Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Art History

First Advisor

Robert Hobbs

Second Advisor

Colin Lang

Third Advisor

Dina Bangdel

Fourth Advisor

Michael Jones McKean

Fifth Advisor

Kathleen Chapman


This study constitutes the first critical history of dematerialization. Coined by critics Lucy Lippard and John Chandler in their 1968 essay, “The Dematerialization of Art,” this term was initially used to describe an emergent “ultra-conceptual” art that would render art objects obsolete by emphasizing the thinking process over material form. Lippard and Chandler believed dematerialization would thwart the commodification of art. Despite Lippard admitting in 1973 that art had not dematerialized into unmediated information or experience, the term has since entered art historians’ lexicons as a standard means to characterize Conceptual Art. While art historians have debated the implications of dematerialization and its actuality, they have yet to examine closely Lippard and Chandler’s foundational essay, which has been anthologized in truncated form. If dematerialization was not intrinsic to Conceptual Art, what was it?

By closely analyzing “The Dematerialization of Art” and Lippard and Chandler’s other overlooked collaborative essays, this dissertation will shed light on the genealogy of dematerialization by contending they were not describing a trend limited to what is now considered Conceptual Art. By investigating the socio-historical connections of dematerialization, this dissertation will advance a more far-reaching view of the ideology of dematerialization, a cultural misrecognition that the world should be propelled toward immateriality that is located at the intersection of particle physics, environmental sustainability, science-fiction, neoliberal politics, and other discourses. This analysis then focuses on three case studies that examine singular works of art over a twenty-year period: Eva Hesse’s Laocoön (1966), James Turrell’s Skyspace I (1974), and Anish Kapoor’s 1000 Names (1979-85). In doing so, this dissertation will accomplish two objectives. First, it looks at how these works materially respond to the ideology of dematerialization and provide a means for charting how this cultural desire unfolds across space and time. Second, this dissertation contends that contrary to Lippard and Chandler’s prognostication, dematerialization—and immateriality—does not correlate to emancipation from capitalization. Rather, it will be shown that dematerialization, its rhetoric, and its strategies can actually be enlisted into the service of the commoditizing forces Lippard and Chandler hoped it would escape.


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Date of Submission


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