The Disappearance of Objects


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New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City


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In the years around 1960, a rapid process of deindustrialization profoundly changed New York City. At the same time, massive highway construction, urban housing renewal, and the growth of the financial sector altered the city’s landscape. As the new economy took shape, manufacturing lofts, piers, and small shops were replaced by sleek high-rise housing blocks and office towers.


Focusing on works by Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Donald Judd, art historian Joshua Shannon shows how New York art engaged with this transformation of the city. Shannon convincingly argues that these four artists---all living amid the changes---filled their art with old street signs, outmoded flashlights, and other discarded objects in a richly revealing effort to understand the economic and architectural transformation of their city.

Joshua Shannon is assistant professor of contemporary art history and theory at the University of Maryland.

"The Disappearance of Objects is an important, forceful book. . . . The brilliant turn in this volume is Shannon’s intertwining of the social and the artistic—how at this time, 'the formalist dialectics of modernism were in fact a means of thinking about a changing world.'"—John J. Curley,
"Shannon . . . offers a unique and fascinating analysis of four titans of post-war art and their relationship to a rapidly changing New York. . . . Shannon’s research is meticulous."—Ian McDermott, Art Libraries Society of North America Reviews
"Shannon invests his analysis with a remarkable attention to detail, employing a compelling collection of visual and archival evidence to explain why the art of the 1960s looked the way it did, and more notably, what it meant. . . . The Disappearance of Objects . . . proposes a promising course for future accounts of postwar artistic practice."—Robert Slifkin, Oxford Art Journal

“Shannon explores how, around 1960, [New York artists] came to terms with the latest shift in the history of capitalism, in which the foundations were laid for postmodernity.  At issue was how the everyday, material landscape of  New York disappeared into an ephemeral, abstracted, placeless sphere…Lucidly written… [and] meticulous…, Shannon's study is structured on close readings of individual objects couched in a detailed inquiry into their social and physical surroundings, a welcome methodology of what he terms 'contextualized looking,' in a field too often dominated by exclusively theoretical analyses.  With an approach that is by turns thorough and expansive, Shannon makes us see the material presence of objects and their connections to a complex and unstable social world.  He thus structures a pivotal chapter in a longer story of modernism.  While the book's impact for histories of contemporary art is hard to miss—by complicating narratives if dematerialization in the 1960s, for one—its significance for studies of modernism is equally resonant.”—Sarah Hamill, Art History
"Shannon lucidly makes a case for viewing ‘junk art’ as it has often been called, as the material product of living directly in the path of a dematerializing juggernaut . . . [and he] makes a strong case for the period around 1960 as a luminal moment. . . . [The book is] clearly and persuasively written . . . a pleasure to read and learn from."—William Chapman Sharpe, Modernism/Modernity
"[A] thoughtful contextualist history. . . . Shannon’s grasp of urban planning minutiae is impressive, and he is an incisive storyteller."—Frances Richard, The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture
"Shannon . . . manages to surprise us into remembering that these people were grappling with their environment and working to understand the modern urban landscape.”—Nadine Dalton, Library Journal

"Shannon deftly analyzes the complex means by which four artists engaged the changing urban infrastructure of New York and succeeds in rewriting the history of the 1960s in original ways. It is a very strong, insightful, and well-written book."—Cécile Whiting, University of California, Irvine

“. . . inventive and altogether convincing . . . Shannon’s excellent book captures a time when the object looked back to its immediate past but also forward to a moment defined by dematerialization and abstraction, when the commodity form was to take on new and unprecedented trajectories, both on the local scale of New York City, and also on a global one.”—Jo Applin, Sculpture Journal

"Shannon has written a particularly illuminating social history of art that tells us as much about the urban history of 1960s New York as it does about the art produced there. It demonstrates how artists' responses to changes taking place in the urban environment had a significant impact on the material make-up and formal logic of their work."—Alex Potts, University of Michigan

ISBN: 9780300233599
Publication Date: March 24, 2009
232 pages, 0 x 0
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