Focusing on the years 1959 to 1969, this dissertation frames the public-private binary as a structuring condition of U.S. artistic practice in the sixties. Over the course of this pivotal decade, American art and artists attained unprecedented degrees of public visibility. At the same time, however, artists of this period also faced numerous cultural constraints that prevented or discouraged certain work from circulating in the public sphere. In particular, in the heady atmosphere of the sixties, visual experiments with sexual imagery attained notable currency even as artistic production in this vein remained controversial and potentially detrimental to one’s artistic career. By tracing the history of various sexually charged artworks by a wide range of American artists, my discussion draws out the ways in which U.S. artistic practice in the sixties frequently straddled public and private spheres, spaces, and levels of discourse. The project centers on three case studies, each of which examine artworks that were private, underground, or otherwise non-public in the moment of their making. In some cases, these materials were maintained as strictly personal artworks that had no audience at all beyond the person who made them; in other cases, they were visible only to select publics or counterpublics. In all cases, these objects were long invisible to art history. In likening these materials to open secrets, I indicate their unresolved relationship to art-historical knowledge and their marginal standing in the discipline: they are no longer clandestine or undocumented, but their significance to the history of art remains a matter of uncertainty, unease, and partial intelligibility. ❧ Collectively, the case studies presented here encompass the work of California bohemians Jay DeFeo and Wallace Berman; land artist Robert Smithson; and Warholian superstar Brigid Berlin, known during the sixties as Brigid Polk. Chapter 1, “Concealed Exposures: Jay DeFeo, The Rose, and the Photographic Image,” examines public and private photographic representations of DeFeo and her wall-size painting The Rose, including a series of pictures that DeFeo and Berman made for a private exhibition in 1959 and subsequently concealed. By reading these private photographs against contemporaneous, public images of DeFeo and her work, the chapter demonstrates the ways in which DeFeo used photography to navigate a web of interpretative conventions and constraints, particularly those attached to her involuntary reception as a “woman artist.” Chapter 2, “Marginal Drawings: Robert Smithson, The Cartouche Series, and the Fragmentary Archive,” examines a group of drawings and collages Smithson made between 1963 and 1967 but never exhibited in his lifetime. Focusing on Smithson’s use of physique erotica in these once-private works, the chapter links the cartouche series to Smithson’s archive, to other areas of Smithson’s practice, and to broader matters of sexuality and representation in the sixties. Chapter 3, “Notoriously Underground: Brigid Berlin, The Cock Book, and the New York Art World,” considers a legendary yet little-documented anthology of phallic artwork that circulated in New York beginning in 1968. Spearheaded by Berlin, The Cock Book was both collaborative and underground; it involved a surprising range of prominent artists, yet it remained virtually invisible to the larger culture. This chapter supplies a close analysis of the book in conjunction with an overview of Berlin’s wider artistic practice and her insider-outsider relationship to the New York art world.
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