Conceptual Art

Conceptual art is intended to convey a particular idea or concept to an audience.

According to the rules of the Conceptual Art movement, it is the concept which takes importance over the aesthetics and materials of an artwork.

As the idea of a work matters more than the way it is represented, traditional art objects such as paintings and sculptures are commonly rejected by conceptual artists as precious commodities.

History of Conceptual Art

While Conceptual art has its roots in the European Dada movement of the early 20th century, the style emerged as a recognised art movement in the 1960s.

When the expression “concept art” was coined by Henry Flynt in 1961, the term took on a different meaning when it was used by Joseph Kosuth and the Art and Language group in England. With conceptual art seen to act as a reaction against formalism and commodification this group believed the art object was not an end in itself and saw artistic knowledge as equal to artistic production.

By the mid 1970s many publications were written about the new art trend, and a loose collection of related practices began to emerge.

The first exhibition specifically devoted to Conceptual Art took place in 1970 at the New York Cultural Centre. It was called “Conceptual Art and Conceptual Aspects”.

Soon after, the term “conceptual art” came to encapsulate all forms of contemporary art that did not utilise the traditional skills of painting and sculpture.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp was a key influence of the conceptualists for the way he provided examples of artworks in which the concept takes precedence.

For example, Duchamp’s most famous work, Fountain (1917) shows a urinal basin signed by the artist under the pseudonym “R.Mutt”. When it was submitted in the annual exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York it was rejected under the argument that it did not reflect the traditional qualities of art making. It was a commonplace object and therefore not unique.

Duchamp’s focus on the concept of his art work was later defended by the American 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.”

Noteworthy Conceptual Artists

Between 1967 and 1978 Conceptual art was in it’s golden years, allowing notable conceptualists such as Henry Flynt, Dan Graham, Robert Morris and Ray Johnson to emerge on the art scene.

During the reign of conceptual art, other conceptualists such as Michael Asher, Allan Bridge, Jenny Holzer, Yoko Ono, Yves Klein and Mark Divo established names for themselves.

Conceptual Artists in Australia

One of Australia’s most renowned conceptualists is Ian Brown.

Regarded as one of the most important members of the Art and Language Group, he lived in New York between 1967 and 1977 and frequently exhibited at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

During Brown’s time abroad he was lauded as “the only Australian ever to be central to an internationally significant art movement.”

In a 1992 exhibition, Burn purchased paintings from second-had shops and junk markets, framed them within wide white moldings and added an overlaid text of elegantly printed words of Plexiglas. Named the “Value Added Landscapes”, these works are conceptualist for the way they combine ready-made amateur landscapes with short essays describing the appropriated paintings.

Conceptual Artists Around The World

Led by Damien Hirst, the Young British Artists (YBAs) came to prominence in the early 1990s as a group of up-and-coming conceptualists. Tracey Emin is regarded as a leading YBA and conceptual artist. In 1999 she was nominated for the Turner Prize for her exhibit, My Bed which featured a disheveled bed surrounded by condoms, blood-stained knickers, bottles and bedroom slippers.

When the Stuckist group of artists emerged in 1999, their anti-conceptual art style and pro-contemporary figurative painting labelled conceptual art as “unremarkable and boring.”

The Death of Conceptual Art

On July 25th, 2002 a coffin was placed outside the White Cube gallery which read “the Death of Conceptual Art”, and many demonstrations were staged outside the Turner Prize.

In many respects this began the demise of conceptual art.

In 2002, the Chairman of the British Institute of Contemporary Arts, Ivan Massow branded conceptual art “pretentious, self-indulgent, craftless tat in danger of disappearing up its on arse.”

Two years later, the Saatchi Gallery told the media that “painting continues to be the most relevant and vital way that artists choose to communicate”, and the Turner Prize was denounced as “cold, mechanical, conceptual bulls**t.”

Other Art Movements

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