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Critical realism in contemporary art

Oliver, Alexandra (2014) Critical realism in contemporary art. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This study responds to the recent reappearance of realism as a viable, even urgent, critical term in contemporary art. Whereas during the height of postmodern semiotic critique, realism was taboo and documentary could only be deconstructed, today both are surprisingly vital. Nevertheless, recent attempts to recover realism after poststructuralism remain fraught, bound up with older epistemological and metaphysical concepts. This study argues instead for a “critical realism” that is oriented towards problems of ethics, intersubjectivity, and human rights. Rather than conceiving of realism as “fit” or identity between representation and reality, it is treated here as an articulation of difference, otherness and non-identity. This new concept draws on the writings of curator Okwui Enwezor, as well as German critical theory, to analyze the work of three artists: Ian Wallace (b. 1943, Shoreham, UK), Jeff Wall (b. 1949, Vancouver, British Columbia), and Allan Sekula (b. 1951, Erie, Pennsylvania, d. 2013, Los Angeles). Placing their art in a critical-realist framework not only offers an original perspective on three established artists whose practices have long been seen as mutually divergent, but connects their accomplishments to broader themes in modernist historiography, particularly anti-theatricality, commodification and utopian longing.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Oliver, Alexandraalo22@pitt.eduALO22
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairEllenbogen, Joshjme23@pitt.eduJME23
Committee MemberSmith, Terrytes2@pitt.eduTES2
Committee MemberMcCloskey, Barbarabmcc@pitt.eduBMCC
Committee MemberMorgan,
Date: 29 May 2014
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 1 April 2014
Approval Date: 29 May 2014
Submission Date: 6 May 2014
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 207
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, Allan Sekula, critical realism, photography, contemporary art
Date Deposited: 29 May 2014 22:26
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 14:20


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