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  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?
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 ( 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 ( 1991) Art After Philosophy. Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Lefebvre, H ( 2000) The Critique of Everyday Life. London, Verso.
Le Witt, S ( 2003) Paragraphs on Conceptual Art, in Art in Theory: 1900-2000. Oxford, Blackwell publishing.
Marcus, G ( 2001) Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. London, Faber and Faber.
Yoshihara, J ( 2003) Gutai Manifesto, in W and Paul Wood (eds) Art in Theory: 1900-2000. Oxford, Blackwell publishing. Pp. 698-701.