Elissa Auther
Public Programs
String, Felt, Thread and the Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art (University of Minnesota Press, 2009).

String, Felt, Thread presents an unconventional history of the American art world, chronicling the advance of thread, rope, string, felt, and fabric from the “low” world of craft to the “high” world of art in the 1960s and 1970s and its open embrace by artists working today. Drawn to the aesthetic possibilities, structural potential, and semiotic power of these materials, an extraordinary number of artists, including Eva Hesse, Robert Morris, Claire Zeisler, Judy Chicago, and Miriam Schapiro, experimented with or adopted fiber in the 1960s and 1970s. Such work demonstrated a profound shift in artists’ interest in and approach to fiber, which previously had been dismissed for its historical associations to “the decorative,” “non-art,” “craft,” or “women’s work.” In analyzing the historical and theoretical foundations of this shift, this study illuminates not only the centrality of fiber to artistic practice in the 1960s and 1970s—a phenomenon largely overlooked in histories of the period—but also a set of questions posed by the use of this non-traditional medium regarding the definition of art and its hierarchical relation to craft. What accounts for the distinction between art and craft? Why is it so pervasive, if largely unacknowledged, in the art world? What does it mean to elevate the status of a material? Who assigns this differential status? And who polices it? String, Felt, Thread uncovers the social dynamics—including the roles of race and gender—that determine how art has historically been defined and valued.


West of Center: Art and the Counterculture Experiment in America, 1965-1977 (University of Minnesota Press, 2012). Co-edited with Adam Lerner.

West of Center is an edited collection of scholarly essays about the unique, interdisciplinary projects of countercultural artists working on the West coast, the Rocky Mountain West, and the Southwest in the post war period. The artists brought together in this study engaged in countercultural artistic practices, creating art that they saw as individually or socially transformative intended to generate new life patterns that pointed toward social or political revolution. Examples of such work include, among others, visionary architect Paolo Soleri’s hand-cast “earth homes” at Cosanti in Arizona, the hand-built architecture of the communities Drop City and Libre in Colorado, the political posters of Yolanda M. López for the Chicano community newspaper Basta Ya, the multi-sensory movement workshops of Anna Halprin in the San Francisco Bay area, the creation of immersive light shows in cities through the Western U.S., and the gender queer theater of the Cockettes. Although these works differ in form and media, they share the objective of re-creating modern lifestyle and re-forging subjective experience. In so doing, the artists highlighted in West of Center strove to move beyond the modernist definition of art of the time that prioritized pure, transcendent, and essentially visually oriented aesthetic pleasure toward a practice of representing or enacting alternative social, political, and ecological systems through collaborative interaction or encounters.

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west of center book cover

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anna halprin performance