Thursday, October 11, 2012

Jo Applin's "Eccentric Objects: Rethinking Sculpture in 1960s America"

Jo Applin is lecturer in modern and contemporary art at the University of York. Her research focuses on American art since 1950. She also works on British and European art of the 1960s and contemporary international art, with a particular interest in thinking about art and its histories in relation to questions of subjectivity, gender and materiality. Applin is the author of Eccentric Objects: Rethinking Sculpture in 1960s America (Yale University Press, 2012) and Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field (Afterall and MIT Press, 2012).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to Eccentric Objects and reported the following:
Page 99 of Eccentric Objects: Rethinking Sculpture in 1960s America contains not words but an image: a colour reproduction of a large wood and metal figurative sculpture by American artist H.C. Westermann. Titled ‘Angry Young Machine’ this work—part-whimsy, part-political critique, part-surrealist personage—is now housed in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Far from being representative of the book as a whole, what this eccentric object by Westermann neatly demonstrates, for me, is the radical heterogeneity of the works of art discussed in the book, which in turn tell us something about the ways in which historical accounts of ‘stylistic progression’ demand closer scrutiny.

Eccentric Objects: Rethinking Sculpture in 1960s America examines the work of Lee Bontecou, Claes Oldenburg, Lucas Samaras, H.C. Westermann, and Bruce Nauman as key examples of what artist Mel Bochner dubbed the ‘lost contexts’ and overlooked histories of 1960s sculpture. Looking beyond the canonical artworks of the period, Eccentric Objects reclaims what Minimalist artist and critic Donald Judd, referring to the sheer variety of artistic styles and movements then emerging, described as the ‘messiness’ of the moment. This variety has since been reduced to a series of discrete and recognisable categories such as ‘Pop art’, ‘Assemblage’ and ‘Minimalism’.

Eccentric Objects does not iron out differences but celebrates and gives critical purchase to those works, artists and practices that have since slipped from view, in order to offer an alternative account of this rich decade of artistic production, and to complicate models of practice which have since come to epitomise sixties sculpture, such as Assemblage, Pop, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism or Process art. I, too, want to insist on the ‘messiness’ of art’s condition during the early sixties as I unpack the complexities of those years during which, in the wake of an exhausted Modernist aesthetic, as Judd put it ‘there were several unpredicted shows, and things began to be complicated again’.
Learn more about Eccentric Objects at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue