The Concrete Body


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Yvonne Rainer, Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci

Elise Archias


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Offering an incisive rejoinder to traditional histories of modernism and postmodernism, this original book examines the 1960s performance work of three New York artists who adapted modernist approaches to form for the medium of the human body. Finding parallels between the tactility of a drip of paint and a body’s reflexive movements, Elise Archias argues convincingly that Yvonne Rainer (b. 1934), Carolee Schneemann (b. 1939), and Vito Acconci (b. 1940) forged a dialogue between modernist aesthetics and their own artistic community’s embrace of all things ordinary through work that explored the abstraction born of the body’s materiality. Rainer’s task-like dances, Schneemann’s sensuous appropriations of popular entertainment, and Acconci’s behaviorist-inflected tests highlight the body’s unintended movements as vital reminders of embodied struggle amid the constraining structures in contemporary culture. Archias also draws compelling comparisons between embodiment as performed in the work of these three artists and in the sit-ins and other nonviolent protests of the era. 

Elise Archias is assistant professor of art history at the University of Illinois, Chicago. 

The Concrete Body is a refreshing, original, and beautifully written rethinking of how we should understand performance practices of the 1960s. Elise Archias’s reading of adaptation and desire, in particular, may well become the best thing written on Vito Acconci to date.”—Eve Meltzer, New York University

"Archias wisely brings together three important figures from the early history of performance art, revealing how they used the human body to understand the sexual revolution, psychological debates, and even consumer capitalism itself.”—Joshua Shannon, University of Maryland 

“Deeply resonant . . . meaningful . . . incisive . . . compelling and persuasive . . . With The Concrete Body, Archias illuminates the art of Rainer, Schneemann, and Acconci in bold new terms.”—Emily Liebert, Artforum

“[Archias] significantly revisit[s] the body of the sixties as a living and breathing resource of inspiration, complexity, and revolution.”—Aliza Edelman, Woman’s Art Journal

“Meticulously researched and replete with photographs of performances.”—Biba Bell, The Drama Review

Winner of the College Art Association’s 2018 Frank Jewett Mather Award for Art Criticism
ISBN: 9780300249804
Publication Date: December 6, 2016
240 pages, 0 x 0
36 color + 93 b/w illus.