Documents of Doubt: Heather Diack in conversation with artist Mel Bochner
ICA Miami welcomes art history scholar Heather Diack, author of Documents of Doubt: The Photographic Conditions of Conceptual Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2020), and artist Mel Bochner, who was profiled in the publication, for a conversation moderated by Gean Moreno, Director of the Knight Foundation Art + Research Center.
Documents of Doubt: The Photographic Conditions of Conceptual Art is an award-winning study of the unique relationship between photography and conceptual art practices in the United States during the late 1960s. In addition to situating the projects of individual artists within the broader history of the medium of photography, as well as the political, social, and aesthetic debates of the period, Documents of Doubt contends with the expectations of truthfulness that have been long invested in the photograph, looking specifically at the work of Mel Bochner, Bruce Nauman, Douglas Huebler, and John Baldessari during the Vietnam War era. Working against photography’s documentary or evidentiary value, the book argues for the ways conceptual artists irreverently explored the possibilities of photographs as documents of doubt, marking the inherent contingencies of the medium itself and thereby expanding the parameters of photographic thinking within the emergent field of contemporary art.
About Heather Diack
Heather Diack is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Miami where she teaches modern and contemporary art, critical theory, visual culture, and the history of photography. Within these fields, Diack specializes in the history and theory of conceptual art, global contemporary art practices, and American studies with an emphasis on art from the late 1960s to the present. Diack’s research approaches art history through an interdisciplinary lens, grappling with significant shifts in twentieth- and twenty-first-century art while drawing connections to relevant cultural and socio-political contexts.
Diack received her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto and is a graduate of the art history program of McGill University. Her scholarship has been recognized and supported by numerous fellowships, grants, and awards, including a Helena Rubenstein Fellowship from the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art (2006-2007), a Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory at the University of British Columbia (2010-2012), and the inaugural Nadir Mohamed Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto (2015-2016). In 2016 Diack was appointed the Terra Foundation for American Art Visiting Professor at the John F. Kennedy Institute for North American Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin.
Diack has also been the recipient of a Faculty Grant from the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD)/ Goethe Institute in Berlin (2013), and a Faculty Research Fellowship at the CUNY Graduate Center, New York, funded by the NEH (2014); as well as Faculty Research Fellowship at the Center for the Humanities, University of Miami (2014-2015) Provost’s Research Awards from the University of Miami (2017-2018; 2018-2019), and a University of Miami Fellowship in Arts and Humanities (2019-2020). She was named an Ansel Adams Research Fellow at the Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona (2018- 2019) and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Henry Moore Institute for the Study of Sculpture, Leeds, England (2019).
About Mel Bochner
Mel Bochner (b. 1940, Pittsburgh, PA) is recognized as one of the leading figures in the development of Conceptual art in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. Emerging at a time when painting was increasingly discussed as outmoded, Bochner became part of a new generation of artists which also included Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, and Robert Smithson—artists who, like Bochner, were looking at ways of breaking with Abstract Expressionism and traditional compositional devices. His pioneering introduction of the use of language in the visual, led Harvard University art historian Benjamin Buchloh to describe his 1966 Working Drawings as ‘probably the first truly conceptual exhibition.’ That same year Bochner began making photo works, including his important 36 Photographs and 12 Diagrams, which was exhibited at Dwan Gallery, New York, in 1967. In 1969 the artist created his now-famous Measurement Room at Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich, Germany.
Bochner’s conceptual and material experiments with photography in the late 1960s, a moment of radical change both in society at large as well as in art, broke new ground for the medium in ways that continue to influence contemporary art practice. Bochner’s relentless probing of the conventions of art and the construction of meaning in relation to photography, painting, language, and space calls attention to the unspoken codes that underpin our engagement with the world.
As both an artist and critic, Bochner has served as an interpreter and interlocutor for many other artists of his generation. His early writings, including Art in Process—Structures (Arts Magazine, 1966), Serial Art Systems: Solipsism (Arts Magazine, 1967), and The Serial Attitude (Artforum, 1967), all attempted to elucidate some of the fundamental ideas at work in minimalism and early conceptualism. Major exhibitions of Bochner’s work include Mel Bochner: Thought Made Visible 1966–1973 at the Yale University Art Gallery in 1995; Mel Bochner: Photographs 1966–1969 at the Harvard University Art Museums in 2002; Mel Bochner: Language 1966–2006 at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006; and Mel Bochner: Strong Language at the Jewish Museum in 2014.