The seventies period in Australia was fundamentally important for the evolution of art history into the contemporary era. It was a period in which attitudes about art-making underwent radical change as a plethora of new forms—like conceptual art, performance art, women’s art, and aboriginal art as a contemporary form—simultaneously emerged. However, the transformational effect of the seventies period has been largely unacknowledged. It has been overlooked in art historiography because it cannot be incorporated in the usual way as part of Australia’s art historical progression. It belongs neither to the period of modernism, which preceded it, nor to postmodernism, which followed it. This thesis contends, therefore, that the seventies period constitutes a gap in the history of Australian art.
The art of the seventies shares many of the characteristics of the art of the contemporary era. As in many places around the world, changes inaugurated around the seventies in Australia marked a reorientation of the nation’s zeitgeist and the end of the modern era. Framed differently, the seventies period can be seen as the progenitor of a transformative change that took the Australian art scene out of the modern and into the contemporary era. Through its conceptualization as a ‘vanishing mediator’ in art history, the seventies period in Australia can be understood as providing a dialectical space that enabled this transformation to take place. The purpose of this thesis is to show that the seventies remains largely absent from accounts of Australian art history, despite the radical reforms that were inaugurated during the period. Further, it will demonstrate the crucial value of the seventies period to the development of art in Australia into the contemporary era. Thus, through a consideration of the ways in which its practices were engendered and subsequently taken up through the postmodern and contemporary eras, the seventies’ role in the mediation of change will be traced. Its main effect, it will be shown, was in the radical democratization of the art-making process that persists into the contemporary era, especially in the way that roles of the art critic, the historian, the curator, and the institution, are now seen as equal to that of the artist.
The structure of this thesis is designed to reflect the equivalence of these elements in art’s realization following the seventies era. After outlining the notion of the concept of the vanishing mediator in Chapter 1, the remaining chapters are each constructed around four case studies—of an artist, a text, an exhibition and an event—to materially demonstrate the equivalence of form that has characterized the art scene since the seventies period. Chapter 2 explores the 70s as it understood itself—as anti-modern, as counterculture and as provincial. Chapter 3 considers the continuation of seventies’ approaches in postmodern pluralism, and Chapter 4 identifies the persistence of seventies’ innovation in the decentred globalism of the contemporary era.