In the late 1960s and the 1970s, a significant paradigm shift occurred within the history of postwar art: photography was absorbed into critical contemporary art practices. Postmedia: Conceptual Photography in the Guggenheim Museum Collection investigates the ways in which artists in the U.S. and Europe deployed photographic strategies during this period to transgress traditional, medium-specific boundaries such as painting, sculpture, and fine-art photography.
The art-historical sources for this turn to the photographic may be located in the aesthetics of Dada photo-montage. Robert Rauschenberg's and Andy Warhol's exploitations of media imagery also provided prototypes for a younger generation's embrace of photo-based practices. Photography's prevalence in the most radical art of the late '60s and '70s directly paralleled its ubiquity in all forms of cultural representation: television, film, print journalism, and advertising.
Defined by multiple social and institutional functions, the photograph bridges such discrete categories as mass culture and high art as well as technology and aesthetics. Its seeming correspondence to the "real" world, and its "low" cultural value, made photography a democratic vehicle through which to redefine aesthetic experience. Artists used photography as a means to contest the autonomous art object and transgress the medium-based categories of Modernism. As a hybrid medium, the photograph was used to create works that privileged art-as-activity over art-as-product and documentary evidence over expression.
Postmedia presents various ways that artists of the time incorporated the photographic into their work as a critical tool, including photography as a recording device for ephemeral or durational events (as in the work of Jan Dibbets and Douglas Huebler); as a document of art created outside the gallery environment (Hamish Fulton, Richard Long, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Robert Smithson); as a tool to analyze the seriality of architecture and industry (Dan Graham); as a record of the performative, corporeal gesture (Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci, and Ana Mendieta); and as a means to examine the relationship between image, text, and meaning (Robert Barry and Joseph Kosuth).
Nancy Spector, Curator of Contemporary Art
Top: Robert Smithson, Yucatan Mirror Displacements (1-9) [detail, image 4], 1969. Nine Kodachrome color slides, variable dimensions. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Purchased with funds contributed by the Photography Committee and with funds contributed by the International Director's Council and Executive Committee Members: Edythe Broad, Henry Buhl, Elaine Terner Cooper, Linda Fischbach, Ronnie Heyman, Dakis Joannou, Cindy Johnson, Barbara Lane, Linda Macklowe, Brian McIver, Peter Norton, Willem Peppler, Denise Rich, Rachel Rudin, David Teiger, Ginny Williams, Elliot Wolk.
Bottom: Gordon Matta-Clark, Conical Intersect, 1975. Cibachrome print, 101.9 x 76.2 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, Purchased with funds provided by the International Director's Council and Executive Committee Members: Edythe Broad, Elaine Terner Cooper, Linda Fischbach, Ronnie Heyman, J. Tomilson Hill, Dakis Joannou, Cindy Johnson, Barbara Lane, Linda Macklowe, Brian McIver, Peter Norton, Willem Peppler, Alain-Dominique Perrin, David Teiger, Ginny Williams, Elliot Wolk.