Post-object art was the term used in New Zealand, Australia and England from the late 1960s to describe art practices that extended sculpture into temporary, multi-part, mixed-media, largely ephemeral situations. Though the expression is still in use, it is best used to describe art works produced between 1969 and approximately 1985.
In New Zealand, key artists were Jim Allen, Billy Apple, Phil Dadson, Bruce Barber, Andrew Drummond and Darcy Lange.
Rather than make discrete objects out of traditional materials (stone, wood, clay, and so forth), installation artists assembled all manner of natural and manufactured objects, still and moving images, texts, sounds, movement, light and actual bodies. They staged these according to the specific character of the location. The resulting installations were designed to engage audiences both intellectually and through direct experience.
What post-object art is not
Post-object art is not a ‘style’ with specific formal or material attributes. By favouring ideas over objects, it is opposed to craft-based practices that are judged by aesthetic standards.
Making art meaningful
Influenced by the legacy of 20th-century French artist Marcel Duchamp, artists drew on philosophy, linguistics, cybernetics, the social sciences and political theory. The aim was to make art meaningful by using it to expand consciousness, critique society and better understand the nature of being. Shaped by the era’s counter-culture rebellion, post-object art can be linked more broadly to a crisis of confidence in art’s relevance and concern for its fate in a consumer society.
The post-object art network
In post-object art, local, visiting and expatriate artists were treated as equals in a dispersed network. This network was connected by technologies that enabled art to be shared easily, such as short-wave radio, print media, photography, film and video. At its most dematerialised, all that was needed to make an exhibition was the artist’s presence and a space to work with. After an exhibition all that survived were photographs that could easily be copied and disseminated.
National versus global
Post-object art did not fit the models of nationalist critics of the time, who favoured landscape and hard-edged realist painting as the definitive artistic achievement. In contrast, post-object art was international in its interests and reach. It was aligned with movements such as conceptual art, process art, land art, arte povera (an Italian modern art movement) and performance art, as they unfolded in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and Europe.