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Art Critique Essay History Humanities Nonfiction Theory

Abstract Bodies: Sixties Sculpture in the Expanded Field of Gender

By David J Getsy, 2015

What happens, in other words, when artists such as these refuse to present the human form but demand that their sculptures be seen as related to human bodies and persons? This book begins to answer that question by drawing on the interdisciplinary field of transgender studies. Its methods and priorities inform the questions I ask of Sixties sculpture. I take as axiomatic that the ever-growing literature on the history of transgender experience in the twentieth century demands reconsiderations of larger accounts of the body, of normalcy, of personhood, of representation, and of the human. Accordingly, this book offers the first sustained, book-length use of transgender studies in the field of art history. I show how this perspective enhances clarity about the terms, history, and implications of sculpture’s relationship to definitions of the human, to the figure, and to abstraction in this decade. I have not sought an iconography of transgender in this project, nor is this book about transgender artists or even artists who were in direct dialogue with the emerging popular discourse of transsexuality and gender nonconformity in the 1960s. Rather, I have used the methods and theories of transgender studies to approach anew and in depth a small group of artists in order to show how their anxious, excited, and fearless invocations of the body in relation to abstract and non-referential objects can be understood to produce accounts of gender’s plurality and mutability. In examining these artists and their archives, I pursued fundamental historical and conceptual questions that transgender studies poses: that is, how non-binary genders are articulated and acknowledged, how human morphologies could be valued for their mutability, and how to do justice to successive states of personhood or embodiment.

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