The Contingent Object Of Contemporary Art
by Martha Buskirk
Published by MIT Press, copyright 2005.
Softcover, perfect-bound, 307 pages.
In this book, Martha Buskirk addresses the interesting fact that since the early 1960s, almost anything can and has been called art. Among other practices, contemporary artists have employed mass-produced elements, impermanent materials, and appropriated imagery, have incorporated performance and video, and have created works through instructions carried out by others. Furthermore, works of art that lack traditional signs of authenticity or permanence have been embraced by institutions long devoted to the original and the permanent. Buskirk begins with questions of authorship raised by minimalists' use of industrial materials and methods, including competing claims of ownership and artistic authorship evident in conflicts over the right to fabricate artists' works. Examining recent examples of appropriation, she finds precedents in pop art and the early twentieth-century readymade and explores the intersection of contemporary artistic copying and the system of copyrights, trademarks, and brand names characteristic of other forms of commodity production. She also investigates the ways that connections between work and context have transformed art and institutional conventions, the impact of new materials on definitions of the medium, the role of the document as both primary and secondary object, and the significance of conceptually oriented performance work for the intersection of photography and the human body in contemporary art. Buskirk explores how artists active in the 1980s and 1990s have recombined strategies of the art of the 1960s and 1970s. She also shows how the mechanisms through which art is presented shape not only readings of the work but the work itself. She uses her discussion of the readymade and conceptual art to explore broader issues of authorship, reproduction, context, and temporality.