James Nisbet

"Los Angeles and Other Abstract Environments: The Instance of Robert Barry’s Inert Gas Series"

Friday, December 15 // 18.15h // JGU Fakultätssaal Philosophicum


In March 1969, the American artist Robert Barry released five inert gases into the atmosphere at various locations around Southern California: the Mojave Desert, the Tehachapi Mountains, Beverly Hills, the Santa Monica beach, and a private swimming pool. These works and their photographic record have often been called upon as exemplars of a certain model of conceptual art defined by dematerialization and a fantasy of pure ideation. By examining these works in light of Barry’s broader artistic practice and the specific environments in which he worked in greater Los Angeles, this paper will argue for a distinctly material model of mediation present in the Inert Gas releases and photographs.

James Nisbet is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Director of the Ph.D. Program in Visual Studies at the University of California, Irvine. He works on modern and contemporary art, with special interests in environmental history and the history of photography. Nisbet’s writing has appeared in journals including The Art Bulletin, American Art, Grey Room, Photography & Culture, Art Journal, Modernism/modernity, and Artforum, in addition to edited volumes and catalogues. His book Ecologies, Environments, and Energy Systems in Art of the 1960s and 1970s was published by MIT Press in 2014.