Today, we think of artists as deeply experimental creators, busy crafting new aesthetic languages to express what lies at the edges of our cultural domains. But in the history of art, this kind of expressive freedom is relatively new; it was conquered as artists strove to make sense of the tumultuous cultural changes triggered by the industrial revolution, the invention of photography and film, and the unprecedented atrocities of two, almost consecutive, world wars. During the 1960s and 1970s, as postmodernism brought the Greenbergian fixation with material purity and medium-specificity to an end, artists had the opportunity to rediscover materials and their biopolitical agency. The irreverence of the Gutai Group in Japan, Arte Povera in Italy, and the experimental approaches of artists such as Joseph Beuys, Judy Chicago, Sun Ra, and Carolee Schneemann drastically redefined our conception of art materials and their expressive potential. For the first time, matter was truly allowed to speak, and artists were keen to listen to what it had to say.
This article also appears in the issue 101 - New MaterialismsDiscover