The Disappearance of Objects New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City Joshua Shannon

Publication date:
24 Mar 2009
Yale University Press
232 pages: 241 x 203mm
141 b-w + 48 color illus.
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In the years around 1960, a rapid process of deindustrialization profoundly changed New York City. At the same time, massive highway construction, urban housing renewal, and the growth of the financial sector altered the city’s landscape. As the new economy took shape, manufacturing lofts, piers, and small shops were replaced by sleek high-rise housing blocks and office towers.


Focusing on works by Claes Oldenburg, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Donald Judd, art historian Joshua Shannon shows how New York art engaged with this transformation of the city. Shannon convincingly argues that these four artists---all living amid the changes---filled their art with old street signs, outmoded flashlights, and other discarded objects in a richly revealing effort to understand the economic and architectural transformation of their city.

Joshua Shannon is Associate Professor in Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland and is a specialist in the history and theory of art since 1945. His areas of research and teaching interest include art and the city, landscape art, photography, conceptual art, and modern and contemporary realism.

"The Disappearance of Objects is an important, forceful book… The brilliant turn in this volume is Shannon’s intertwining of the social and the artistic—how at this time, 'the formalist dialectics of modernism were in fact a means of thinking about a changing world.'" -John J. Curley,

"Shannon… offers a unique and fascinating analysis of four titans of post-war art and their relationship to a rapidly changing New York… Shannon’s research is meticulous." -Ian McDermott, Art Libraries Society of North America Reviews

"Shannon invests his analysis with a remarkable attention to detail, employing a compelling collection of visual and archival evidence to explain why the art of the 1960s looked the way it did, and more notably, what it meant… The Disappearance of Objects… proposes a promising course for future accounts of postwar artistic practice." -Robert Slifkin, Oxford Art Journal

"Lucidly written [and] meticulous… Shannon's study is structured on close readings of individual objects couched in a detailed inquiry into their social and physical surroundings… With an approach that is by turns thorough and expansive, Shannon makes us see the material presence of objects and their connections to a complex and unstable social world. He thus structures a pivotal chapter in a longer story of modernism. While the book's impact for histories of contemporary art is hard to miss… its significance for studies of modernism is equally resonant." -Sarah Hamill, Art History

"Shannon lucidly makes a case for viewing ‘junk art’ as it has often been called, as the material product of living directly in the path of a dematerializing juggernaut… [and he] makes a strong case for the period around 1960 as a luminal moment… [The book is] clearly and persuasively written… a pleasure to read and learn from." -William Chapman Sharpe, Modernism/Modernity

"[A] thoughtful contextualist history… Shannon’s grasp of urban planning minutiae is impressive, and he is an incisive storyteller." -Frances Richard, The Sixties: A Journal of History, Politics and Culture

"Shannon… manages to surprise us into remembering that these people were grappling with their environment and working to understand the modern urban landscape.: -Nadine Dalton, Library Journal

"Shannon deftly analyzes the complex means by which four artists engaged the changing urban infrastructure of New York and succeeds in rewriting the history of the 1960s in original ways. It is a very strong, insightful, and well-written book." -Cécile Whiting, University of California

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