Date of Award


First Advisor

Joan DelPlato

Second Advisor

Asma Abbas


This thesis is a historical and theoretical exploration of American conceptual artist Charles Gaines (b.1944). Animated by the recent spike of interest in his work by the art world, it seeks to discover what is at stake in this moment. I treat Gaines as sort of event that provides an opportunity to think materially and philosophically about the ways in which contemporary art discourses are structured by Blackness. The project is divided into two parts—the first addresses the ways in which Gaines has been received by arts institutions, and focuses on the shortcomings of the extant criticism, highlighting the structural limitations of the current approaches, marked as they are by an inability to think “Blackness” as a critically useful term beyond its sociological and cultural implications. The second section engages Gaines’ creative and art-critical career. It focuses on the early grid-based pieces (1974-1989); examines Gaines’ interventions into the discourse of the artist; traces various strategies of political and aesthetic refusal across his artistic, curatorial, and critical practices; and, finally, reflects upon Gaines’ philosophical writings on metaphor and metonymy. It finds these philosophical concepts operative throughout Gaines’ oeuvre and extends the argument of their importance for art-critical thought. I have attempted to defamiliarize our ways of speaking about blackness, aesthetic politics, and concept(ualism) in order to re-route their critical implications, to make them speak to questions other than those of historical intervention and historiographical critique. This project calls for an aesthetic shifting of the terrain of what is do-able and say-able by whom. Further, it proposes a study of (conceptual) art at the level of Black Study, in their inextricable and irreducible relationship to one another, in which neither is terms is given until one answers its calls and pays it due

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