West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977

Edited by Elissa Auther and Adam Lerner
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011

Excerpted from a book review written for C Magazine 118 (2013):

Editors Elissa Auther (Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Colorado) and Adam Lerner (Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver and chief animator in the Department of Fabrications) offer strategies for understanding “lifestyle as an art form.” Their etymology of the term “counterculture,” as a category imposed through the sociological literature of the period, brings together performative, participatory or durational practices through a common ideological orientation. The search for alternative ways of living finds a common cause in the rejection of the technocratic organization of American society – and specifically government collusion with industries that benefited from nuclear rearmament and the Vietnam War… [Auther and Lerner ague,] countercultural forms do not materialize as modernist art objects, but rather as an expression of a way of life; therefore a distinction between the counterculture and the avant-garde has rendered such practices invisible to art historical scholarship that focuses on discreet objects. Likewise, these ways of life are overlooked by histories of the 1960s that focus on direct action as defined through the politics of the New Left. For historians of civil rights movements, projects of cultural transformation through aesthetic means appear apolitical. The essays collected in West of Centre address this gap in scholarship with a view to providing a geneaology for participatory or collective practices in contemporary art today…

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