The synthetic proposition

Conceptualism and the political referent in contemporary art

By Nizan Shaked

The synthetic proposition

Book Information

  • Format: eBook
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-1942-1
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Published Date: June 2017
  • BIC Category: History of art, Conceptualism, 20th century, c 1900 to c 1999, ART / History / Contemporary (1945-), ART / Conceptual, Contemporary Art, Art History, History, The arts / Theory of art, Society & social sciences / Politics & government, Art & Design Styles: Conceptual Art, Politics & government, POLITICAL SCIENCE / General, ART / Criticism & Theory, ART / History / Modern (late 19th Century to 1945), The arts / History of art & design styles: from c 1900 -
  • Series: Rethinking Art's Histories


The synthetic proposition examines the impact of Civil Rights, Black Power, the student, feminist and sexual-liberty movements on conceptualism and its legacies in the United States between the late 1960s and the 1990s. It focuses on the turn to political reference in practices originally concerned with abstract ideas, as articulated by Joseph Kosuth, and traces key strategies in contemporary art to the reciprocal influences of conceptualism and identity politics: movements that have so far been historicised as mutually exclusive.

The book demonstrates that while identity-based strategies were particular, their impact spread far beyond the individuals or communities that originated them. It offers a study of Adrian Piper, David Hammons, Renée Green, Mary Kelly, Martha Rosler, Silvia Kolbowski, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Lorna Simpson, Hans Haacke, Andrea Fraser and Charles Gaines. By turning to social issues, these artists analysed the conventions of language, photography, moving image, installation and display.


'Nizan Shaked's approach to Conceptual art is original, eloquent and informed by a quality of thought and scholarship that will set a new standard of excellence for work on this subject. Her grasp of the field is both capacious in its breadth and erudite in its depth and attention to artistic and historical detail. It is full of original insights - all delivered to the reader in unusually graceful prose. This book promises to be a ground-breaker.'
Adrian Piper

'The premise of The Synthetic Proposition takes some of its cues from Joseph Kosuth's ideas on art and philosophy. This coupled with an historical lens focusing specifically on marginalized groups such as the Black Panthers and the Gay Rights Movement beginning during the American Civil Rights era to help support the parallel trajectory of art during this period. A large component of Shaked's proposition is if Conceptual Art is a 1960s entity, then conceptualism is the natural offspring resulting from identity politics and early forms of feminist intersectionality paired with artistic practice. Shaked carefully lays out the distinctions and argues for another way of historicizing late 1960s to 1990s art practices, besides the more common dichotomy of those practicing art for art's sake and so-called political art.'
Jasper Lastoria, ARLIS/NA (January 2018)



Winner of the 31st annual Charles C. Eldredge Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in American Art (2019)


1 Conceptual Art and identity politics: from the 1960s to the 1990s
2 Adrian Piper: the body after conceptualism
3 The synthetic proposition: conceptualism as political art
4 The political referent in debate: identity, difference, representation
5 Institutional gender: from Hans Haacke's Systems Theory to Andrea Fraser's feminist economies
A state of passionate detachment: Charles Gaines by way of conclusion


Nizan Shaked is Associate Professor of Contemporary Art History, Museum and Curatorial Studies at California State University, Long Beach

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