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Reduced choices: apropos Lucy Lippard's Six years: the dematerialization of the art object

Oct 01, 2001; revised Aug 09, 2004

Lucy Lippard's 'Six years: The dematerialization of the art object (...)' shows how during the Sixties all possible social and material parameters of art (making) were toyed with, extended, inverted, reduced, rejected. The thrill of that is tangible in Lippard's personal documentation, which lists events, exhibitions, publications, interviews/dialogues, and also shows photographs documenting events and work . She completely avoids comments and attempts to value or criticize the work included, preferring the concepts or explanations of the artist or interviews, only sometimes carried out by herself. The openness of method, the sense of questioning of rules, paradigns the turning upside down every possible parameter echoes the utopian political concepts and action of that time, but relatively little of that surfaces in the work documented on a source level.

From today's perspective, we can observe how the various aspects of what Lippard called dematerialization: the opening up towards the social (Beuys), the various startegies of tagging (Huebler), purging (Baldessari), taking away (Weiner), of crossing and impurity (Smithson), relinquishing of control (Kaltenbach), provocative reduction (Buren) etc etc, would be digested by the system, to be consciously quoted or re-enacted like faint mimetic aftershocks, often tied to dimensions that fit into the gallery system.

On a purely pragmatic and economic level, the re-materialization that may be stated in much of today's art is fine since artists should be entitled, like any other profession, to make a living by selling art objects (who buys concepts?). Unless they have become well known and can live on exhibition installations, museum purchases or teaching assignments, they need the distribution of 'objects' and a collector who will usually want something permanent to point at. But it is also clear that this pragmatic level severely cuts down, or miniaturizes, choices that were apparently available during that earlier period Lippard's book documents so well.

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