Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


David Joselit

Committee Members

Claire Bishop

Romy Golan

Branden W. Joseph

Subject Categories

Contemporary Art | Modern Art and Architecture | Performance Studies | Theory and Criticism


authorship, performance, body art, participation


This dissertation introduces the “accomplice,” a new figure in histories of performance and appropriation art in the United States and Western Europe during the 1970s and '80s that allows us to completely revise the relations of property, agency, and authorship that have been assumed in these fields. The accomplice is defined here as a type of agent who shares in the responsibility of artworks that are often centered on tactics of legal or ethical disobedience while the recognition of her or his authorial position in the artistic production is deliberately obscured, diminished, or overlooked. Focusing on the work of Chris Burden, Hannah Wilke, Martin Kippenberger, and Cindy Sherman, I argue that these artists exploit the ambiguities between clearly delineated roles of artist and viewer by mobilizing a range of significant, but often discounted, auxiliary participants—such as assistants, documenters, romantic partners, and legal representatives—to rethink existing models of the social in favor of a networked yet hierarchical collectivity.

My dissertation focuses on artistic projects in the 1970s and '80s that expand the frameworks of artistic authorship through the use of auxiliary agents to test the limits of a subject’s rights as they were being negotiated in the wider historical context of contemporaneous social, legal, and aesthetic debates during this period—civil, women’s, and gay rights movements, the Vietnam War draft, rights of publicity, privacy, and intellectual property legislation, and aesthetic or critical debates over one’s self, property, and representation. I position the work of Burden, Wilke, Kippenberger, and Sherman as an extension of ideas concerning the increased involvement of audiences and interpretive agency given to performers advanced in the late 1950s and '60s, while also serving as a prehistory to post-89 participatory practices, particularly those that stage antagonistic social relations. At the same time, this dissertation presents a distinct model of “auxiliary participation” in that the accomplices tend to remain within the domain of authority of the nominal artist while are not necessarily hired nor are centrally visible as performers in the work of art, may not have agreed to the full terms of their engagement, and their participation typically does not result from an artist engaging audiences in the creative process but rather producing manipulative situations that explore power differentials.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Friday, September 30, 2022

Graduate Center users:
To read this work, log in to your GC ILL account and place a thesis request.

Non-GC Users:
See the GC’s lending policies to learn more.