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Conceptual art

Conceptual art

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  • Last week weContextualisedGreenbergian Modernism Introduce Postmodernism as a highly contested term that is more than just an aesthetic movement – in so much as it is both a condition and a way of thinkingWe explored these ideas through Abstract Expressionism and then I went on to examine how in the 1960s, the emergence of Minimalism added extra strain to the formal rules laid out by Greenberg, and therefore threatened the ‘purity’ and coherence of modern art ‘from within’. Aspects of Minimalism that caused a break with the Modern paradigm, by for example suggesting that the the spectator had a part to play, and also by hinting at the ambiguity of objects subject to interpretation.This week are dealing this week with a type of art that critic Tony Godfrey has said “challenges the traditional status of the art object as unique, collectable or saleable.” So we will be looking at the roots of Conceptual Art or Art as Idea.
  • OBJECTIVES OF THIS LECTURE IS TO:Introduce artworks that emphasize ideas over visual forms and consider how these works fit into or challenge their definitions of art. Explore different methods of using language in art. Consider the role of artists in making language-based Conceptual art. However before I begin the lecture proper I would like you to engage with a couple of short participatory sessions.INTRODUCTORY DISCUSSIONI would like each of you to create an individual list of their criteria. Now in groups of 3 I would like you to discuss and debate the results and come up with a final list. Each group will now share with the class what they think is the most important criteria and what is the most contested criteria for something to be called a work of art.Still in groups of 3 , each of you will be given a word to draw in turn and the other two members of your group should guess what it is.One student in each group…Was given a card with a noun written on it, chair, house, or dog. Was given a card with a verb on it run, think, or flyWas given a card with an idea or concept on it freedom, community, or individualityReflect on how you chose to represent the word you were given. Was it easier to draw and guess a noun than a verb or a concept? Although they share a common language and vocabulary, each of you has different, though often related, visual associations with words or concepts. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/public/page/lessons/mai_8_3
  • One and Three Chairs, by Joseph KosuthThe title refers to Kosuth’s presentation of one chair using three different forms of representation: an image, an object, and wordsI want you to describe what you see How are the three elements that compose this work are related?How does the photograph and the dictionary definition function differently than the chair itself. Is one representation of the chair—visual or written—more accurate? One and Three Chairs, 1965, is a work by Joseph Kosuth. An example of conceptual art, the piece consists of a chair, a photograph of this chair, and an enlarged dictionary definition of the word "chair". The photograph depicts the chair as it is actually installed in the room, and thus the work changes each time it is installed in a new venue.Two elements of the work remain constant: a copy of a dictionary definition of the word "chair" and a diagram with instructions for installation. Both bear Kosuth's signature. Under the instructions, the installer is to choose a chair, place it before a wall, and take a photograph of the chair. This photo is to be enlarged to the size of the actual chair and placed on the wall to the left of the chair. Finally, a blow-up of the copy of the dictionary definition is to be hung to the right of the chair, its upper edge aligned with that of the photograph
  • Modernist judgements of quality and relevance came under scrutiny and challenge from the mid 1960s.A consequence of this challenge has been the recognition that the meaning of an artwork does not necessarily lie within it, but as often as not arises out of the context in which it exists.This context is as much social and political as it is formal, and questions of politics and identity, both cultural and personal have been central to much art since the 1970s.There was a shift towards focusing on context, as you will recall, Modernism had been indifferent to context.For the most part ‘specific objects’ had unproblematically occupied traditional gallery spaces, this new work which was concerned with materials, in particular formless materials, had the effect of inducing reflection upon the ‘containers’ or galleries.This was manifest in two particular ways, by siting the work outside of the gallery, for example Land art or site specific work, and Conceptual art.
  • As the conceptual artist Hans Haacke stated:“For decades now [Greenberg’s formalist doctrine] has managed to have us believe that art floats ten feet above the ground and has nothing to do with the historical situation out of which it grew. It has presumed to be an entity all to itself. The only acknowledged link with history is a stylistic one. The development of those ‘mainstream’ styles, however, is again viewed as an isolated phenomenon, self-generative and unresponsive to the pressures of historical society.”Hans Haacke
  • Tony Godfrey, author of "Conceptual Art" (1998), asserted that conceptual art questions the nature of art, The notion that art should examine its own nature was already a potent aspect of (the influential art critic) Clement Greenberg's vision of Modern art during the 1950s.The relentless challenges to artistic convention fundamental to historical avant-garde reach a logical conclusion with Conceptual Art in the late 1960s. Conceptual artists asserted that the “artfulness” of art lay in the artist’s idea rather than in its final expression. These artists regarded the idea, or concept, as the defining component of the artwork. Indeed, some Conceptual artists eliminated the object altogether. One of the first and most important things Conceptual Artists questioned was the common assumption that the role of the artist was to create special kinds of material objects.Conceptual art emerged as a movement during the 1960s. In part, it was a reaction against formalism as it was then articulated by the influential New York art critic Clement Greenberg. As you heard last week, according to Greenberg Modern art followed a process of progressive reduction and refinement toward the goal of defining the absolutely essential, formal nature of each medium. Those elements that ran counter to this nature were to be reduced or even better, eliminated. The task of painting, for example, was to define precisely what kind of object a painting truly is: what makes it a painting and nothing else? As it is of the nature of paintings to be flat objects with canvas surfaces onto which colored pigment is applied, such things as figuration, 3-D perspective illusion and references to external subject matter were all found to be extraneous to the essence of painting, and ought to be removed.Some have argued that conceptual art continued this "dematerialization" of art by removing the need for objects altogether, while others, including many of the artists themselves, saw conceptual art as a radical break with Greenberg's kind of formalist Modernism. Later artists continued to share a preference for art to be self-critical, as well as a distaste for illusion. However, by the end of the 1960s it was certainly clear that Greenberg's stipulations for art to continue within the confines of each medium and to exclude external subject matter no longer held traction.Conceptual art also reacted against the commodification of art; it attempted a subversion of the gallery or museum as the location and determiner of art, and the art market as the owner and distributor of art. Lawrence Weiner said: "Once you know about a work of mine you own it. There's no way I can climb inside somebody's head and remove it." Many conceptual artists' work can therefore only be known about through documentation which is manifested by it, e.g. photographs, written texts or displayed objects, which some might argue are not in themselves the art. It is sometimes reduced to a set of written instructions describing a work, but stopping short of actually making it—emphasising that the idea is more important than the artifact.
  • So to put this in context.In the late 60s and early 70s Europe and America were surging with protest, first against the Vietnam was and then against racism, sexism, and ecological ruin.The turbulent backdrop, a decade of protests, social revolution and significantly, the end of deference. Students being amongst the first to sense the zeitgeist challenged the once status quo with pro-situ happenings which attacked expertise. The socio-political turmoil reached its peak in May 68 with the Paris student uprising when 30,000 students clashed with police. French workers came out in support with a general strike which almost toppled the government. These events profoundly and irrevocably changed social attitudes and were a catalyst for one of the most significant intellectual shifts resulting from a newfound skepticism of hierarchical structures of power.Provoked by this a level of debate about the relation of art to politics was stimulated.Times were changing. And as if in resonance, the mood of younger artists by 1968 was in favour of progressively dematerialising the art object so as to make it no longer as object that could be purchased and traded on the market, no longer the kind of thing that could be displayed in a conventional gallery setting, no longer an entity that could be described in conventional terms.So radical artists of the 70s disparaged the art market and the ‘commodification’ of art. Although it might be worth noting that the object of their scorn was a mere hint of the invasive art machine the art market would become in the 80s.But arts economic dependence on Capital was problematic.That capitalist evil in itself was the root cause of all racism, war, and oppression was still a received idea in ‘68 thinking amongst artists too.The need to explore new spaces outside the gallery presented artists with a problem. How should such expansive works be presented to the public? What form should these artistic works take at a time when the notion of the art object as a commercially viable product was being discredited?Different artists found different solutions, some taking a conventional path and others taking a more unusual route.
  • Starting in the mid 1960s Conceptual Art , along with a number of related tendencies, for example Body Art, Performance Art, was part of a widespread abandonment of that unique, permanent yet portable (and thus infinitely saleable) luxury item, the traditional art object. In its place there arose an unprecedented emphasis on ideas: ideas in, around and about art and everything else, a vast and unruly range of information, subjects and concerns not easily contained within a single object, but more appropriately conveyed by written proposals, photographs, documents, charts, maps, film and video, by the artists’ use of their own bodies, and above all, by language itself. The result was a kind of art which had, regardless of the form it took (or did not take), its fullest and most complex existence was in the minds of the artists and their audience, which demanded a new kind of attention and mental participation from the viewer and which, in spurning embodiment in the unique art object, sough alternatives to both the circumscribed space of the art gallery and the art world’s market system.
  • In fact Duchamp’s Fountain is often considered to be the first piece of conceptual art (we asked the question last week of when modernism in art began – or postmodernism – here its hopefully becoming clear that this question has as much to do with the perspective from which a history is written as it is the ‘facts’)Conceptual Art had its roots in Marcel Duchamp who had introduced such ideas as early as 1917.Duchamp, claimed to be ‘more interested in ideas than the final product’. The work ‘Fountain’ is the most famous of Duchamp's so-called Readymade sculptures that were ordinary manufactured objects designated by the artist as works of art. He signed an ordinary urinal with the name ‘R.Mutt’ and entered it into an exhibition that he was involved in organising in New York. . The Society of Independent Artists declined to show it (William Glackens, a realist painter, was head of the committee). There was some contemporary support for the piece.This gesture, whether exhibited or not, constitutes a questioning of the values of art. What role might the artist have? Why can’t everyday objects be art? Why does art have to take recognisable forms?Fountain epitomised the assault on convention and accepted notions of art for which Duchamp became known.As such it is fair to say that this work was ‘proto-conceptual’ art, or a precursor to conceptual art. It was one of the first to question self consciously and irreverently both its own status as art and the multi faceted context of exhibitions, critical criteria and audience expectations, which had traditionally conferred that status.
  • Evidently then,Fountain was a calculated attack on the most basic conventions of art. Duchamp defended the piece in an unsigned article in The Blind Man, a one-shot magazine published by his friend Beatrice Wood. To the charge that Fountain was mere plagiarism, “a plain piece of plumbing,” he replied “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance. He CHOSE it. He took an ordinary article of life, placed it so that its useful significance disappeared under the new title and point of view — created a new thought for that object.”With Fountain Duchamp reduced the creative act to a rudimentary level, to the single, intellectual, largely random decision to name this or that object or activity as ‘art’. Duchamp implied that art could exist outside the conventional ‘hand-made’ media of painting and sculpture and beyond the considerations of taste; his point was that art related more to the artists’ intentions than to anything they did with their hands or felt about beauty.Conception and meaning took precedence over plastic form, as did thought over sensuous experience. Duchamp posited with his Readymades as Art as Ideas.
  • Importantly Duchamp’s provocation was more than simply the ‘origin’ of conceptual art, it can also be viewed as an act related to the type of ‘assault on culture’, as advocated by Henri Lefebvre.Lefebvre’s book ‘The Critique of Everyday Life’ published in 1947 was very influential on a number of radical groups after the Second World War.Lefebvre, a Marxist critic, considers the intensity of living and life to have been suppressed by an (elitist) culture that devalues the everyday. For him it was crucial that the human ‘spirit’ be rekindled, that passion be recapitulated in a revolution that can only have value if it takes place in everyday life (not the illusion of revolution presented in the arts).
  • The name of the piece, L.H.O.O.Q., is a pun, since the letters when pronounced in French form the sentence "Elle a chaud au cul", which translates to "She has a hot ass"Duchamp used language and all manner of verbal and visual punning, randomness as well as deliberately plotted chance, trivial and ephemeral substances, his own person, provocative gestures directed at his own or other art, as the means and subjects of his work.Duchamp was heralded by Dada who gave ideas similar to his an anarchistic, political bite.Dada held at its core a serious ethical stance against contemporary social and political conditions. Its assaultive strategies—the exploitation of nontraditional artistic materials, mining of mass media, attack on the traditions of art history, destruction of language, exploration of the unconscious, and cutting and pasting of photomontage—were a form of protest that echoed the aggressive tactics witnessed in World War I. The Dadaists irrevocably pushed the boundaries of what qualifies as art, paving the way for much of what has followed. Dada questioned and affected what art can look like, as well as what art can do, and set the stage for many avant-garde movements—including surrealism, pop art, and performance art. Dada also irrevocably changed the landscape of popular culture, influencing graphic design, advertising, and film, and breaking down barriers between high and low art.We might move forward here by highlighting a number of movements after the Second World War that sought to enact Dada’s radical messages.
  • In the 1950s, as more impure, non-formalist approaches to art gained force in the ‘Neo-Dada work of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauchenberg, Yves Klein, PieroManozoni and others, Duchamp’s thought received more and more consideration.In Rauschenberg’s work Erased De KooningDrawing, that comprised of a drawing by Willem De Kooning that Rauschenberg erasedmany questions were raised about the fundamental nature of art, challenging the viewer to consider whether erasing another artist's work could be a creative act, as well as whether the work was only "art" because the famous Rauschenberg had done it.The art of the late 1950s and early 60s, both in the USA and across Europe was peppered with context-conscious, non-object, post-Duchampian, proto-Conceptual efforts although these remained for the most part peripheral to mainstream modernism.
  • Language was a central concern for the first wave of conceptual artists of the 1960s and early 1970s. Although the appearance of text in art was by no means novel, it was not until the 1960s that artists including Robert Rauschenberg,Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, and the English Art & Language group began to produce art by exclusively linguistic means. Where previously language was presented as one kind of visual element alongside others, and subordinate to an overarching composition, the conceptual artists used language in place of brush and canvas, and allowed it to signify in its own right.For example in 1961 Robert Rauschenberg sent a telegram to the Galerie Iris Clert which said: 'This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.' as his contribution to an exhibition of portraits.
  • From the mid 1960s the interest in ‘context’ and in the dispensibility of the unique art object become widespread.In 1968 Lawrence Weiner, one of the key figures of Conceptual art, relenquished the physical making of his work and formulated his Declaration of Intent: 1. The artist may construct the piece.2. The piece may be fabricated.3. The piece need not be built.Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership’.
  • In 1966 a Japanese artist living in New York, called On Kawara, started a small black painting each day that simply stated that day’s date in white block letters. This open series of identical units continues to this day.
  • (French born)Yves Klein’s photograph of the artist diving off high walls represent some of the first instances of the kind of private documented or Performance or Boby art that characterised much of conceptual art.Yves Klein promoted himself as a kind of deity of the art world. Patented his own shade of blue. At an opening visitors were given a cocktail with methylene blue die in it, effecting the colour of their urine for days.
  • Piero Manzoni exhibited Artist's shit, tins purportedly containing his own excrement (although since the work would be destroyed if opened, no-one has been able to say for sure). He put the tins on sale for their own weight in gold. He also sold his own breath (enclosed in balloons) as Bodies of Air, and signed people's bodies, thus declaring them to be living works of art either for all time or for specified periods. (This depended on how much they are prepared to pay). Marcel Broodthaers and Primo Levi are amongst the designated 'artworks'.Piero Manzoni created The Base of the World, thereby exhibiting the entire planet as his artwork.
  • If you recall last week we looked at the work of Donald Judd who tried to avoid the type of aesthetic decision making typified by the artists representative of Greenberg’s modernism, and instead he suggested that objects simply be placed in some systematic fashion, one next to the other. Significantly like a number of minimalists, this included a transition from painterly abstracts to sculptural forms (a transgression of Greenberg’s insistence on the separation of different disciplines). In addition to this, his work would often be manufactured by various companies, dramatically changing Judd’s relationship to the work relative to the ‘Abstract Expressionists’, whose (‘existentially heightened’) relationship to the production of the work seems all important. Interestingly, you’ll see how suddenly representations of this work start to feature the space of the gallery too – perhaps another sign that the spectator was starting to be considered.Reiterating Duchamp, Judd stated that "If someone says it’s art, it's art." This relates to the work of certain conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt although a distinction is that Judd’s work firmly emphasises materiality
  • Many of the works or installations, of the artist Sol LeWitt could be constructed by anyone simply by following a set of written instructions.
  • Joseph Kosuth“Like everyone else, I inherited the idea of art as a set of “formal” problems. So when I began to re-think my ideas of art, I had to re-think that thinking process……. The radical shift was that in changing the idea of art itself….. It meant you could have an artwork which was that “idea” of an artwork, and its formal components weren’t important. I felt I had found a way to make art without formal components being confused for an expressionist composition. The expression was the idea, not the form- the forms were only a device in the service of the idea.”Quoted in “Joseph Kosuth: Art as Idea as Idea”, in Jeanne Siegel, ed., “Artwords :Discourse on the 60s and 70s”Kosuth believed that the creative act should always be critical. Following the model established by Duchamp’s readymades, he produced art that questioned supposedly "unquestionable forms of authority of the culture." [Joseph Kosuth, quoted in Christopher Lyon, ed., Contemporary Art in Context (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1988), 47.] Concerned that people accepted things to be works of art simply because they were exhibited at art museums, Kosuth made works that challenged the authority of art institutions to define objects as art.
  • Kosuth’sArt After Philosophy (1969) was on of the most puritanical attempt to define conceptual art. For him, art is a tautology – i.e. It states ‘I am a work of art’. This shows his proximity to the thinking of various minimalists, particularly Donald Judd who said “It’s art if I say it is”.He argues that there is no conceptual reason that art has to be tied to aesthetics. Also, One and Three Chairs (1965).Kosuth is very critical of formalist criticism and argues that it rest solely upon taste, while reducing the work of art to mere decoration. To make conventional forms of art, i.e. Painting of sculpture, is to accept the ‘nature of art’ (Kosuth [1969] 1991, p.18) “The value of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art” (Ibid.). For this reason he argues that “Actual works of art are little more than historical curiosities.” p.19In his text Kosuth distinguishes art before and after Duchamp, and argued for a kind of logic, and for art works as analytical propositions concerned with the definition of art.There is something quite dogmatic about Kosuth’s essay however, and it is very reliant upon the proximity of meaning and written language. The visual aspect of the art is being seen as secondary.“The ‘purest’ definition of conceptual art would be that it is inquiry into the foundations of the concept ‘art’, as it has come to mean.” p.26There is also a sense here that the material aspects of the reality of conceptual art are being denied.One of the challenges to puritanical readings is the reassert the importance of the material. Though Kosuth was adamant that his work simply existed at an idea, by the 1970s he was make a fortune from commissions. At the end of the day these photographs had a material presence, and whether or not they were the real artwork or not, or whether it was simply the idea, and were commodities that galleries could buy and sell.
  • Huebler’s work New York – Boston Exchange shape exchange used maps and instructions to propose the creation of identical hexagons (one in each city) 3.000 feet long on each size whose points would be marked by white stickers 1 inch in diameter.Even if the work was executed it would have been impossible to experience the work as a whole, except in the viewer’s mind.
  • Conceptual art also gave photography a central position in art practices. Not only was it a means of documenting ideas, but it could be socially engaged (both politically and in the sense of advertising – that it could be widely disseminated). This image was actually distributed as posters around Newcastle.Burgin was also responsible for setting up cultural studies courses in Britain. (semiotics).Meaning is a product of culture Due to its reliance on language, the reproducible image and the media, Conceptual Art was easily and quickly communicated.
  • DematerialisationWalter De Maria’s work also typifies a conviction, pervasive by the mid 1970s, that thought was as much an artistic material as any other. By this time critics perceived the ‘conceptual’ to be the dominant zeitgeist.There was a transformation of art from an autonomous object to a contextual materiality.In her important chronicle of the period 1966-72, the leading radical critic Lucy Lippard saw it as unifying practices such as Land Art and anti-form in a wave of ‘dematerialisation’, predicated on resistance to galleries and the market.John Chandler and Lucy Lippard coined the notion of dematerialization in their seminal text “The Dematerialization of Art” from 1968. In the text they identified dematerialization with so-called ultra-conceptual art that “emphasizes the thinking process almost exclusively” and “may result in the object becoming wholly obsolete”.To Lippard and Chandler there was a connection between the dematerialisation of the art object and the rise of the counter culture.Lucy Lippard mournfully admitted “Hopes that the conceptual art would be able to avoid the general commercialisation, the destructively ‘progressive’ approach to modernism were for the most part unfounded…Whatever minor revolutions in communication have been achieved by the process of dematerializing the art object, art and the artist in a capitalist society remain luxuries.”The desire to see landscape as the site of trancendental ‘presence’ is particularly clear in Walter De Maria’s Lightening Field, finished in 1977 in New Mexico. It consists of 400 steel poles, like a bed of nails protruding from the earth, one mile long and wide.This work dramatises nature and uses the desert as metaphysical space, a extreme landscape to experience the sublime.Lightning Field is permanent but isolated. “isolation” de Maria said, is “is the essence of Land Art.”De Maria’s expectation was that in the future he would be able to do without art galleries altogether.
  • In the 70s, earthworks and land artToo big for the museum, land art was a literal retreat to the desert, an escape from the horde of casual art consumers.The work was not off course free from material, but the place of that material within the system of viewing, buying, selling, ad conserving art was for a period of time radically at odds with prevailing assumptions about the aesthetic encounter.
  • Michael Heizer presented his at times extremely transient and inaccessible works partly on mural sized colour photographs.This work ‘Double Negative’ was formed by instructing earth moving diggers to cut through a mountain in the remote Nevada Desert to create a huge void in this natural site.Hundreds of people visited the site but for most the artwork was only seen in the form of a photograph in a far off gallery, or as descriptions in a book..Either way an assertion was being made of the artist’s much sought after independence from the commercial gallery system, as well as marking the work’s lingering dependence on it..
  • The Death of the objectFrench artist Daniel Buren’s stripe motifs. Buren had issued a declaration committing himself to a renunciation of composed painting and to produce instead stripes of equal width in alternating regular colour pairs (red and white, blue and white) as a demonstration of complete freedom from the tradition.He was particularly concerned with the question of arts presentation, with where it could be placed and what consequences might follow from the choice of different sites; a domestic, commercial or gallery space, or an exterior rather than an interior position, such as a wall or a billboard.Buren was one of many artists who felt that the entire ‘framing’ or institutional conditions for avant-garde art needed to be redefined. Buren’s seemingly innocuous abstractions were therefore part of this strategy.Inserted in various environment, the stripes would assert that, for all its vaunted aesthetic autonomy, Modernist art is defined by context. Paintings, especially Modernist ones, normally rely on the museum or gallery for their visibility. Out on the streets of Paris such objects become vulnerable, invisible even. Or so Buren, envisaging the end of painting hoped.In 1970 he had his striped posters included in the corner of Arts and Entertainment advertising panels in over 130 stations of the Paris Metro.
  • The thrust of Buren’s work concerned itself with the examination of what art was: what were the necessary and sufficient characteristics required for a thing to be deemed art, and how might it be exhibited, curated and criticized?So anothermajor impact of dematerialisation of art was upon the politics of the administration of the museum, an issue we will return to in the following weeks.Despite the vast number if works produced, Conceptual Art, not surprisingly resulted in fewer museum masterpieces than any 20thc art movement. However Conceptualism neither democratised art nor eliminated the unique art object, nor did it circumvent the art market. In fact collectors eagerly accumulated photographs, statements and other Conceptual by-products. For example as many conceptual art works existed a text, this spawned a whole new category of artworks, the artist book.Conceptual Art took an extreme stance, artists combined their objection to conventional media with a clear, radical alternative and genuinely polemical positions that they defined in both their art and their statements.
  • Discussion

Week 2 art as idea Week 2 art as idea Presentation Transcript

  • Postmodernism in Art: an introduction
    Art as Idea – the roots of conceptual art
  • Aims of this lecture
    • Introduce artworks that emphasize ideas over visual forms and consider how these works fit into or challenge their definitions of art
    • Explore different methods of using language in art
    • Consider the role of artists in making language-based Conceptual art
  • “The ideal modernist spectator was a disembodied eye, lifted out of the flux of life in time and history, apprehending the resolved (‘significant) aesthetic form in a moment of instanteity”
    Paul Wood
  • “For decades now [Greenberg’s formalist doctrine] has managed to have us believe that art floats ten feet above the ground and has nothing to do with the historical situation out of which it grew. It has presumed to be an entity all to itself. The only acknowledged link with history is a stylistic one. The development of those ‘mainstream’ styles, however, is again viewed as an isolated phenomenon, self-generative and unresponsive to the pressures of historical society.”
    Hans Haacke
  • Challenging the Definition of Art
    The relentless challenges to artistic convention fundamental to historical avant-garde reach a logical conclusion with Conceptual Art in the late 1960s.
    Conceptual artists asserted that the “artfulness” of art lay in the artist’s idea rather than in its final expression. These artists regarded the idea, or concept, as the defining component of the artwork.
  • Spirit of ‘68
    Provoked by this a level of debate about the relation of art to politics was stimulated.
  • The Death of the Object: The Move to Conceptualism
    Abandonment of that unique, permanent yet portable (and thus infinitely saleable) luxury item, the traditional art object.
    The rise of an unprecedented emphasis on ideas: ideas in, around and about art and everything else.
  • ‘Proto-Conceptual’ Art
    Marcel Duchamp
    (1887-1968)
    Fountain (1917)
    Duchamp claimed to be ‘more in ideas than the final product’
  • Blurring the boundaries between art and life
    “The true critique of everyday life will have as its prime object the separation between the human (real and possible) and bourgeois decadence, and will imply a rehabilitation of everyday life” (p.127)
    The Critique of Everyday Life (1947)
    Henri Lefebvre.
  • Dada’s legacy and the ‘assault on culture’
    • Dada held at its core a serious ethical stance against contemporary social and political conditions
    • Dada irrevocably pushed the boundaries of what qualifies as art
    • Dada questioned and affected what art can look like, as well as what art can do
    L.H.O.O.Q.
    Marcel Duchamp (1919)
  • Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)
    Robert Rauschenberg Erased De KooningDrawing, a drawing by Willem De Kooning that Rauschenberg erased.
    It raised many questions about the fundamental nature of art, challenging the viewer to consider whether erasing another artist's work could be a creative act, as well as whether the work was only "art" because the famous Rauschenberg had done it.
  • 1961: Robert Rauschenberg sent a telegram to the Galerie Iris Clert which said: 'This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.' as his contribution to an exhibition of portraits.
  • In 1968 Lawrence Weiner, one of the key figures of Conceptual art, formulated his Declaration of Intent:
    1. The artist may construct the piece.2. The piece may be fabricated.3. The piece need not be built.Each being equal and consistent with the intent of the artist the decision as to condition rests with the receiver upon the occasion of receivership’.
  • On Kawara (1932 – “I am still alive”)
    Date paintings begun in January 1966.
  • Yves Klein (1928-62)
    [Detail] from a Single Day Newspaper [spoof] (1960). The caption read “The Painter of space Hurl Himself into the Void”.
  • Piero Manzoni (1933-63)
    Base of the World (1961)
    Artist’s Shit (1961)
  • "If someone says it’s art, it's art."
    [Donald Judd, quoted in Thierry de Duve, "The Monochrome and the Blank Canvas," in Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal, 1945–1964, ed. Serge Guilbaut (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990), 272.]
    Donald Judd (1974) Untitled [six boxes]
  • Sol LeWitt (1928-2007)
    “When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that make the art.”
    (Le Witt [1967] 2003, p846)
    “The idea itself, even if not made visual is as much a work of art as any finished product” (Ibid. 848)
    142, Metropolotan Museum of Art
  • “Like everyone else, I inherited the idea of art as a set of “formal” problems. So when I began to re-think my ideas of art, I had to re-think that thinking process……. The radical shift was that in changing the idea of art itself….. It meant you could have an artwork which was that “idea” of an artwork, and its formal components weren’t important. I felt I had found a way to make art without formal components being confused for an expressionist composition. The expression was the idea, not the form- the forms were only a device in the service of the idea.”
    Quoted in “Joseph Kosuth: Art as Idea as Idea”, in Jeanne Siegel, ed., “Artwords :Discourse on the 60s and 70s”
    One and Three Chairs (1965)
  • Joseph Kosuth (1945-)
    “The value of particular artists after Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned the nature of art”.
    Joseph Kosuth
    Art After Philosophy (1969)
    Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) (1967)
  • Douglas Huebler (1924-1997)
    Douglas Huebler
    New York - Boston Exchange Shape.  (1968)
  • Victor Burgin
    “By 1973 Victor Burgin had come to see ‘pure’ Conceptual art as the last gasp of formalism.” (Godfrey 1998, p.255) He was more interested in the way conceptual art had opened up new ways of questioning the ideologies underlying representation.
    Possession (1976)
  • Dematerialisation: Conceptual Art
    There was a transformation of art from an autonomous object to a contextual materiality.
    Walter De Maria - Vertical Earth Kilometer - 1977
    Walter De Maria - The Lightning Field - 1977
  • “I work outside because it’s the only place where I can displace mass…I like the scale - that’s certainly one difference between working in a gallery and working outdoors.”
    Michael Heizer
  • Michael Heizer
    “Double Negative
    An assertion was being made of the artist’s much sought after independence from the commercial gallery system, as well as marking the work’s lingering dependence on it
  • The Death of the object
    Daniel Buren, 140 stations, 1970 (reinstalled 1973)
  • Daniel Buren
    within and beyond
    the frame
    John Weber Gallery
    NY 1973
  • Discussion
    Do you agree with Judd's statement that "If someone says it’s art, it's art.” Why or why not?
    Think about what makes something a work of art. Does art have to be seen in a specific place? Where does one encounter art? What is art supposed to accomplish? Who is it for?
  • References
    • De Certeau, M (1988) The Practice of Everyday Life. London, University of California Press.
    • Godfrey, T (1998) Conceptual Art. London, Phaidon Press Limited.
    • Home, S (1988) The Assault on Culture. Edinburgh, AK Press.
    • Huelsenbeck, R ([1920] 2003) First German Dada Manifesto in W and Paul Wood (eds) Art in Theory: 1900-2000. Oxford, Blackwell publishing.
    • Kaprow, A (2003) Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life. London, University of California Press.
    • Kosuth, J ([1969] 1991) Art After Philosophy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
    • Lefebvre, H ([1948] 2000) The Critique of Everyday Life. London, Verso.
    • Le Witt, S ([1967] 2003) Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, in Art in Theory: 1900-2000. Oxford, Blackwell publishing.
    • Marcus, G ([1989] 2001) Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. London, Faber and Faber.
    • Yoshihara, J ([1958] 2003) Gutai Manifesto, in W and Paul Wood (eds) Art in Theory: 1900-2000. Oxford, Blackwell publishing. Pp. 698-701.