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Alison Denner

Hybridization: Vulgarizing the Modernist Canvas

          Abstraction in the 1940s and ’50s in the United States obsessed over the differentiation of art forms. Merging sculptural and painterly elements was a hallmark for the early 20th century avant-garde until the High Modernist agenda overthrew this concept. Clement Greenberg, High Modernism’s greatest champion, confronted this problem of mixing media by explicitly attacking late Cubist collage. Collage technique inherently was problematic because the enhanced pictorial content of space and depth reasserted the decorativeness of a piece. In essence, the “cross-breeding” of artistic formats vulgarized the purity of each medium. What developed in the wake of these aesthetic claims and in post-war tumult and disillusion was a return to an artistic amalgamation and combinatory experimentation.

Three paradigmatic examples of this transition are Jasper Johns’s Fool’s House (1962), Joe Goode’s Milk Bottle Painting (Two-Part Blue) (1961-2), and Robert Rauschenberg’s Gift for Apollo (1959). My thesis will examine such hybridization, which was never an issue until the mid-1950s and early 1960s when artists employed collage techniques to contest the tenants of High Modernist abstraction, thereby reinvigorating the tension between painting and the three-dimensional object.

CE Vol. 4 “The Pasted-Paper Revolution,” (1958)


           Alison Denner earned her BA in Art History from Vanderbilt University. She currently teaches the Ancient to Early Modern Art and Architecture survey at SAIC and will continue a career in academia upon graduation.


Thesis Advisor: Lisa Wainwright, Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Dean of Graduate Studies

Thesis Reader: Michael Newman, Associate Professor; Art History, Theory, and Criticism

Second Reader: Robert Loescher, Professor and Goldabelle Macomb Finn Distinguished Chair in Art History, Theory, and Criticism; Director, BFA with Emphasis in Art History, Theory, and Criticism


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