Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Charles Simonds and the 1970s
by Feldman, Julia Pelta, Ph.D., New York University, 2020, 332; 27744201
Abstract (Summary)

“Charles Simonds and the 1970s” represents the first extensive study of American artist Charles Simonds (b. 1945), focusing on the decade following his emergence as a mature artist in 1970 and using his work as a lens for examining American art in that decade, a period that has frequently been viewed as a disappointment of the previous decade’s high hopes. In analyzing the artist’s work and establishing its place in art history, I argue that the meaning and significance of Simonds’s practice only emerges through a critical appraisal and reconsideration of narratives that have begun to congeal around 1970s art.

Since 1970, Charles Simonds has produced tiny, unfired clay bricks with which he constructs his Dwellings, the diminutive homes, public spaces, and ruins of the invisible “Little People”, whom he imagines as an itinerant tribe in need of shelter. During the 1970s, he worked mostly outdoors, in city streets – primarily on New York’s Lower East Side, where he created these structures in empty lots and along crumbling brick walls. Fragile and exposed, the outdoor Dwellings rarely lasted more than a few days. “Charles Simonds and the 1970s” situates Simonds’s Dwellings, indoor installations, and sculptures, most of which have been destroyed, within a series of contexts in and around American art of the 1970s. These contexts include the downtown New York scene – in particular performance, Conceptualism, and Land Art – but extend to other moments and milieus in the art, craft, and architecture of the period. Throughout, I argue that the tension between inside and outside – and concomitantly, insider and outsider – that animates Simonds’s work is also central to the art scene of the 1970s, illuminating new aspects of work by his better-known peers. Taking a historiographic approach to examine the period’s self-conception, I explain Simonds’s absence from art histories of the 1970s while simultaneously arguing for his central place within them – and establishing the decade as a distinctive period of experimentation and change in American art.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Crow, Thomas
Commitee: Sullivan, Edward, Slifkin, Robert, Siegel, Katy
School: New York University
Department: Institute of Fine Arts
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 82/1(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Art history
Keywords: 1970s, Clay, Conceptualism, Land art, Performance, Simonds, Charles
Publication Number: 27744201
ISBN: 9798662483248
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