by Nizan Shaked. Manchester University Press, dist. by Oxford University Press, July 2017. 266 p. ill. ISBN 9781784992767 (pbk), $34.95.
Reviewed January 2018
Currently teaching at California State University Long Beach, with a bevy of qualifications ranging from a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies (emphasis on Museum Studies) to an M.F.A. from Otis College of Art and Design, and a number of other academic qualifications—Nizan Shaked’s first foray into the book publishing world reads as the work of a rigorous scholar anticipating any disputes the reviewer might dig up.
While occasionally slipping into the voice of a doctoral thesis, the premise of The Synthetic Proposition takes some of its cues from Joseph Kosuth’s ideas on art and philosophy. This coupled with an historical lens focusing specifically on marginalized groups such as the Black Panthers and the Gay Rights Movement beginning during the American Civil Rights era to help support the parallel trajectory of art during this period. A large component of Shaked’s proposition is if Conceptual Art is a 1960s entity, then conceptualism is the natural offspring resulting from identity politics and early forms of feminist intersectionality paired with artistic practice. Shaked carefully lays out the distinctions and argues for another way of historicizing late 1960s to 1990s art practices, besides the more common dichotomy of those practicing art for art’s sake and so-called political art.
Readers interested in artists such as Adrian Piper, Hans Haacke, Charles Gaines and Andrea Fraser will likely appreciate the fresh perspective on their art practices. Researchers and scholars looking for new entry points for studying the decades covered will find enlightening connections, and Shaked’s proposal seems especially appealing for contemporary artists during the present zeitgeist. As exciting as Shaked’s proposal is, the book also anticipates more than a passing familiarity with the critical theories being contested (or augmented), as well as the artists featured and would most likely require some co-requisite reading, or prior knowledge on the part of the reader.
The paperback is sturdy with high-quality smooth paper, suitable for the color images within and generous margins. Each chapter acts as a case study to address aspects of Shaked’s argument, containing clear endnotes, and the back of the book has a full bibliography and index.