In the late sixties when Conceptual art rumored the death of sculpture and painting, I was a graduate student in sculpture at Hunter College in New York City preparing to write my master of arts thesis. Four years earlier, I had graduated from Bennington College in Vermont, where I had been immersed in formalist thought with the artists Lyman Kipp, Tony Smith, Anthony Caro, and David Smith, as well as the critics Hilton Kramer and Clement Greenberg. My own sculptural concerns were largely shaped by my interest in abstract mathematics, focusing on a defined or limited interior space rather than on monolithic objects. Although my work could be viewed as falling within the tenets of formalism, I was not invested in its basic philosophical principles.
Once in New York City, I was drawn to Conceptual art because of its intellectual rigor. But I was disturbed that many of the major Conceptual artists insisted on the elimination of the physical art object. I also saw problems in the presentation and subsequent interpretation of this new work. I decided to investigate it to discover how it related to its formalist art predecessor and to my own artwork. To this end, I proposed a process piece consisting of oral histories documenting artists' ideas and approaches to art, which became my thesis project. Robert Morris, my graduate advisor, helped compile a list of possible artists, including Carl