Conceptual Art has the same "patron saint" as Pop Art: Marcel
Duchamp. It arose during the
out of the Happenings staged by Alan Kaprow (born
in which the event itself became the art.
Conceptual Art challenges our definition of art more radically than Pop,
insisting that the leap of the imagination, not the execution, is art. According to this view, works
of art can be dispensed with altogether, since they are incidental
by-products of the imaginative leap. So too can galleries and, by
extension, even the artist's public. The creative process need only be
documented in some way. Sometimes this is in verbal form, but more often
it is by still photography, video, or cinema displayed within an
Conceptual Art, we will recognize, is akin to Minimalism as a
phenomenon of the
1960s, but instead of abolishing
content, it eliminates aesthetics from art. This deliberately antiart
approach, stemming from Dada,
poses a number of stimulating paradoxes. As soon
as the documentation takes on visible form, it begins to come perilously
close to more traditional forms of art (especially if it is placed in a
gallery where it can be seen by an audience), since it is impossible
fully to divorce the imagination from aesthetic matters.
We see this in One and Three Chain (fig.
Joseph Kosuth (born
1945), which is clearly
indebted to Duchamp's ready-mades (fig.
It "describes" a chair by combining in one
installation an actual chair, a full-scale photograph of that chair, and
a printed dictionary definition of a chair. Whatever the Conceptual artist's intention, this making of the
work of art, no matter how minimal the process, is as essential as it
was for Michelangelo. In the end, all art is the final document of the
creative process, because without execution, no idea can ever be fully
realized. Without such "proof of performance," the Conceptual artist
becomes like the emperor wearing new clothes that no one else can see.
And, in fact, Conceptual Art has embraced all of the mediums in one form
Joseph Kosuth. One and
Three Cham. 1965.
Photograph of chair.
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Kosuth was born in Toledo, Ohio, and studied fine arts at
the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 1965 to
His art generally strives to explore the
nature of art, focusing on ideas at the fringe of art rather
than on producing art per se. Thus his art is very
self-referential, and a typical tautological statement is
"The 'value' of particular artists after
Duchamp can be weighed according to how much they questioned
the nature of art."
One of his most famous works is One and Three Chairs, a
visual expression of Plato's concept of The Forms. The piece
features a physical chair, a photograph of that chair, and
the text of a dictionary definition of the word "chair". The
photograph is a representation of the actual chair situated
on the floor, in the foreground of the work of art. The
definition, posted on the same wall as the photograph,
delineates in words the concept of what a chair is, in its
various incarnations. In this and other, similar works, Five
Words in Blue Neon and Glass One and Three, Kosuth forwards
tautological statements, where the works literally are what
they say they are.
In an addition to his artwork, he has
written several books on the nature of art and artists,
including Artist as Anthropologist. In his essay "Art after
Philosophy" (1969), he argued that art is the continuation
of philosophy, which he saw at an end. He was unable to
define art in so far as such a definition would destroy his
private self referential definition of art. Like the
Situationists, he rejected formalism as an exercise in
aesthetics, with its function to be aesthetic. Formalism, he
said, limits the possibilities for art with minimal creative
effort put forth by the formalist. Further, since concept is
overlooked by the formalist, "Formalist criticism is no more
than an analysis of the physical attributes of particular
objects which happen to exist in a morphological context".
He further argues that the "change from 'appearance' to
'conception' (which begins with Duchamp's first unassisted
readymade) was the beginning of 'modern art' and the
beginning of 'conceptual art'." Kosuth explains that works
of conceptual art are analytic propositions. They are
linguistic in character because they express definitions of
art. This makes them tautological. In this vein is another
of his well-known pieces: In Figeac, Lot, France, on the
"Place des écritures" (writings place) is a giant copy of
the Rosetta stone.
Four Coulors, Four Words
Box, Cube, Empty, Clear, Glass--a Description.
"It was it" No. 4, 1986; phototext by Sigmund Freud from
"Psychopathologie of Everyday Life" with Neon
"Description of the same content twice
It was it"; white neon letters and blue neon-line; size 125 x 267 cm
Titled (Art as Idea as Idea)
Titled (A.A.I.A.I.)' [F.E. Special]#1
Condizioni d'Assenza (Il nome e chi lo
porta, a G.) VI (Venere medici, 9 a. C.)
Frammento nr 11" («Che mai sara?» from "L'Italiana
in Algeri" by G. Rossini)
M.O. (F. O. P.)
Like Dada, Conceptual Art is notable for its ironic humor—whose
bark is admittedly worse than its bite, however. It reached its high
point with Art History, from
Ingres and Other Parables by
1931), which is both a witty
spoof on art-history texts such as this book and a telling commentary on
the difficulties young artists face in finding acceptance (fig.
1167). The juxtaposition of a
great monument, mock-serious narrative, and absurd moral is meant to
deride traditional value judgments about art. Yet it remains strangely
innocuous, as if the artist were too self-consciously aware of his
History, from Ingres and Other Parables.
Photograph and typed text.
Collection Angelo Baldassarre, Bari, Italy
Performance Art, which originated in the early decades of this
century, belongs to the history of theater, but the form that
arose in the 1970s combines aspects of Happenings and Conceptual Art
with installations. In reaction to Minimalism, artists now sought to
assert their presence once again by becoming, in effect, living works of
art. The results, however, have relied mainly on the shock value of
irreverent humor or explicit sexuality. Nonetheless, Performance Art
emerged as perhaps the most characteristic art form of the
(1921-1986) managed to overcome these
limitations, though he, too, was a controversial figure who incorporated
an element of parody into his work. Life for Beuys was a creative
process in which everyone is an artist. lie assumed the guise of a modern-day shaman intent
on healing the spiritual crisis of contemporary life caused, he
believed, by the rift between the arts and sciences. To find the common
denominator behind such polarities, he created objects and scenarios
which, though often baffling at face value, were meant to be accessible
to the intuition. In 1974,
Beuys spent one week caged up in a New York gallery with
a coyote (fig. 1168), an
animal sacred to the American Indian but persecuted by the white man.
His objective in this "dialogue" was to lift the trauma caused to an
entire nation by the schism between the two opposing world views. That
the attempt was inherently doomed to failure does not in any way reduce
the sincerity of this act of conscience.
The German artist
Joseph Beuys. Coyote.
Photo of performance at Rene Block Gallery, New York,
b. 1921, Krefeld,
Germany; d. 1986, Dusseldorf
Joseph Beuys was born May 12, 1921, in Krefeld, Germany.
During his school years in Kleve, Beuys was exposed to the work of
Achilles Moortgat, whose studio he often visited, and was inspired by the
sculptures of Wilhelm Lehmbruck. Beuys began to study medicine in 1940,
but his studies were interrupted when he joined the army and served as a
fighter pilot. During a mission in 1943, he was badly injured when his
plane crashed in a desolate region of south Russia. This experience would
resonate in all of his later work.
After the war, he decided to dedicate his life to art.
In 1947, he registered at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, where
he studied under Joseph Enseling and Ewald Matare. After Beuys graduated
in 1951, the brothers Franz Joseph and Hans van der Grinten began to
collect his work. Eventually becoming his most important patrons, they
organized his first solo show at their house in Kranenburg in 1953. Beuys
was appointed professor of monumental sculpture at the Staatliche
Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in 1961. The year after, he began to associate
artists, principally Nam June Paik and George Maciunas, and later he met
Minimalist artist Robert Morris. He helped to organize the Festum Fluxorum
Fluxus at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in 1963, and he
participated for the first time in Documenta in Kassel in 1964.
In 1967, Beuys founded the German Student Party, one of
the numerous political groups that he organized during the next decade. In
1972, he was dismissed from the Staatliche Kunstakademie Dusseldorf amid
great controversy for admitting to his class over 50 students who
previously had been rejected. The following year, he founded the Free
International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research. He
increasingly became involved in political activities and in 1976 ran for
the German Bundestag. In 1978, he was made a member of the Akademie der
Kunst, Berlin. The 1970s were also marked by numerous exhibitions
throughout Europe and the United States. Beuys represented Germany at the
Venice Biennale in 1976 and 1980. A retrospective of his work was
held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1979. He was made a
member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, in 1980. During the
inauguration of the 1982 Documentain Kassel, Beuys planted the
first of 7,000 oak trees; in other cities, he repeated this tree-planting
action several times in the following years. In January 1986, the artist
received the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize in Duisburg. On January 23, 1986,
Beuys died in Dusseldorf.
How to Explain Paintings to a Dead Hare
Photo from Performance on Nov. 26
I Like America and
America Likes Me
I Like America
and America Likes Me
Das Ende des 20
homogine pour piano a queue
Installation view of Fond III/3, 1979,
and Fond IV/4, 1979
Animal Woman, 1949
Virgin, April 4, 1979/June 23, 1979
F.I.U.: The Defense of Nature, 1983-1985
Lightning with Stag in its Glare (Blitzschlag Mit Lichtschein auf Hirsch),