Kuitenbrouwer, Carel. “The New Sobriety.” Eye: The International Review of Graphic Design 5, no. 17 (June 1995), 52–61.
Citation / Annotation:
Newman, Michael. “After Conceptual Art: Joe Scanlan’s Nesting Bookcases, Duchamp, Design and the Impossibility of Disappearing,” in Rewriting Conceptual Art, edited by Michael Newman and Jon Bird, 206–21. London: Reaction, 1999.
In an essay centred on the artist Joe Scanlan’s Nesting Bookcases (1989–95), sculptures that take the form of generic wooden stacking bookcases and which often serve the same function, Michael Newman examines modes of art and design production that, following from the Conceptual art of the 1960s and 1970s, attempt to disappear “either into function . . . or into vernacular (an object that disappears into type)” (207). Of course these works do appear, and for Newman what “defines post-Conceptual art . . . is the alignment of the desire to disappear with the acknowledgement of the impossibility of disappearing” (206). In contemporary art and design, this is crystalized in the intentionally generic form: “For an object to become generic means it has to have achieved a peculiar form of visibility: a visibility that, to be more precise, involves a degree of invisibility” (211).
An important component of the text is Newman’s discussion of how such invisible (often because generic) works are made visible through the machinations of documentation, for example in magazines and exhibition catalogues. He traces this operation back to Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), in which the generic object, a mass-produced plumbing fixture, is suppressed at the exhibition and then made visible by being disseminated through writing and photography as printed matter in the publication The Blind Man: “This whole process can be seen as a systematic testing of the conditions for the appearance of a work of art” (215).