Documents of Doubt

The Photographic Conditions of Conceptual Art

2020
Author:

Heather Diack

Documents of Doubt

A major reassessment of photography’s pivotal role in 1960s conceptual art

Heather Diack critically reassesses the truth claims surrounding photographs by looking at how conceptual artists creatively undermined them. Studying the unique relationship between photography and conceptual art practices in the U.S. during the social and political instability of the late 1960s, Diack offers vital new perspectives on our “post-truth” world and the importance of suspending easy conclusions in contemporary art.

Pushing against the long-ingrained ‘dematerialization’ thesis, Heather Diack's Documents of Doubt forces readers to engage with conceptual art in all of its material and political specificity. She brilliantly situates Bochner, Nauman, Huebler, and Baldessari at an intersection where art, the politics of protest, and mass media photography overlap. Her patient and lively readings of what initially seem to be affectless artworks reveal deep social and artistic concerns hiding in plain sight. Diack’s rigorous and open-eyed brand of art history is a welcome and necessary addition to the scholarship on conceptual art.

John J. Curley, author of A Conspiracy of Images: Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and the Art of the Cold War

Why do we continue to look to photographs for evidence despite our awareness of photography’s potential for duplicity? Documents of Doubt critically reassesses the truth claims surrounding photographs by looking at how conceptual artists creatively undermined them. Studying the unique relationship between photography and conceptual art practices in the United States during the social and political instability of the late 1960s, Heather Diack offers vital new perspectives on our “post-truth” world and the importance of suspending easy conclusions in contemporary art.

Considering the work of four leading conceptual artists of the 1960s and ’70s, Diack looks at photographs as documents of doubt, pushing the form beyond commonly assumed limits. Through in-depth and thorough reevaluations of early work by noted artists Mel Bochner, Bruce Nauman, Douglas Huebler, and John Baldessari, Diack advances the powerful thesis that photography provided a means of moving away from the object and toward performative effects, playing a crucial role in the development of conceptual art as a medium of doubt and contingency.

Discussing how unexpected and contradictory meanings can exist in the guise of ordinary pictures, Documents of Doubt offers evocative and original ideas on truth’s connection to photography in the United States during the late 1960s and how conceptual art from that period anticipated our current era of “alternative facts” in contemporary politics and culture.
Documents of Doubt

Heather Diack is assistant professor of contemporary art history at the University of Miami.

Documents of Doubt

Pushing against the long-ingrained ‘dematerialization’ thesis, Heather Diack's Documents of Doubt forces readers to engage with conceptual art in all of its material and political specificity. She brilliantly situates Bochner, Nauman, Huebler, and Baldessari at an intersection where art, the politics of protest, and mass media photography overlap. Her patient and lively readings of what initially seem to be affectless artworks reveal deep social and artistic concerns hiding in plain sight. Diack’s rigorous and open-eyed brand of art history is a welcome and necessary addition to the scholarship on conceptual art.

John J. Curley, author of A Conspiracy of Images: Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, and the Art of the Cold War

Documents of Doubt

Contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Burning with Contingency

1. Material Witness: Mel Bochner Takes Photographic Measures

2. Pressing the Point: Bruce Nauman Performs with and against the Frame

3. Everyone Who Is Anyone: Douglas Huebler and the Social Capacity of Photography

4. This is Not to Be Looked At: John Baldessari and Photography’s Insistent Visuality

Epilogue: Credibility Gap

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index