2021 Brian T. Leahy

Brian T. Leahy

Northwestern University
2020-2021

The Dedalus Foundation Dissertation Fellowship for 2021-2022 has been awarded to Brian T. Leahy, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern University, for his dissertation For Immediate Release: Contemporary Art and Exhibition Media in the United States. The award carries a stipend of $25,000.

Mr. Leahy’s dissertation investigates the effects of printed exhibition media on art in the United States between the late 1960s and the early 1980s. Arguing for the aesthetic and strategic import of para-artistic supplements—including announcements, visual documentation, and explanatory texts—his project traces the proliferation of these media in the US commercial gallery system before, alongside, and after Conceptualism. His research examines interactions between physical artworks and discursive systems, with particular interest in histories of criticism, the role of artists in constructing their own historiographic reception, and the relationships between artists and their publics.

Mr. Leahy’s project draws together art objects and archival documents from institutions across the United States to chart an expanded history of aesthetic strategies between the late 1960s and early 1980s. By considering the effects of the evolving professional expectations of the commercial art system on artistic form during those years, his dissertation recovers tactics of distribution and preservation for artists and historians working today.

Artists, critics, and dealers during the period under study both constructed and confronted an increasingly dense thicket of interpretive materials that framed audience encounters with artworks. As professional demands to produce printed evidence of artistic activity intensified, artists faced novel problems and possibilities, navigating the ways their work was narrated in press releases, criticism, and journals. Artists working across media, including in collage, painting, printmaking, photography, and new technologies, actively considered these challenges and took up supplementary exhibition materials in creative ways. One chapter of Mr. Leahy’s dissertation, for example, considers how Ray Johnson distributed announcements for nonexistent exhibitions to writers and dealers while simultaneously using printed exhibition mailers from his commercial gallery shows as substrates for his correspondence art. Other chapters address artists who intervened in press coverage of their work; repurposed grant funds as a means to circumvent oppressive legal structures; or used administrative positions to work against the discrimination of commercial galleries by preserving vital documentation of work by marginalized artists.

Brian T. Leahy earned a BA from Davidson College and an MA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where his thesis focused on the durational works of Tehching Hsieh. His scholarship has received support from the Mellon Foundation, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the Freeman Foundation, and his writing has appeared in Artforum, Art in Print, The Art Newspaper, and The Brooklyn Rail.

The Dedalus Foundation Dissertation Fellowship is awarded annually to a Ph.D. candidate at an American university who is working on a dissertation related to modern art and modernism.  

 

Image (background): Ray Johnson, postcard announcement for Betty Parsons exhibition, 1973. Gift of the William S. Wilson Collection of Ray Johnson, Art Institute of Chicago (2018.802.61.3)