City-Site-Syntax: Art and the US Urban System, 1950s-70s


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Art History


During the 1950s through the 1970s, the widespread restructuring of US cities brought on by vast planning and engineering projects emerged alongside new categories of art intent on structurally intervening into urban systems. Cutting across now-established historical divisions such as site-specific art, systems art, and land art, these diverse practices reconceived the era’s urbanist conditions—both the physical reorganization of urban grounds and the systems-based planning language underlying those transformations—as prospective fields for artworks. This dissertation examines the dialectical relationship between art and urbanism during critical decades of transition for both fields, through in-depth studies of works by Isamu Noguchi, Robert Smithson, and Mierle Laderman Ukeles. It proposes that these artworks performed an epistemological inquiry into the era’s urbanist plans as a new “syntax of sites,” and so helped set the terms for an artistic mode specific to the scale and logic of late twentieth-century space.