua/ crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. . . A bleached and fractured world surrounds the artist. To organize this mess of corrosion into patterns, grids, and subdivisions is an aesthetic process that has scarcely been touched.15
While much of Smithson's work and that of other artists making earthworks, involves the insertion of human order into natural chaos, the land itself—brute matter—is an essential counterforce. Informing Smithson's vision is the physical concept of entropy the ultimate loss of energy and the dispersion and breakdown of all physical systems over time. It leads him to the realization that "nothing is certain or formal " In this essay, and in an extraordinary exhibition et the Dwan Gallery in October, Smithson brought together a number of artists who used the earth as a medium, either by a direct intervention in the landscape or as a substance whose normal connotations and powerful physical presence could be transformed by a shift of perception into the stuff of art. Sidney Tillim described the exhibition in Artforum in December in an article called "Earthworks and the New Picturesque":
Either passages of landscape are turned into art or object-art is turned into a kind of landscape, or object and landscape are combined in a way that is both aesthetic and atavistic. Dennis Oppenheim proposed to mow rings up to ten miles wide in the wheat fields surrounding an active volcano in Ecuador next July, whereas Robert Morris assembles, in a gallery, and for one time, a compost of dark soil, a profusion of pipes, lengths of felt and a gelatinous mass of thick industrial grease. Other varieties of the literalist landscape experience, either illustrated or actually shown in the exhibition, include the vast parallel lines drawn across a Western wasteland by Walter de Maria. .. Rough-hewn blocks of wood by Carl Andre were illustrated snaking through forest underbrush, Michael Heizer dug slit trenches in forests and sun-baked mud flats. Claes Oldenburg showed some dirt in a plastic container; the dirt was said to be seeded with worms.
The "media aesthetic" of these earthworks, as Tillim noted,
is not limited to a geological palette. . . other artists are working in other mediums which interpolate a corresponding landscape of tactility. And much of it combines both soft and hard components to recapitulate [a] basic formal dichotomy (edge versus mass)...16
In the course of the year, young artists such as Eva Hesse, Barry Le Va, Bruce Nauman, Alan Saret, Keith Sonnier and Richard Serra working in such equivocal media, either produced or for the first time showed work that had a different feeling to it from that of past seasons. Most significantly, the use of industrial felt and the exploration of its variable interaction with the force of gravity by Robert Morris, in a three-part exhibition at the Castelli Gallery in spring, clearly revealed a transition in the work of this influential theoretician of minimalism. This exhibition, along with a polemical article, "Anti Form,' in Artforum, focused attention on the emergence of a new way of making art:
Recently, materials other than rigid industrial ones have begun to show up. . . A direct investigation of the properties of these materials is in progress. This involves a reconsideration of the use of tools in relation to material. .. Sometimes a direct manipulation of a given material without the use of any tool is made. In these cases considerations of gravity become as important as those of space. The focus on matter and gravity as means results in forms which were not projected in advance. Considerations of ordering are necessarily casual and imprecise and unemphasized... Chance is accepted and indeterminacy is implied since replacing will result in another configuration. Disengagement with preconceived enduring forms and orders for things is a positive assertion. It is part of the work's refusal to continue aestheticizing form by dealing with it as a prescribed end.17
Process and chance were also essential to works that did not employ soft materials. For example, Mel Bochner's "surface distensions" involved stretching the perceptual integrity of geometric forms to their limit by photographing grid patterns or three- dimensional cubes and then superimposing, re-photographing, and sometimes manipulating photographic negatives to yield strange irregular shapes. Perhaps the most significant and influential use of these ideas occurred in the Peace exhibition at the Paula Cooper Gallery that also signal led the growing political activism of the art world. Bernice Rose, curator of drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, considers LeWitt's first wall drawing a seminal event:
LeWitt's transposition of his drawings from the restricted if traditional format of a sheet of paper to the architectural space of a wall with which it became absolutely identified was a radical move. It suggests transformation in the role—and the very nature—of the drawing medium, both within his own work and the history of the medium. LeWitt's move was a cataclysm as important for drawing as Pollock's use of the drip technique had been for painting in the 1 1950's. Both opposed, through radical transpositions in the way in which the thing is made, expectations of the way art ought to look—what it ought to be.18
The scale itself was influential. Drawing, until then an intimate and subordinate medium, became the vehicle for creating major works of art. Separated from the confines of the paper, the web of lines in a LeWitt wall drawing seems a pure emanation of the artist's thought. Yet the interaction of the image with the solid surface of the wall and the architectural space it inhabits gives it a commanding presence. Equally radical was LeWitt's insistence that his works consist of conceptions which can be made manifest in any number of two-dimensional or three-dimensional forms. As Robert Rosenblum noted, since each appearance of a wall drawing reflects the conditions of its execution, the drawings "reconcile two opposing modes of structure that have fascinated many artists of the 1 1960s: the rigorous order of a simple repetitive system . . . and the abdication of this elemental order in favor of the random."19
There was, in 1968, a sense of infinite possibility; nothing was too gigantic or too extreme to try. Christo wrapped his first building, the Künsthalle in Berne, enveloping the environmental works of eleven other artists installed within. Hans Haacke expanded the definition of art to include natural processes: ice forming, the flight patterns of gulls in the New York harbor, the slow growth of grass presented on a Lucite sculpture stand in the Howard Wise Gallery. To some critics, the most significant contribution to the Whitney Sculpture Annual was Richard Artschwager's 100 Locations: modest-sized lozenge shapes made of wood or a strange hairy substance, or stenciled directly on the wall, which were scattered throughout the museum, including the stairwells, the rest-rooms, and the elevator. These "quintessential objects of attention,' as Artschwager calls them, were site-specific, inexpensive art, displayed in an installation that could neither be sold nor photographed in its entirety.
When Robert Morris presented the work of nine young process artists at the warehouse of the Castelli Gallery in December, the New York Times recognized the birth of a new sensibility in calling the exhibition a "landmark event suggesting new ways of thinking about art."20 Perceptions were changing. The controlled geometry of minimalism was yielding to the flux of process art. Rationalism, pushed to its ultimate conclusions, offered the appearance of chaos, and chance produced a new kind of order. The dialectics between object and concept, aesthetics and politics, man and nature were taking on radically new forms.
On December 4, a mound of dry leaves was deposited uninvited in the exhibition at the Castelli warehouse. Another appeared outside the Dwan Gallery, and a third was delivered to the Leo Castelli Gallery at 4 East 77 Street. These were the work of a young Puerto Rican artist, Rafael Ferrer, who recollects:
A crucial fact for me in selecting Castelli was that he had a show of Cy Twombly and I felt the leaves would not disrupt or deface any existing art. . . Ron Miyashiro, a photographer friend who did work for Leo was in on the plan and waited in the gallery and took photos. . . [He told me] that when Leo came in he was told by the staff that "the leaves had been delivered to the gallery and not to the warehouse," where the large group show was opening. They had no trouble recognizing that this was art. Finally, I was also told that Leo remarked "they are very beautiful." Years later, he and I spoke about the work and he said that he left them for the day and added "maybe I should have left them longer. . . "21
1. Art in America (January-February 1967): 44-57
2. Feature articles on government patronage for the visual
arts describing the programs and impact of the National
Endowment for the Arts appeared in Art in America
(March-April 1967). "The Boom in University Museums"
was a lead article in Art News (September 1967)
3. See John Coplans, "Serial Imagery," Artforum (October
4. Unpublished talk, Museum of Modern Art, March 22,
5."The Artist as an Angry Artist," Arts Magazine (April
6. Metro (Venice), (June 1968): 44. cit. Lucy Lippard "The
Structures, The Structures and the Wall Drawings, The
Structures and the Wall Drawings and the Books,' in Sol
LeWitt, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978
7. Lucy Lippard, "Dreams, Demands, and Desires: The
Black, Antiwar, and Women's Movements,' in Tradition
and Conflict: Images of a Turbulent Decade 1963-1973:
75-76. New York: Studio Museum in Harlem, 1985
8. Lucy Lippard, in Tradition and Conflict: 77
9. Mary Schmidt-Campbell, in Tradition and Conflict: 57
10. John Ashbery. "Growing Up Surreal " Art News (May
1968): 41 11. Time, January 11, 1988: 25
12. Time, November 1, 1968: 76 and Art News, Novem
ber 1968: 27. Among the artists signing the telegram to
Mayor Daley and subsequent letters of protest were Paul
Brach, Adolph Gottlieb, Philip Guston, Ellsworth Kelly,
Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, Barnett Newman,
Kenneth Noland, Saul Steinberg, Carl Andre, Eva Hesse
and Robert Smithson.
13. Jasper Johns, "Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)," Artforum (November 1968): 16
14. "Art After Philosophy," Studio International, (October
15. Robert Smithson. "A Sedimentation of the Mind's:
Earth Projects," Artforum (September 1968)
16. Sidney Tillim, "Earthworks and the New Picturesque."
Artforum (December 1968): 44
17 Robert Morris, "Anti-Form," Artforum (April l 1968): 35
18. Bernice Rose, "Sol LeWitt and Drawing" in Sol LeWitt,
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978: 26
19. Robert Rosenblum, "Notes on Sol LeWitt,' in Sol
20. Philip Leider, New York Times, December 22, 1968,
21. Unpublished letter, June 1988
above copied from: http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/vpadvance/artgallery/gallery/turning_point/sundell.htm