Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Art History


Anna Chave

Committee Members

Claire Bishop

David Joselit

Julia Bryan-Wilson

Alexandra Schwartz

Subject Categories

American Art and Architecture | American Film Studies | American Popular Culture | Contemporary Art | Modern Art and Architecture | Theory and Criticism


Humor, Identity, Pseudonyms, California, West Coast, Minimalism


This dissertation interrogates the intersection of artistic identity, humor, and Hollywood in the late twentieth century. I examine how humor, irony, and satirical self-authoring and self-representation influenced artistic development in postwar Southern California in particular, and the United States more broadly. Previous literature has primarily interpreted the artworks in question in relation to the development of urban space, technological advancements, and the shifting cultural economy of the period. I analyze instead the complex strategies operating both in tandem with and in opposition to West Coast clichés, and highlight the crossover between the art world and the Hollywood film industry. Using author-conducted interviews, archival evidence, and firsthand observation of artworks, I discuss how artists ranging from Billy Al Bengston and Ed Ruscha to Larry Bell and Judy Chicago rethought the place of humor and artistic identity in relation to their artwork; tapping the role-playing strategies of the neighboring film industry, these artists presented themselves and their work alongside a range of satirical aliases and altered egos. Rather than asserting their art world and political views through theoretical writings (as did, e.g. Donald Judd and Robert Morris), these artists used a dialect of Southern California—that of character construction—to assert an altered form of authorship and to critique the social, political, and art world orders informing the era. My project showcases the diverse ways in which artists devised strategies to both conform to and undermine the hierarchy of the art world while simultaneously and slyly addressing the socio-political state in the midst of both the Cold War and the Vietnam War.

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