The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism

The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism

The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism

The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism to Postmodernism


The lone artist is a worn cliche of art history but one that still defines how we think about the production of art. Since the 1960s, however, a number of artists have challenged this image by embarking on long-term collaborations that dramatically altered the terms of artistic identity. In The Third Hand, Charles Green offers a sustained critical examination of collaboration in international contemporary art, tracing its origins from the evolution of conceptual art in the 1960s into such stylistic labels as Earth Art, Systems Art, Body Art, and Performance Art. During this critical period, artists around the world began testing the limits of what art could be, how it might be produced, and who the artist is. Collaboration emerged as a prime way to reframe these questions.

Green looks at three distinct types of collaboration: the highly bureaucratic identities created by Joseph Kosuth, Ian Burn, Mel Ramsden, and other members of Art & Language in the late 1960s; the close-knit relationships based on marriage or lifetime partnership as practiced by the Boyle Family, Anne and Patrick Poirier, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison; and couples -- like Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Gilbert & George, or Marina Abramovic and Ulay -- who developed third identities, effacing the individual artists almost entirely. These collaborations, Green contends, resulted in new and, at times, extreme authorial models that continue to inform current thinking about artistic identity and to illuminate the origins of postmodern art, suggesting, in the process, a new genealogy for art in the twenty-first century.


Nothing, I think, is more interesting, more poignant, and more difficult to seize than the inter
section of the self and history.—Linda Nochlin, describing the first “Women and Art” seminars at
Vassar in 1969

Collaboration as Symptom

Artists appear in their art, voluntarily placing themselves center stage in self-portraits but also at the margins of all their other works, constructing themselves through brush marks, in signature style, by individual preferences, and through repeated motifs—in short, from the intersection of subjectivity with medium. As a basic tenet of connoisseurship, this seems obvious, but there are degrees of self-conscious intention that complicate this process, especially during the latter half of the twentieth century, for many artists have thought carefully about the way they code themselves into their art, manipulating the way they appear. This is not to suggest that artists are narcissistic, or that they are necessarily even interested in the politics of identity; rather, artists have always conceded and exploited the inevitability of implicit self-representation. Artists are thieves in the attic: They far from innocently try out different, sometimes almost forgotten identities in the chaotically organized attic of history, rummaging in dusty, dark rooms where variations of authorial identity are stored away from view. This runs counter to the conventional idea of the lonely artist passively waiting for inspiration's light bulb to be turned on. Such a clichéd figure is deeply embedded in media representations of artists, in market valuations based on authenticity and originality, and in so much public discourse that it is generally perceived as “normal.” if . . .

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