MA History of Art

The Sixties: Eccentric, Erotic, Psychotic

Professor Jo Applin

During the 1960s various eccentric, erotic, ‘psychotic’, and ‘polymorphously perverse’ art works emerged in the New York art world. These unruly, often abstract, practices engaged a politics of Eros, and fluid notions of sexuality and subjectivity, through diverse formal, theoretical and political means. Artists we may look at include Judith Bernstein, Hannah Wilke, Louise Bourgeois, Lee Bontecou, Rosalind Drexler, Howardena Pindell, May Wilson, Eva Hesse, Yayoi Kusama, Lee Lozano, Marisol, Claes Oldenburg, Yoko Ono, Lucas Samaras, Carolee Schneemann, Faith Ringgold, Noah Purifoy, Joan Semmel, Melvin Edwards, Paul Thek, Andy Warhol, and others. Using the terms ‘eccentric’, ‘erotic’ and the ‘psychotic’ as our guiding themes we will explore exhibitions, materials, art writing and criticism that challenged prevailing norms of what the work of art can or should be, and the new kinds of subjectivity these works in turn both produced, challenged and refused. The ‘sixties’ is understood both as a broadly porous chronological framework, and as a mythic ‘idea’ that continues to carry intellectual, political, and artistic importance today as is seen in much contemporary art. 

We will read texts drawn from the fields of art history and art criticism, feminism, political science, psychoanalysis, critical race theory, literature, and queer theory to make better sense of the upheavals both the work of art and the world at large underwent in this period. Our thinking will be guided by themes regarding the body, technology, and failure, freedom and feminism, and the politics and aesthetics of breakdown, sexuality, and violence. Visits to galleries and current exhibitions will form an important part of our learning and thinking together. The course will be taught by a combination of thematic seminars, focused case studies and site visits. 

Alongside writing by artists and art historians we will read work by other writers, critics, and theorists that may include Hannah Arendt, Norman O. Brown, Shulamith Firestone, Jack Halberstam, Jill Johnston, Kate Millet, Melanie Klein, R.D. Laing, Doris Lessing, Jacqueline Rose, Valerie Solanas, and Susan Sontag. 

Course Leader: Professor Jo Applin

In the event that a course leader is on sabbatical, takes up a fellowship, or otherwise is not able to teach the course, they will be replaced by another experienced course leader either for a semester or, in some cases, the academic year.

Special Options 2023/24

Please note: Special Options vary from year to year and are subject to demand. The Courtauld reserves the right to amend or withdraw the options if necessary, and will always directly inform applicants of any changes.