Essay On Conceptual Art Sculpture

Not to be confused with concept art or philosophical conceptualism.

Conceptual art, sometimes simply called conceptualism, is art in which the concept(s) or idea(s) involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic, technical, and material concerns. Some works of conceptual art, sometimes called installations, may be constructed by anyone simply by following a set of written instructions.[1] This method was fundamental to American artist Sol LeWitt's definition of Conceptual art, one of the first to appear in print:

In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. 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 makes the art.[2]

Tony Godfrey, author of Conceptual Art (Art & Ideas) (1998), asserts that conceptual art questions the nature of art,[3] a notion that Joseph Kosuth elevated to a definition of art itself in his seminal, early manifesto of conceptual art, "Art after Philosophy" (1969). 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. With the emergence of an exclusively language-based art in the 1960s, however, conceptual artists such as Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner and the English Art & Language group began a far more radical interrogation of art than was previously possible (see below). One of the first and most important things they questioned was the common assumption that the role of the artist was to create special kinds of material objects.[4][5][6]

Through its association with the Young British Artists and the Turner Prize during the 1990s, in popular usage, particularly in the UK, "conceptual art" came to denote all contemporary art that does not practice the traditional skills of painting and sculpture.[7] It could be said that one of the reasons why the term "conceptual art" has come to be associated with various contemporary practices far removed from its original aims and forms lies in the problem of defining the term itself. As the artist Mel Bochner suggested as early as 1970, in explaining why he does not like the epithet "conceptual", it is not always entirely clear what "concept" refers to, and it runs the risk of being confused with "intention." Thus, in describing or defining a work of art as conceptual it is important not to confuse what is referred to as "conceptual" with an artist's "intention."


The French artist Marcel Duchamp paved the way for the conceptualists, providing them with examples of prototypically conceptual works — the readymades, for instance. The most famous of Duchamp's readymades was Fountain (1917), a standard urinal-basin signed by the artist with the pseudonym "R.Mutt", and submitted for inclusion in the annual, un-juried exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York (which rejected it).[8] The artistic tradition does not see a commonplace object (such as a urinal) as art because it is not made by an artist or with any intention of being art, nor is it unique or hand-crafted. Duchamp's relevance and theoretical importance for future "conceptualists" was later acknowledged by US artist Joseph Kosuth in his 1969 essay, "Art after Philosophy," when he wrote: "All art (after Duchamp) is conceptual (in nature) because art only exists conceptually".

In 1956 the founder of Lettrism, Isidore Isou, developed the notion of a work of art which, by its very nature, could never be created in reality, but which could nevertheless provide aesthetic rewards by being contemplated intellectually. This concept, also called Art esthapériste (or "infinite-aesthetics"), derived from the infinitesimals of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz - quantities which could not actually exist except conceptually. The current incarnation (As of 2013[update]) of the Isouian movement, Excoördism, self-defines as the art of the infinitely large and the infinitely small.

In 1961 the term "concept art", coined by the artist Henry Flynt in his article bearing the term as its title, appeared in a proto-Fluxus publication An Anthology of Chance Operations.[9] However, it assumed a different meaning when employed by Joseph Kosuth and by the English Art and Language group, who discarded the conventional art object in favour of a documented critical inquiry into the artist's social, philosophical and psychological status. By the mid-1970s they had produced publications, indices, performances, texts and paintings to this end. In 1970 Conceptual Art and Conceptual Aspects, the first dedicated conceptual-art exhibition, took place at the New York Cultural Center.[10]

The critique of formalism and of the commodification of art[edit]

Conceptual art emerged as a movement during the 1960s - in part as a reaction against formalism as then articulated by the influential New Yorkart criticClement Greenberg. According to Greenberg Modern art followed a process of progressive reduction and refinement toward the goal of defining the essential, formal nature of each medium. Those elements that ran counter to this nature were to be reduced. 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.[11]

Some have argued that conceptual art continued this "dematerialization" of art by removing the need for objects altogether,[12] 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.[13] 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 (as in the work of Robert Barry, Yoko Ono, and Weiner himself) reduced to a set of written instructions describing a work, but stopping short of actually making it—emphasising the idea as more important than the artifact. This reveals an explicit preference for the "art" side of the ostensible dichotomy between art and craft, where art, unlike craft, takes place within and engages historical discourse: for example, Ono's "written instructions" make more sense alongside other conceptual art of the time.

Language and/as art[edit]

Language was a central concern for the first wave of conceptual artists of the 1960s and early 1970s. Although the utilisation of text in art was in no way novel, only in the 1960s did the artists Lawrence Weiner, Edward Ruscha,[14]Joseph Kosuth, Robert Barry, and the English Art & Language group begin 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 (e.g. Synthetic Cubism), the conceptual artists used language in place of brush and canvas, and allowed it to signify in its own right.[15] Of Lawrence Weiner's works Anne Rorimer writes, "The thematic content of individual works derives solely from the import of the language employed, while presentational means and contextual placement play crucial, yet separate, roles."[16]

The British philosopher and theorist of conceptual art Peter Osborne suggests that among the many factors that influenced the gravitation toward language-based art, a central role for conceptualism came from the turn to linguistic theories of meaning in both Anglo-American analytic philosophy, and structuralist and post structuralistContinental philosophy during the middle of the twentieth century. This linguistic turn "reinforced and legitimized" the direction the conceptual artists took.[17] Osborne also notes that the early conceptualists were the first generation of artists to complete degree-based university training in art.[18] Osborne later made the observation that contemporary art is post-conceptual in a public lecture delivered at the Fondazione Antonio Ratti, Villa Sucota in Como on July 9, 2010. It is a claim made at the level of the ontology of the work of art (rather than say at the descriptive level of style or movement).

The American art historian Edward A. Shanken points to the example of Roy Ascott who "powerfully demonstrates the significant intersections between conceptual art and art-and-technology, exploding the conventional autonomy of these art-historical categories." Ascott, the British artist most closely associated with cybernetic art in England, was not included in Cybernetic Serendipity because his use of cybernetics was primarily conceptual and did not explicitly utilize technology. Conversely, although his essay on the application of cybernetics to art and art pedagogy, "The Construction of Change" (1964), was quoted on the dedication page (to Sol Lewitt) of Lucy R. Lippard's seminal Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, Ascott's anticipation of and contribution to the formation of conceptual art in Britain has received scant recognition, perhaps (and ironically) because his work was too closely allied with art-and-technology. Another vital intersection was explored in Ascott's use of the thesaurus in 1963 [1], which drew an explicit parallel between the taxonomic qualities of verbal and visual languages - a concept would be taken up in Joseph Kosuth's Second Investigation, Proposition 1 (1968) and Mel Ramsden's Elements of an Incomplete Map (1968).

Conceptual art and artistic skill[edit]

"By adopting language as their exclusive medium, Weiner, Barry, Wilson, Kosuth and Art & Language were able to sweep aside the vestiges of authorial presence manifested by formal invention and the handling of materials."[16]

An important difference between conceptual art and more "traditional" forms of art-making goes to the question of artistic skill. Although skill in the handling of traditional media often plays little role in conceptual art, it is difficult to argue that no skill is required to make conceptual works, or that skill is always absent from them. John Baldessari, for instance, has presented realist pictures that he commissioned professional sign-writers to paint; and many conceptual performance artists (e.g. Stelarc, Marina Abramović) are technically accomplished performers and skilled manipulators of their own bodies. It is thus not so much an absence of skill or hostility toward tradition that defines conceptual art as an evident disregard for conventional, modern notions of authorial presence and of individual artistic expression.[citation needed]

Contemporary influence[edit]

The first wave of the "conceptual art" movement extended from approximately 1967 to 1978. Early "concept" artists like Henry Flynt, Robert Morris, and Ray Johnson influenced the later, widely accepted movement of conceptual art. Conceptual artists like Dan Graham, Hans Haacke, and Lawrence Weiner have proven very influential on subsequent artists, and well known contemporary artists such as Mike Kelley or Tracey Emin are sometimes labeled "second- or third-generation" conceptualists, or "post-conceptual" artists.

Many of the concerns of the conceptual art movement have been taken up by contemporary artists. While they may or may not term themselves "conceptual artists", ideas such as anti-commodification, social and/or political critique, and ideas/information as medium continue to be aspects of contemporary art, especially among artists working with installation art, performance art, and electronic/digital art.[19]

Controversy in the UK[edit]

In Britain, the rise to prominence of the Young British Artists (YBAs) after the 1988 Freeze show, curated by Damien Hirst, and subsequent promotion of the group by the Saatchi Gallery during the 1990s, generated a media backlash, where the phrase "conceptual art" came to be a term of derision applied to much contemporary art. This was amplified by the Turner Prize whose more extreme nominees (most notably Hirst and Emin) caused a controversy annually.[7]

The Stuckist group of artists, founded in 1999, proclaimed themselves "pro-contemporary figurative painting with ideas and anti-conceptual art, mainly because of its lack of concepts." They also called it pretentious, "unremarkable and boring" and on July 25, 2002, deposited a coffin outside the White Cube gallery, marked "The Death of Conceptual Art".[20][21] They staged yearly demonstrations outside the Turner Prize.

In 2002, Ivan Massow, the chairman of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, branded conceptual art "pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat" and in "danger of disappearing up its own arse ... led by cultural tsars such as the Tate's Sir Nicholas Serota."[22] Massow was consequently forced to resign. At the end of the year, the Culture Minister, Kim Howells (an art school graduate) denounced the Turner Prize as "cold, mechanical, conceptual bullshit".[23]

In October 2004 the Saatchi Gallery told the media that "painting continues to be the most relevant and vital way that artists choose to communicate."[24]

One of the criticisms of recent conceptual art in the UK is that the concepts or ideas have been weak. Writing in The Jackdaw magazine in 2013 the art theorist Michael Paraskos suggested that current conceptualist art retains the forms of historic conceptual art but is almost devoid of ideas. For that reason he suggested a new name for this kind of art, deconceptualism. Deconceptualism is, according to Paraskos, conceptual art without a concept.[25]

Notable examples[edit]

  • 1917 : Fountain by Marcel Duchamp, described in an article in The Independent as the invention of conceptual art.[26]
  • 1953 : Robert Rauschenberg creates Erased De Kooning Drawing, a drawing by Willem de Kooning which 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.
  • 1955 : Rhea Sue Sanders creates her first text pieces of the series pièces de complices, combining visual art with poetry and philosophy, and introducing the concept of complicity: the viewer must accomplish the art in his imagination.[27]
  • 1956 : Isidore Isou introduces the concept of infinitesimal art in Introduction à une esthétique imaginaire (Introduction to Imaginary Aesthetics).
  • 1957: Yves Klein, Aerostatic Sculpture (Paris). This was composed of 1001 blue balloons released into the sky from Galerie Iris Clert to promote his Proposition Monochrome; Blue Epoch exhibition. Klein also exhibited 'One Minute Fire Painting' which was a blue panel into which 16 firecrackers were set. For his next major exhibition, The Void in 1958, Klein declared that his paintings were now invisible and to prove it he exhibited an empty room.
  • 1958: Wolf VostellDas Theater ist auf der Straße/The theater is on the street. The first Happening in Europe.[28]
  • 1960: Yves Klein's action called A Leap Into The Void, in which he attempts to fly by leaping out of a window. He stated: "The painter has only to create one masterpiece, himself, constantly."
  • 1960: The artist Stanley Brouwn declares that all the shoe shops in Amsterdam constitute an exhibition of his work.
  • 1961: Wolf VostellCityrama, in Cologne was the first Happening in Germany.
  • 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.
  • 1961: Piero Manzoni exhibited Artist's Shit, tins purportedly containing his own feces (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'.
  • 1962: Artist Barrie Bates rebrands himself as Billy Apple, erasing his original identity to continue his exploration of everyday life and commerce as art. By this stage, many of his works are fabricated by third parties.[29]
  • 1962: Christo's Iron Curtain work. This consists of a barricade of oil barrels in a narrow Paris street which caused a large traffic jam. The artwork was not the barricade itself but the resulting traffic jam.
  • 1962: Yves Klein presents Immaterial Pictorial Sensitivity in various ceremonies on the banks of the Seine. He offers to sell his own 'pictorial sensitivity' (whatever that was, he did not define it) in exchange for gold leaf. In these ceremonies the purchaser gave Klein the gold leaf in return for a certificate. Since Klein's sensitivity was immaterial, the purchaser was then required to burn the certificate whilst Klein threw half the gold leaf into the Seine. (There were seven purchasers.)
  • 1962: Piero Manzoni created The Base of the World, thereby exhibiting the entire planet as his artwork.
  • 1962: FLUXUS Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik in Wiesbaden with, George Maciunas, Wolf Vostell, Nam June Paik and others.[30]
  • 1963: George Brecht's collection of Event-Scores, Water Yam, is published as the first Fluxkit by George Maciunas.
  • 1963: Festum Fluxorum Fluxus in Düsseldorf with George Maciunas, Wolf Vostell, Joseph Beuys, Dick Higgins, Nam June Paik, Ben Patterson, Emmett Williams and others.
  • 1963: Henry Flynts article Concept Art is published in "An Anthology of Chance Operations"; a collection of artworks and concepts by artists and musicians that was published by Jackson Mac Low and La Monte Young (ed.). "An Anthology of Chance Operations" documented the development of Dick Higgins vision of intermedia art in the context of the ideas of John Cage and became an early Fluxus masterpiece. Flynt's "concept art" devolved from his idea of "cognitive nihilism" and from his insights about the vulnerabilities of logic and mathematics.
  • 1964: Yoko Ono publishes Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings. An example of Heuristic art, or a series of instructions for how to obtain an aesthetic experience.
  • 1965: Art & Language founder Michael Baldwin Mirror Piece. Instead of paintings, the work is showing a variable number of mirrors that challenge both the visitor and Clement Greenberg theory.[31]
  • 1965: A complex conceptual art piece by John Latham called Still and Chew. He invites art students to protest against the values of Clement Greenberg's Art and Culture, much praised and taught at Saint Martin's School of Art in London, where Latham taught part-time. Pages of Greenberg's book (borrowed from the college library) are chewed by the students, dissolved in acid and the resulting solution returned to the library bottled and labelled. Latham was then fired from his part-time position.
  • 1965: with Show V, immaterial sculpture the Dutch artist Marinus Boezem introduced Conceptual Art in the Netherlands. In the show various air doors are placed where people can walk through them. People have the sensory experience of warmth, air. Three invisible air doors, which arise as currents of cold and warm are blown into the room, are indicated in the space with bundles of arrows and lines. The articulation of the space which arises is the result of invisible processes which influence the conduct of persons in that space, and who are included in the system as co-performers.
  • Joseph Kosuth dates the concept of One and Three Chairs in the year 1965. The presentation of the work consists of a chair, its photo and a blow up of a definition of the word "chair". Kosuth has chosen the definition from a dictionary. Four versions with different definitions are known.
  • 1966: Conceived in 1966 The Air Conditioning Show of Art & Language is published as an article in 1967 in the November issue of Arts Magazine.[32]
  • 1966: N.E. Thing Co. Ltd. (Iain and Ingrid Baxter of Vancouver) exhibited Bagged Place the contents of a four-room apartment wrapped in plastic bags. The same year they registered as a corporation and subsequently organized their practice along corporate models, one of the first international examples of the "aesthetic of administration."
  • 1967: Mel Ramsden first 100% Abstract Paintings. The painting shows a list of chemical components that constitute the substance of the painting.[33]
  • 1967: Sol LeWitt´s Paragraphs on Conceptual Art were published by the American art journal Artforum. The Paragraphs mark the progression from Minimal to Conceptual Art.
  • 1968: Michael Baldwin, Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge and Harold Hurrell found Art & Language.[34]
  • 1968: Lawrence Weiner relinquishes the physical making of his work and formulates his "Declaration of Intent," one of the most important conceptual art statements following LeWitt's "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art." The declaration, which underscores his subsequent practice reads: "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."
  • Friedrich Heubach launches the magazine Interfunktionen in Cologne, Germany, a publication that excelled in artists' projects. It originally showed a Fluxus influence, but later moved toward Conceptual art.
  • 1969: The first generation of New York alternative exhibition spaces are established, including Billy Apple's APPLE, Robert Newman's Gain Ground, where Vito Acconci produced many important early works, and 112 Greene Street.[29][35]
  • 1969: Robert Barry's Telepathic Piece at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, of which he said 'During the exhibition I will try to communicate telepathically a work of art, the nature of which is a series of thoughts that are not applicable to language or image'.
  • 1969: The first issue of "Art-Language" is published in May. It is subtitled as "The Journal of conceptual art" and edited by Terry Atkinson, David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin and Harold Hurrell. The editors are English members of the artists group Art & Language.
  • 1969: Vito Acconci creates "Following Piece," in which he follows randomly selected members of the public until they disappear into a private space. The piece is presented as photographs.
  • The English journal "Studio International" published Joseph Kosuth´s article "Art after Philosophy" in three parts (October–December). It became the most discussed article on "Conceptual Art".
  • 1970: Ian Burn, Joseph Kosuth, Mel Ramsden and Charles Harrison join Art & Language.[36]
  • 1970: Painter John Baldessari exhibits a film in which he sets a series of erudite statements by Sol LeWitt on the subject of conceptual art to popular tunes like 'Camptown Races' and 'Some Enchanted Evening'.
  • 1970: Douglas Huebler exhibits a series of photographs which were taken every two minutes whilst driving along a road for 24 minutes.
  • 1970: Douglas Huebler asks museum visitors to write down 'one authentic secret'. The resulting 1800 documents are compiled into a book which, by some accounts, makes for very repetitive reading as most secrets are similar.
  • 1971: Hans Haacke's 'Real Time Social System'. This piece of systems art detailed the real estate holdings of the third largest landowners in New York City. The properties were mostly in Harlem and the Lower East Side, were decrepit and poorly maintained, and represented the largest concentration of real estate in those areas under the control of a single group. The captions gave various financial details about the buildings, including recent sales between companies owned or controlled by the same family. The Guggenheim museum cancelled the exhibition, stating that the overt political implications of the work constituted "an alien substance that had entered the art museum organism". There is no evidence to suggest that the trustees of the Guggenheim were linked financially to the family which was the subject of the work.
  • 1972: Antonio Caro exhibitis in the National Art Salon (Museo Nacional, Bogotá, Colombia) his work: "Aquinocabeelarte" (Art does not fit here), where each of the letters is a separate poster, and under each letter is written the name of some victim of state repression.
  • 1972: Fred Forest buys an area of blank space in the newspaper Le Monde and invites readers to fill it with their own works of art.
  • General Idea launch File magazine in Toronto. The magazine functioned as something of an extended, collaborative artwork.
  • 1973: Jacek Tylicki lays out blank canvases or paper sheets in the natural environment for the nature to create art.
  • 1974: Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas.
  • 1975–76: Three issues of the journal "The Fox" were published in New York. The editor was Joseph Kosuth. "The Fox" became an important platform for the American members of Art & Language. Karl Beveridge, Ian Burn, Sarah Charlesworth, Michael Corris, Joseph Kosuth, Andrew Menard, Mel Ramsden and Terry Smith wrote articles which thematized the context of contemporary art. These articles exemplify the development of an institutional critique within the inner circle of Conceptual Art. The criticism of the art world integrates social, political and economic reasons.
  • 1977: Walter De Maria's 'Vertical Earth Kilometer' in Kassel, Germany. This was a one kilometer brass rod which was sunk into the earth so that nothing remained visible except a few centimeters. Despite its size, therefore, this work exists mostly in the viewer's mind.
  • 1977: John Fekner creates hundreds of environmental and conceptual outdoor works consisting of stenciled words, symbols, dates and icons spray painted in New York, Sweden, Canada, England and Germany.
  • 1989: Christopher Williams' Angola to Vietnam is first exhibited. The work consists of a series of black-and-white photographs of glass botanical specimens from the Botanical Museum at Harvard University, chosen according to a list of the thirty-six countries in which political disappearances were known to have taken place during the year 1985.
  • 1990: Ashley Bickerton and Ronald Jones included in "Mind Over Matter: Concept and Object" exhibition of ”third generation Conceptual artists” at the Whitney Museum of American Art.[37]
  • 1991: Ronald Jones exhibits objects and text, art, history and science rooted in grim political reality at Metro Pictures Gallery.[38]
  • 1991: Charles Saatchi funds Damien Hirst and the next year in the Saatchi Gallery exhibits his The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a shark in formaldehyde in a vitrine.
  • 1992: Maurizio Bolognini starts to "seal" his Programmed Machines: hundreds of computers are programmed and left to run ad infinitum to generate inexhaustible flows of random images which nobody would see.[39]
  • 1993: Matthieu Laurette established his artistic birth certificate by taking part in a French TV game called 'Tournez manège' (The Dating Game) where the female presenter asked him who he was, to which he replied: 'A multimedia artist'. Laurette had sent out invitations to an art audience to view the show on TV from their home, turning his staging of the artist into a performed reality.
  • 1993: Vanessa Beecroft holds her first performance in Milan, Italy, using models to act as a second audience to the display of her diary of food.
  • 1999: Tracey Emin is nominated for the Turner Prize. Part of her exhibit is My Bed, her dishevelled bed, surrounded by detritus such as condoms, blood-stained knickers, bottles and her bedroom slippers.
  • 2001: Martin Creed wins the Turner Prize for The Lights Going On and Off, an empty room in which the lights go on and off.[40]
  • 2004: Andrea Fraser's video Untitled, a document of her sexual encounter in a hotel room with a collector (the collector having agreed to help finance the technical costs for enacting and filming the encounter) is exhibited at the Friedrich Petzel Gallery. It is accompanied by her 1993 work Don't Postpone Joy, or Collecting Can Be Fun, a 27-page transcript of an interview with a collector in which the majority of the text has been deleted.
  • 2005: Simon Starling wins the Turner Prize for Shedboatshed, a wooden shed which he had turned into a boat, floated down the Rhine and turned back into a shed again.[41]
  • 2005: Maurizio Nannucci creates the large neon installation "All Art Has Been Contemporary" on the facade of Altes Museum in Berlin.
  • 2014: Olaf Nicolai creates the Memorial for the Victims of Nazi Military Justice on Vienna's Ballhausplatz after winning an international competition. The inscription on top of the three-step sculpture features a poem by Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay (1924–2006) with just two words: all alone.

Notable conceptual artists[edit]

See also[edit]

Individual works[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^"Wall Drawing 811 - Sol LeWitt". Archived from the original on 2 March 2007. 
  2. ^Sol LeWitt "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art", Artforum, June 1967.
  3. ^Godrey, Tony (1988). Conceptual Art (Art & Ideas). London: Phaidon Press Ltd. ISBN 978-0-7148-3388-0. 
  4. ^Joseph Kosuth, "Art After Philosophy" (1969). Reprinted in Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art: Themes and movements, Phaidon, London, 2002. p. 232
  5. ^Art & Language, Art-Language (journal): Introduction (1969). Reprinted in Osborne (2002) p. 230
  6. ^Ian Burn, Mel Ramsden: "Notes On Analysis" (1970). Reprinted in Osborne (2003), p. 237. E.g. "The outcome of much of the 'conceptual' work of the past two years has been to carefully clear the air of objects."
  7. ^ abTurner prize history: Conceptual art Tate gallery Accessed August 8, 2006
  8. ^Tony Godfrey, Conceptual Art, London: 1998. p. 28
  9. ^"Essay: Concept Art". 
  10. ^Artlex.comArchived 2013-05-16 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^Rorimer, p. 11
  12. ^Lucy Lippard & John Chandler, "The Dematerialization of Art", Art International 12:2, February 1968. Reprinted in Osborne (2002), p. 218
  13. ^Rorimer, p. 12
  14. ^"Ed Ruscha and Photography". The Art Institute of Chicago. March 1 – June 1, 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  15. ^Anne Rorimer, New Art in the Sixties and Seventies, Thames & Hudson, 2001; p. 71
  16. ^ abRorimer, p. 76
  17. ^Peter Osborne, Conceptual Art: Themes and movements, Phaidon, London, 2002. p. 28
  18. ^Osborne (2002), p. 28
  19. ^"Conceptual Art - The Art Story". The Art Story Foundation. Retrieved 25 September 2014. 
  20. ^"Welcome to the Stuckism web site". 
  21. ^Cripps, Charlotte. "Visual arts: Saying knickers to Sir Nicholas, The Independent, 7 September 2004. Retrieved from, 7 April 2008.
  22. ^Fiachra Gibbons. "Concept art is pretentious tat, says ICA chief". the Guardian. 
  23. ^"News". The Telegraph. 
  24. ^Reynolds, Nigel 2004 "Saatchi's latest shock for the art world is – painting"The Daily Telegraph 10 February 2004. Accessed April 15, 2006
  25. ^Michael Paraskos, 'Anarchy in the UK', in The Jackdaw (UK art magazine), January/February 2013, p.9. Also available online here.
  26. ^Hensher, Philip (2008-02-20). "The loo that shook the world: Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabi". London: The Independent (Extra). pp. 2–5. 
  27. ^Bénédicte Demelas: Des mythes et des réalitées de l'avant-garde française. Presses universitaires de Rennes, 1988
  28. ^ChewingTheSun. "Vorschau - Museum Morsbroich". 
  29. ^ abByrt, Anthony. "Brand, new". Frieze Magazine. Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  30. ^Fluxus at 50. Stefan Fricke, Alexander Klar, Sarah Maske, Kerber Verlag, 2012, ISBN 978-3-86678-700-1.
  31. ^Tate (2016-04-22), Art & Language – Conceptual Art, Mirrors and Selfies | TateShots, retrieved 2017-07-29 
  32. ^"Air-Conditioning Show / Air Show / Frameworks 1966-67". Retrieved 2017-07-29. 
  33. ^"ART & LANGUAGE UNCOMPLETED". Retrieved 2017-07-29. 
  34. ^"BBC - Coventry and Warwickshire Culture - Art and Language". Retrieved 2017-07-29. 
  35. ^Terroni, Christelle. "The Rise and Fall of Alternative Spaces". books& Retrieved 28 November 2012. 
  36. ^"BBC - Coventry and Warwickshire Culture - Art and Language". Retrieved 2017-07-29. 
  37. ^Brenson, Michael (19 October 1990). "Review/Art; In the Arena of the Mind, at the Whitney". The New York Times. 
  38. ^Smith, Roberta. "Art in review: Ronald Jones Metro Pictures", The New York Times, 27 December 1991. Retrieved 8 July 2008.
  39. ^Sandra Solimano (ed.) (2005). Maurizio Bolognini. Programmed Machines 1990–2005. Genoa: Villa Croce Museum of Contemporary Art, Neos. ISBN
Lawrence Weiner. Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole, The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 2005.
Stuckist artists leave a coffin, marked "The death of conceptual art", outside the White Cube gallery in Shoreditch, July 25, 2002.
Jacek Tylicki, Stone sculpture, "Give If You Can - Take If You Have To". Palolem Island, India, 2008
Maurizio Bolognini, Programmed Machines, Nice, France, 1992-97: hundreds of computers are programmed to generate an inexhaustible flux of random images which nobody would see

Duchamp, Manzoni, Lewitt, Craig-Martin, Gilbert and George

Conceptual art, an art form which established itself in the 1960s but saw its roots back in the early twentieth century with the dada movement and Marcel Duchamp. But why did it take so long for the movement to come to complete fruition? Easy answer, the timing was not right. The artists who moved to the states from Europe in an attempt to flee World War One were interrupted by a new wave of artists who fled Europe from World War Two. With this came the rise of abstract expressionism and pop art. Both of these were very important in the creation of a movement that would change the art world forever. After world war two, America was in a state of feeling victorious and powerful over the world, of course it was the beginning of a new world power. With this confidence grew a thriving for more knowledge and a desire to enhance the nation that had done so well in the two previous wars. All cultural activities were to delight in more money being spent on their development, and the critic world which we know today was born. One critic, Clement Greenberg was so influential he split the art world, dividing it into its medium genres. Painting being dominant at the time was given much more attention than the less popular sculpture. Because of this, painting became incredibly self-reflective and self-referential. It formed into a formal action, mainly counting on its aesthetic value to get it any publicity.

At the same time a group of artists was forming under the term fluxus. These artists were not interested in the traditional ways of expressing oneself but were into more unconventional methods such as dance, performance art, music amongst others. Although these had been seen before, never had they been considered art in a gallery format. With this came the questioning of the purpose of the gallery and a wish to break away and elude the art market. Conceptual art was born. The artists were not first interested in making paintings but decided on whatever materials and form was appropriate to the concept. This overcoming of medium and the task of putting the idea first is the origin of conceptual art. Although the art was growing in popularity around the early sixties, the term wasn’t coined until Sol Lewitt wrote “Paragraphs on conceptual art” were he explains the type of art he was generating. This was published in the June, 1967 edition of ArtForum Magazine, a significant international art magazine still around today.

So let’s begin with Marcel Duchamp, who can be considered as one of the most important artists of the twentieth century. His controversial work and stunning concepts behind the work took the art scene by storm and turned it upside down, he raised questions about the aesthetics of art, the importance of the craftsmanship of the artist, the idea that the artist did not even need to make the work and maybe the most important of all he questioned what is art? What was its purpose in modern day society?

            Marcel Duchamp was born in 1887 into an incredibly creative family. His older brothers were to become famous artists themselves; the sculptor, Raymond Duchamp-Villon and painter, Jacques Villon. At an early age, Duchamp worked in a fauvist style, being inspired by painters such as Andre Derain and Matisse but eventually moved onto a more cubist approach. His depiction of cubism was very different to the other examples of work under the movement’s umbrella, it concentrated mostly on time, similar to a long exposure of a camera setting. In his selection of works, “Nude descending a staircase” is perhaps the most well-known, having a great composition, backed up by the strong, confident use of line and colour. This was seen as a step in the wrong direction for cubism and was rejected by the community. Duchamp was of course disheartened, but did not give up on art. In fact, this can be seen as the most important turning point in his work.

The artist began to produce ready-mades as artwork, found objects which formed the basis for the dada movement. The union of objects and the juxtaposition of them against one another is a reaction to the First World War, a form of protest art, and also something that rebelled against the boundaries of art. In some respects it can be seen as anti-art in its concept. This can be seen as an attempt to react against the society which did not agree with his earlier work and which had settled neatly into a predictable cubist world. In 1915 he moved to New York along with other artists who were both fleeing the war and this conventional groove. Possibly the most famous of his readymades was constructed during his time in New York.

In 1917, an artwork which was certainly never appreciated at the time and caused controversy throughout the art scene, Fountain was entered into an exhibition showcasing the avant-garde of new work in the New York area. It was discarded and disallowed by the panel, pushing Duchamp and his companions out of the increasingly popular art world. This piece is, without a doubt, one of the most significant pieces of art not only in the twentieth century, but ever. It paved the road for the legacy of Duchamp, who soon became one of the most respected artists in New York. Duchamp and his close friend Man Ray wrote New York Dada, a compendium and manifesto to what the movement meant, which was hugely influential to artists at the time, and many artists flocked to the new epicentre of art. Amidst the prowess and thriving art scene in the states, Duchamp focussed on what he considers his most important work “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass)” which he worked on for eight years, and then his final twenty years were spent working on a 3-dimensional version of the piece. It is so incredibly important because of its connection to the artist. Just imagine how much effort the artist put into the work. Duchamp overlooked this point though as it was unimportant to the final piece, instead he centred on the concept behind the art. The bride is isolated from the nine bachelors in the bottom screen, this can be interpreted as two things, one they are working for her, attempting to please her, this would mean it’s a satirical work were the female has complete power over the male gender. The second is that it is a kind of experiment, the removal of women from the world could lead to disastrous consequences, as males would have nothing to work for. Either way, the piece is without doubt strong. I believe the artist’s choice to think of this as his most vital work to be because of his connection with it and the effect and control the work had on his life (it did take him 28 years).

In all of his works, including the early works, he has asked the question what is art? He has questioned how art is viewed and how artists should approach making their artworks. Duchamp was the key player in the evolution of art towards its conceptual climax in the 1960s. He died in 1968 just outside Paris.

Continuing on from Duchamp’s idea, Piero Manzoni is an infamous artist who dealt with the growing celebrity trend by creating mass-produced items inspired by himself. He was born in Italy in 1933 and started working in white monochrome paintings during the early 1950s influence by Yves Klein’s work in the same way, but eventually moved on to what he is considered to be so important for. “Artist’s Shit” talks about the artists role in the art world, dealing with the artist itself. It portrayed the art to be a futile act which was nowhere near as imperative as the artist. The tin was simple with the label reading “Artist’s shit,” the simplicity being crucial to the audiences understanding of the concept, the brutal wording emphasising the vulgarity of the work. This piece was a follow up to the successful “Artist’s breath” a balloon blown up by the artist. It, of course, has the same concept as the offensive tin. Jars of Angelina Jolie’s and Brad Pitt’s breath were recently sold in 2005 for $15099 on ebay. Maybe Manzoni was warning us of this impending celebrity obsessed culture we live in today. It also may have been a precursor for the skyrocketing art market in the nineties with art collectors such as Saatchi buying piece just for the sake of owning a piece by an important artist. He became a member of Milan’s Galeria Azimut, a meeting place for avant-garde artists which provided the art scenes daily dose of provocative and controversial works. The mundane becoming very valuable is a theme seen in the work of the Dadaists and Duchamp.

Although Manzoni was inspired by the past, he was fascinated with developing art and worked mostly in the sixties to form a base for the rest of conceptual art to bounce off of. Works such as his living sculptures piece, allowed the viewer to step on and become art. This was obviously a huge inspiration to Gilbert and George, who describe themselves as living sculptures. The artist was early on the art scene and unfortunately died before Sol Lewitt published his paragraphs on conceptual art, but yet he is still considered a conceptual artist. Why? Because of his clever use of humour in his works, his aspiration to break the boundaries between art genres, and of course his strong clear concepts. Mazoni died in 1963, and had created a ledge were other artists could continue his legacy.

Sol Lewitt, one of these artists which used Manzoni’s work as a grounding, was born in Connecticut, 1928. He worked as a graphic artist for, a now internationally renowned architect, I.M.Pei. As a young boy he was inspired by De Stijl and Bauhaus, influenced by its straight lines and design purpose. His earlier works were mostly of cubes organized in a structural arrangement until he saw the potential for furthering his art and moving into the conceptual world. He made up serial systems which provided ideas for his work, it systematically worked through all the outcomes with the inputs provided. This is especially true for “49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes,” where he experimented with three different kinds of cube (open, closed, and half open) and found how many variations he could create with this.He published his findings of this new kind of art in his paragraphs on conceptual art in ArtForum, 1967:

“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. 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 makes the art.”

This extract resembles very closely how Lewitt worked with his art, he was extremely isolated from it. This involved even getting other people to produce his work for him, while he wrote the plans. This was particularly evident in his wall drawings phase where Lewitt would compose a set of instructions and give them to a draughtsman who would then follow the plans to his best of knowledge and thus the artwork would be created. This ingenious form of working allowed Lewitt to produce vast amounts of clever systematic pieces, which like his work before used a logical pattern to attain its final state. This serial method may have been inspired by the repetition of tanks and soldiers from the Vietnam war and the mass produced objects in the consumerist market that existed at the time. Pop artists such as Andy Warhol had already looked into this, much like Manet had done during the late nineteenth century, and now Lewitt was, but in a much more conceptual way, obscuring it beyond the obvious. Lewitt worked from the late sixties into the modern day with large concrete structures resembling his earlier work. However he died recently in April 2007. He was extremely important in the expansion of conceptual art, not just for his findings but how he highlighted the work behind the art is just as important as the final piece. Knowing this, he placed his plans beside the work as to give them equal credit. He was also significant in continuing on Duchamps ready-made idea where the artist does not have to produce the actual work.

Michael Craig Martin, another conceptual artist who regarded Duchamps ready-made idea as hugely crucial to the development of art, has been a hugely influential artist in the ways in which he approaches his concepts. He was also in later years a lecturer of Goldsmiths, where the Young British Artists originated from. He was born in 1941 in Ireland but moved to America at an early age and studied painting at Yale University. Whilst in America he would have been influenced by the American art scene, which was flourishing with all the migrant artists from Europe. This hub for art would be incredibly important in Craig-Martin’s interest in art. Upon completing his degree in 1966 he moved to England where he still works. In 1973 he taught as a senior lecturer at Goldsmiths college, London, where he had huge influence over students during the 1980s and 90s. His part was pivotal in the forming of the YBAs, publicising the Freeze exhibition and guiding the artists into their proper directions. His work, although conceptual in content, is very inspired by minimalism. His simple use of simple, household objects can be seen as a modern equivalent of Duchamp’s ready-mades. Possibly the most famous of these works is “Oak Tree” a glass of water on a shelf, with a plaque next to the piece dictating the artists argument that the glass of water on the shelf is in fact, an oak tree. His reasoning is that because he is the artist, he can change the glass into an oak tree. This brought up questions of how the artists intent was an extremely important issue of the time. Because of his use of domestic items, the art is relatable and reads easily and correctly, having conceptual lucidity.

The artist did not constrict himself to these pieces and worked on installations, sculptures, paintings, wall drawings and many others. Craig-Martin remains a very famous and influential artist, working mostly in screen prints and large painted wall murals. These pieces can be seen as a kind of modern pop art. In one of these works entitled “History” the artist juxtaposes scale and objects to create a nonsense which although can be seen as unorganized comes across as graphical and neat in appearance. This clinical sense may be implying something about our organized society or how history is portrayed in the present. Despite what it actually means, his work can be seen as very contemporary, even though it heavily references pop art and its mass production. It is extremely difficult to use a technique that has been used before and have it emerge looking new.

Two artists which have applied this technique to Manzoni’s living sculptures are Gilbert and George, a united duo, who work together. They are made up of Gilbert Proesch who was born in Italy, 1943 and George Passmore in Devon, 1942. Although nothing has ever been openly discussed over their relationship, it is widely considered that they are a couple. They met at Saint Martins College of Art and Design in 1967 after it turned out George was the only one who could understand Gilbert’s poor English. Their studios consist of a room entirely dedicated to subject matter. In it are boxes and boxes of things, filed in order in A4 sized boxes. In another room is a computer studio devoted to the creation of sketches on the computer. This clinical setting is very similar to the way in which the artists function. All of their pieces are entitled as sculptures, even if they are 2-Dimensional (this maybe a reference to Duchamp’s attempt to break down the barriers of the genres). They work in mixed media with photographs mostly with a trademark format of a rectangle or square broken down into a grid. But their degree show piece for Saint Martin’s was not dissimilar to Manzoni’s living sculptures idea. Gilbert and George dressed up in suits and stood on a podium like base, depicting themselves as living sculptures. In the film “A portrait of the artists as young men, 1970” the artists are filmed doing nothing for seven minutes. The concept behind this work was the same as the living sculptures idea. This developed into their entire body of work, and everything they do is now an extension of the personas they have created for themselves. The two appear in suits whenever in public and very rarely are seen apart. These guises, are the vital part to their work as everything they do stems out from it, they are the central them of their work. Although moving into their later work, the artists included religion, sexuality, alcohol, class, nationality, death, identity and politics as themes in their work. In “The Naked Eye, 1994” the artists are depicted without their iconic suits, completely naked but still hiding behind their hands. This can be seen as a portrayal of the loss of character that the two feel when they are not in character.

In 1984 the pair were nominated for the Turner Prize only to lose to fellow artist, Malcolm Morley. They did win in 1986 however. They have been very important artists throughout their careers broadening the horizons of what art is and how it is portrayed to the public. They drew the art away from the actual art and more towards the artist, a technique used by Piero Manzoni in his work. The artists believe firmly that their art breaks down the social barriers of society, and I believe this too. Because of their light heartedness and almost confessional work they really appeal to me.

Although many people do not like conceptual art, it must be argued that it has been one of the most dramatic and important turns in art. The expansion of art makes it easier for an artist to work in whichever way he or she feels comfortable. It was crucial to what art has become nowadays, and I shudder to think what would have happened if the movement had not occurred.



Marcel Duchamp

Nude descending staircase no2, 1912

The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923

Fountain, 1917, all pictures supplied by

Piero Mazoni

artist’s shit, 1961, supplied by

artists breath, 1960, supplied by

Sol Lewitt

Both wall drawings supplied by

49 Three-Part Variations on Three Different Kinds of Cubes(1967–71) – supplied by Allen Memorial Art Museum online

Michael Craig Martin

Oak Tree, 1973, supplied by

History, 2001, supplied by

Gilbert & George

Still from a portrait of the artists as young men, 7 minutes long, supplied by

Naked Eye, 1994, supplied by

Gordon Douglas 16th February 2009

Like this:



0 Replies to “Essay On Conceptual Art Sculpture”

Lascia un Commento

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *