As contemporary art was increasingly commercialized and institutionalized in the 1960s, some artists, taking up the legacy of Marcel Duchamp’s iconoclasm, stopped making objects and began to use language as their primary medium. Others focused on creating new means of displaying and distributing art to expand its circulation and accessibility, and used ephemeral media such as performance to produce works that could not be packaged and sold. Photography, as a way to record such works, became a crucial tool for artists. At the same time, diaristic approaches to documentary camerawork, with an emphasis on the subjectivity of the artist, gained currency.
Related to this enthusiasm for photography, and to a renewed interest in printmaking and cast sculpture, was the production of multiples, identical versions of the same artwork in limited editions. Multiples served as both art objects and vehicles for the distribution of art, with the intention to democratize it, and many were produced as components of performances. The Harvard Art Museums hold a near-comprehensive set of multiples by the impresario of postwar German conceptual art, Joseph Beuys; an extensive collection produced by Fluxus artists based in New York; and a complete set of books made by the Los Angeles pop artist Ed Ruscha. These objects, widely influential during the 1960s, demonstrate the seemingly boundless range of multiples production.
As the decade waned, so did much of the optimism about the potential of radical art practices. Nonetheless, 1960s art reverberated in subsequent years and continues to do so today, as artists grapple with their role in effecting social and political change, the status of art in a world of rapid technological innovation, and voracious commodification.