Date of Degree

6-2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor

David Joselit

Committee Members

Claire Bishop

Julia Sneeringer

Hanna Hölling

Subject Categories

Art and Materials Conservation | Art Practice | Contemporary Art | European History | Historic Preservation and Conservation | Modern Art and Architecture | Museum Studies | Sculpture | Theory and Criticism

Keywords

Minimalism, Conservation of Contemporary Art, West Germany, Exhibition History

Abstract

Fabricated in unlimited series and sold at cost, the sculptures produced by Charlotte Posenenske between 1966 and 1967—modular wall reliefs, interactive cubic structures, and tubular geometric units whose installation requires collective decision making—were meant to confront both the artwork’s commodity status and the limitation of its consumption to a privileged elite. Nevertheless, Posenenske’s work has been effectively recuperated by the art system: first, in the 1980s, through a series of exhibitions and publications organized by her estate; and second, with her inclusion in Documenta 12 in 2007, which reintroduced her work to the market. Since the artist’s death in 1985, her work’s circulation through the art system has increasingly revealed the normally obscured role that economic value plays in curatorial and conservation practices. Inspired by the artist’s own abandonment of art and turn to sociology after 1968, I examine her oeuvre via an expanded concept of value, using this term to refer to the often conflicting aesthetic, cultural, historical, and economic significance that is attached to artworks as they move through cultural and institutional contexts. Borrowing a term from cultural economist David Stark, I propose that Posenenske’s sculptures create value heterarchies—systems in which multiple valuative criteria are in conflict, creating friction between modes of valuation and prompting the recognition of not-yet-formulated value categories. Given Posenenske’s resistance to the commodification of her work during her life, her anticipation of its ongoing reproduction and circulation, and museums’ subsequent assertion of its economic value after her death, this dissertation argues that her art is central to assessing the shifts in value that accompany the collection and preservation of institution-critical sculpture, as well as all objects that circulate within the art system.

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