From the mid-1960s through the 1970s conceptual artists produced work that totally rejected standard ideas of art and claimed that the articulation of an artistic idea serves as a work of art, implying that aesthetics, expression, skill and marketability were all irrelevant standards by which art was usually judged. Famous examples of conceptual art include Jackson Pollock's "drip" paintings, or Andy Warhol's Brillo Boxes (1964). For many, this was not art at all, but the movement succeeded in expanding the boundaries of art so that conceptual artworks are widely accepted as art by collectors, galleries and museum curators.
Examples of conceptual art
An example of conceptual art is One and Three Chairs (1965) by Joseph Kosuth. This artwork has a physical chair sitting between a scale photograph of a chair and a printed definition of the word "chair." The installation makes people question what constitutes the "chair" - the physical object, the idea, the photograph, or a combination of all three. It is an enquiry about the nature/concept of art.
In 1967, Roelouf Louw exhibited Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) in London. Close to 6000 oranges were stacked in a pyramid and instead of allowing the fruit to rot, Louw invited visitors to eat the oranges. As viewers removed oranges, the works original form changed and thus its meaning. The way viewers engaged with the piece also changed, becoming a simple choice of whether or not to take an orange.
Braco Dimitrijević’s The Casual Passer-By I Met at 11.28am (1972) consists of a photograph of a man that Dimitrijević took outside St Martin’s School of Art, where the artist studied at the time. Dimitrijević displayed posters of the headshot on the back of the no.14 buses, which ran past the College, committing the work into the public realm. Now, the work exists as a document which includes the headshot, a signed declaration stating that the man in the shot did meet Dimitrijević at 11:28am in October 1972 and two photographs of the posters on the back of the bus.
Political and social statements
Whilst conceptual artists were a loose international group, by 1968 a series of conceptual art exhibitions promoted the movement in New York and in 1969, New York's Museum of Modern Art gathered a number of artists from the art movement for an exhibition named Information.
Artist collectives were often political in their focus, addressing the pharmaceutical industry and the AIDS crisis in Canada in the 1980s and in South America for political opposition where artist collectives provided anonymity, and thus protection from prosecution by oppressive authorities, and the opportunity to make strong social statements. The Chilean group CADA (Art Action Collective) and the Peruvian group Parenthesis exemplified this trend.
Conceptual art in the 21st century
The conceptual art movement dissolved in the mid-1970s, but the first-wave conceptualists such as Lawrence Weiner and John Baldessari remain active today and have inspired younger artists to continue the practice of language-based art and to push the boundaries of art and its definitions. Some of the movement’s tactics endure to this day in the works of Jenny Holzer, Andrea Fraser, Tino Seghal, Gabriel Orozco, Tracey Emin, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Glen Ligon, and Damien Hirst.
Post Conceptual painting focuses on the stroke, the smallest unit of meaning created with the smallest unit of physical movement by the artist, as the primary significance in a work. This is the opposite of the idea of the concept that the stroke serves to create the image. What this means, is that the intent and realisation of the end result is present at the beginning.
Exhibitions and Events
Conceptual art was usually created and displayed beyond gallery walls. Yet, in 2016, Tate Britain held an exhibition Conceptual Art In Britain 1964–1979, a show that revealed conceptual art’s lasting legacy.
In 2009, the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, in its catalogue to accompany the show titled The Pictures Generation: 1974–1984, the curator Douglas Eklund wrote that the “bleary-eyed visages on the cover of Avalanche magazine revealed them to be something like rock stars in the very small, insular world of no more than ten New York galleries and another ten in Europe that featured their brand of advanced art.”
In the US, the entire video catalogue of William Wegman from 1970 to 1999, including “Before/On/After: William Wegman and California Conceptualism” has been donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Buying conceptual art
Conceptual artists featured in the first wave of the movement include Keith Arnatt, Art & Language, Conrad Atkinson, Victor Burgin, Michael Craig-Martin, Hamish Fulton, Margaret Harrison, Susan Hiller, John Hilliard, Mary Kelly, John Latham, Richard Long, Bruce McLean, David Tremlett and Stephen Willats among others. Copies of their work are available online with originals available through smaller London galleries or their representatives.