The Status of Object, A Brief History

The dissolution of a tangible and physical object, ideologically and culturally imbued with an artist’s aesthetic intent, occurs as the notion of the idea as art object arises post minimalism —this thinking, wherein art is dematerialized, is best ascribed to methodology originally manifest in the works of Marcel Duchamp and less obtusely Pablo Picasso, yet it’s resurgence following Minimalism delineates a more complete disavowal and reinterpretation of ‘objecthood’ seen in art movements emerging in the mid 1960’s and similarly evocative in contemporary works today.

Adverse to Minimalism and Pop Art, where the response to commodity and industry subsumed artistic production, the object was reconsidered in context of cultural production and novelty. In part, Minimalism and Pop emerged as a response to the production of “things”, the sameness of commodity, and to express a concern for the role of the artist as a producer of work. This ideology was also synonymous with post world war conditions of industry, national heroism, and newly available purchasing power.

Conceptual art, and all facets of thinking related to this ideology; Post- Minimalism, Happenings, Earth Art, Video Art, and Process Art, reinstated the emotive and transcendental value of art as an experience that “occurs” within the mind. Jack Burnham, in his 1968 essay System Esthetics, addresses this shift stating that the the role of products, both in art and life, become “irrelevant” as a desire for establishing more efficient and relational means of interacting with the environment and society emerge.

In this manner, the role of the object dissolved as environmental and experiential art making emerged. This shift in thinking coincided with a burgeoning ‘technocracy’; a term Burnham borrows from economist J.K. Galbraith to describe a society ruled by technical elitists. Expressly tied to newly established automation and exchange of information, technology posited a form of wealth and sense of being-in-the-world that exchanged “traditional symbols of wealth” with information – a value exchange that elevates the mind and communicative interactions and which was formative for approaches in contemporary practices.

Burnham contextualizes this modernist ideal for progress into the folds of technology writ large at the time of his writing, identifying the transition from ‘things’, being objects, to systems . Thus, the role of the object was subverted in Post-Minimalism for material works incapable of reaching the human eye; the object was abandoned as illusionistic technological advances materialized. Alas, conceptual art was born!

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