By Owen Duffy. Through dematerialization, the critics believed art might escape commodification because dealers could not sell art-as-idea. In the end, art, of course, did not sublimate. You don't need to go to Art Basel to know that art objects still exist and are perhaps more commercial than ever before. But for lack of a better term I have continued to refer to a process of dematerialization, or a deemphasis on material aspects uniqueness, permanence, decorative attractiveness. There are a host of artists who still engage with tensions of dematerialization and its opposite, materialization.
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Lucy Lippard—giant of American art criticism, author of more than 20 books, and co-founder of Printed Matter, the quintessential seller of books made by artists—turned 80 this year. In the essay, Lippard presented evidence that art might be entering a phase of pure intellectualism, the result of which could be the complete disappearance of the traditional art object.
The piece grew out of, and helped contextualize, the preceding decade or so of wildly inventive conceptual art, which often left behind only ephemeral, non-archival relics, or no relics at all other than perhaps recordings of experiences. Conceptual artists were devoted to making ideas the central focus of their work, and many argued convincingly that the objects artists make in order to express their ideas are nothing but waste products, and that the ideas themselves are the only things worthy of consideration.
The essay was enormously influential at the time: so much so that Lippard followed it up with a book called Six Years , extensively analyzing evidence of the trend.
But obviously in the long run her premonition was inaccurate, since art objects still have yet to dematerialize. In that book, Schillinger divided all of art history into five categories of aesthetic phenomena. Next came ritualistic or religious art. Then came emotional art.
Then rational, empirical-based art. While contemplating the evolution of art throughout the s and 60s, Lippard believed what she was witnessing was the emergence of this fifth phase of art. And she was excited about the notion. She considered dematerialization a positive, vital shift. After all, if the aesthetic object could cease to exist as the central focus of art then art could be freed from commodification, the often vile system that exerts so much destructive force on the lives and work of many artists.
As evidence that dematerialization had begun, Lippard cited movements such as Light and Space, which were visual in nature but not object-based, and Minimalism , which drastically pared down the aesthetic object. Such movements she believed diminished the importance of the visual aspect of an artwork, defining the visual as more of a jumping off point for an immaterial, intellectual experience.
But one of the early, and obvious, criticisms of The Dematerialization of Art was that even though these ephemeral, conceptual concepts were less object-based, they still nonetheless results in physical phenomena.
Even a performance artist creates a thing—a performance—which can be sold as an experience, or recorded. No matter how slight a relic an artist creates, it can become fetishized and traded as a commodity. The only way to completely avoid the possibility of commodification is to never share an idea: then perhaps the reverence and sanctity of the intellectual experience can be preserved.
But only shared ideas can truly be called art. And as soon as an idea is shared, it can be possessed, manipulated, and expressed in other ways, or in other words, materialized. And as soon as something materializes it can be bought and sold as a commodity. It is always tempting for each generation to see itself as standing on the forefront of modernity.
Schillinger thought art had been progressing historically through phases, and Lippard thought she was part of the generation that was advancing art toward its evolutionary apex. But time does not move forward; it just passes. Culture is not linear; it repeats itself. Humanity devolves as rapidly as it is evolves. And the truth was in the s and 70s, and still is today, that artists are finding ways to dematerialize as rapidly as others are rediscovering how to materialize it.
Ultimately, Lippard must have also realized this even as she wrote on the topic of dematerialization, because her essay concludes by asking if the so-called zero point in art is likely to be reached soon. Anything that can be seen is by definition material, even if it can only be seen through virtual reality goggles. But in our opinion that only proves that perhaps achieving dematerialization was never really the point. The point Lippard was truly making was simply that one important aspect of visual art is to engage tirelessly in the search to discover how to express more with less.
Any artist working toward dematerialization is also working toward simplicity. And simplicity leads to the discovery of what is truly indispensable, and thus truly meaningful. That is definitely not the final phase of art. But it is one that is capable of reminding us what the value of art truly is.
Login Register 0 Your cart is empty. Artworks Artists Magazine Contact. Your cart is empty. Toggle navigation. Jun 2, Lucy Lippard—giant of American art criticism, author of more than 20 books, and co-founder of Printed Matter, the quintessential seller of books made by artists—turned 80 this year. Share this Article:. Articles That You May Like. Less is More: Minimalism Nov 9,
What Was The Dematerialization of Art Object?
Edited by Catherine Morris and Vincent Bonin. Lucy R. Lippard's famous book, itself resembling an exhibition, is now brought full circle in an exhibition and catalog resembling her book. Lippard, Six Years. In the critic and curator Lucy R. Lippard published Six Years, a book with possibly the longest subtitle in the bibliography of art: T he dematerialization of the art object from to a cross-reference book of information on some esthetic boundaries: consisting of a bibliography into which are inserted a fragmented text, art works, documents, interviews, and symposia, arranged chronologically and focused on so-called conceptual or information or idea art with mentions of such vaguely designated areas as minimal, anti-form, systems, earth, or process art, occurring now in the Americas, Europe, England, Australia, and Asia with occasional political overtones edited and annotated by Lucy R. Six Years , sometimes referred to as a conceptual art object itself, not only described and embodied the new type of art-making that Lippard was intent on identifying and cataloging, it also exemplified a new way of criticizing and curating art.
Materializing "Six Years"
Lucy Lippard began her book Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from to with a discussion of the distinct political climate in which she was writing. How could she not? It was a particularly inflamed period of history, and one that, Lippard claimed, was directly connected to the advent and production of Conceptual art. This was the terrific, if overlooked, promise of Six Years and, arguably, Conceptualism at large. Can an idea-based practice, intent on breaking its formal ties with the frame and the pedestal, absorb and challenge the social contexts in which it is situated? Like Six Years , the exhibition was comprehensive in its sweep, featuring 90 artists and objects. However, the curatorial choices felt a little cautious and unimaginative.