Joshua Shannon


On his book The Disappearance of Objects: New York Art and the Rise of the Postmodern City

Cover Interview of April 04, 2010

The wide angle

I came to this topic as an art historian, trying to make sense of some art I really liked but couldn’t understand or explain.  As I looked at the art more and more, and as I began sorting through archives, I discovered that these sculptures and paintings and installations had deep relationships to a chaotic time in a very chaotic city.

Johns and Rauschenberg were literally moving from loft to abandoned industrial loft as their homes were demolished to make way for new skyscrapers.  Oldenburg installed a work called The Street just around the corner from a massively contentious effort (which eventually failed) to plow an expressway through Washington Square Park.  I became fascinated with the urban history, and found its unfolding evidence in the Village Voice and in old fire-insurance maps.  Eventually the project turned into a book as interested in New York as it is in understanding the art.

Soon the art made more sense to me (or I felt more comprehending of its nonsense), and I drew connections between the obstructions in the art and all the new blockages and clearings in the city.  If the book straddles the realms of art history and urban history, though, I also mean it to be an entry in the theorization of contemporary experience.  I want the book to contribute to our understanding of how our daily lives are constantly reshaped by the history of capitalism.

I think most of my readers so far have been people interested in postwar art.  But the book is written for anyone interested in the cultural history of the last several decades, and for anyone who just loves the history of New York.