Edward A. Shanken

American art historian

Edward A. Shanken (born 1964) is an American art historian, whose work focuses on the entwinement of art, science and technology, with a focus on experimental new media art and visual culture

Edward A. Shanken at Art Center College of Design, Media Design Practices


  • Hans Haacke's "Visitor's Profile" encouraged visitors to interact with a computer by inputting personal information, which was then tabulated to output statistical data on the exhibition's audience. Such demographic research - as art - opened up a critical discourse, following Foucault and others, on the exclusivity of cultural institutions and their patrons, revealing the myth of public service as a thin veneer justifying the hierarchical values that reify extant social relations. Similarly, "Interactive Paper Systems" by Sonia Sheridan, engaged museum-goers in a creative exchange with the artist and 3M's first commercially available color photocopying machine, dissolving conventional artist-viewer-object relations. In "The Seventh Investigation (Art as Idea as Idea)" Joseph Kosuth utilized multiple forms of mass media and distribution (a billboard, an newspaper advertisement, a banner, and a museum installation) to question the conceptual and contextual boundaries between art, philosophy, commerce, pictures, and texts.
  • In the late 1950s, experiments such as the cybernetic sculptures of Nicolas Schöffer or the programmatic music compositions of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis transposed systems theory from the sciences to the arts. By the 1960s, artists as diverse as Roy Ascott, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Sonia Sheridan, and Stephen Willats were breaking with accepted aesthetics to embrace open systems that emphasized organism over mechanism, dynamic processes of interaction among elements, and the observer’s role as an inextricable part of the system. Jack Burnham’s 1968 Artforum essay “Systems Aesthetics” and his 1970 “Software” exhibition marked the high point of systems-based art until its resurgence in the changed conditions of the twenty-first century.
    • Edward A. Shanken. Systems, 2015. Overview
  • The copious literature on the work of artist Robert Smithson has made very little of the many parallels between the inventor of earthworks and the nineteenthcentury author of pataphysics, despite the established fact that the artist read and made notes from Alfred Jarry’s Dr. Faustroll (1898) while working on the Spiral Jetty in 1970, which undoubtedly influenced the subsequent Broken Circle &/ Spiral Hill (1971, Emmen). Given the insightful literature reassessing Jarry’s influence on twentieth-century artists including Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Rodney Graham, a consideration of Smithson’s spiral earthworks in connection with Jarry is long overdue. In contrast to prevailing art research practices today, Smithson’s work is much more aligned with the pataphysical pursuit of ‘imaginary solutions’ that examine ‘the laws governing exceptions’ and describe ‘a universe which can be – and perhaps should be – envisaged in place of the traditional one’.
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