Author

Whitney Hart

Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Contemporary Art

First Advisor

Morgan Falconer

Second Advisor

Agnes Berecz

Abstract

This thesis thematically examines fifty-one works on paper created by Walter De Maria from 1959 to 1962, which were found in his studio following his death and acquired by The Menil Collection in Houston, Texas in 2018. These works are significant because they reveal, in the artist’s own words for the first time, his deepest artistic objectives. De Maria declined to provide personal opinions about or frameworks for understanding his work during his lifetime, which has resulted in speculation by art historians, scholars, and curators about his motivations
for artistic production. But The Menil’s collection of De Maria works on paper have changed this scholarly limitation. Chapter one summarizes De Maria’s biography and relevant influences prior to 1962, with a specific focus on these four incredibly important years in his psychological evolution as an artist: 1959 marked the final year of his MA program at The University of California, Berkeley, 1960 the year of his move from California to New York, and 196-21 his first two years living in New York. Chapter two analyzes thirty-four works on paper executed between 1959 and 1961 that elucidate the evolution of his artistic objectives, including his ideological exploration of how panting could flex and expand to meet his needs that led to his
rejection of painting, art historical education, and supporting institutions. It also includes insights into his fraught relationship with technology and concludes with an analysis of his earliest Conceptual works on paper. Chapter three examines seventeen additional works on paper and ten sculptures completed between 1960 and 1962, which build upon chapter two to generate new readings of his contributions to An Anthology ̧ with particular focus on Meaningless Work and
On The Importance of Natural Disasters. This analysis will evidence an artist processing a complex fabric of interweaving influences and deploying a variety of tangible artistic materials in the pursuit of the “right” or “best” medium to convey his message with the higher purpose of manipulating the most ephemeral and intangible material of all: time.

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