After Modernism Lecture 13/03/14 – Conceptualism

An interesting lecture today, as well as one that at first, I felt like I would have no interest in. The most intriguing part of the lecture was that I am a current practitioner of this movement, although I’ve never really perceived it to be a movement; I believed all modern artworks were designed with a concept in mind, and so believed conceptualism to be a universal movement, synonymous with the title ‘Modern Art’.

‘Fountain’ Marcel Duchamp, 1968

The first piece looked at in this lecture was obviously the most controversial piece of conceptualist art of all time; Duchamp’s fountain. Interestingly, the original fountain was disposed off before it was ever shown in the exhibition, as it was deemed worthless by the owners of the exhibition, and so the artwork was actually the photograph of the piece, which Duchamp brought back into the public eye through his publication of a journal called ‘The Blind Man’, where he argued that the piece had it’s own artistic merits, as it was CHOSEN by the artist, and that classifies it as a piece of art. It was then recreated (a few times) by Duchamp in the 1950’s, but as the specific model was not in manufacture at the time, Duchamp tasked a highly-skilled ceramicist to create them for him.

The Fountains are a replica of a factory manufactured object, which was then replicated again by an artist that was not Duchamp. This is incredibly interesting, and pushes us to believe that art can be an idea, rather than a physical object, which is what the basis of Conceptualism is.

Ensō’ Kanjuro Shibata XX, 2000

Interestingly, as we discussed arguments for and against the Fountain, there was mention of the argument; ‘Anyone can do this, therefore it is not art.’ And in response to this, Jonathan argued ‘Is it right to acknowledge a piece on the difficulty of creating it? Are there not pieces that are wonderfully beautiful that are simple to craft?’ and he showed us a series of paintings from Japanese buddhism, labelled ‘Ensō’ paintings, which depict the zen state that many practicing buddhists strive to achieve. They are beautifully simple pieces, created with one or two single brushstrokes, and represent the beauty of nothingness, but can also symbolise the circular state of the universe; they represent both everything, and nothing, at the same time. This deeply resonated within me because of my interests in the buddhist faith, as well as my current path into minimalism and the beauty of the void.

‘Secret Painting’ Mel Ramsden, 1967-8

As I explored the four areas of Conceptualism; Concepts, Ambiguity, Anti-Uniqueness, and the Anti Visual, although I did find interests in all four areas, especially Laurence Weiner’s artworks being nothing more than concepts that he sells to others to realise (absolutely mind-boggling), I found the most interest in the last of these; the ‘Anti Visual’. This piece in particular, the secret painting, is an absolutely mind blowing piece, it is simply a painting that no-one is intended to see. It seemingly destroys the relationship between the artist and their audience; the artist often wants others to understand and appreciate their work, but how can someone appreciate something that they cannot see?! it defies all logic, but within this lies it’s beauty. It is a challenging piece to all who perceived it, and this makes it the most interesting for sure.

‘Working drawings and other visible things on paper, not necessarily meant to be viewed as art’ Mel Bochner, 1966

LEading onto into the increasingly wild and strange world of conceptualism, we see another piece that seems to stretch the rules of art to an absolute breaking point. The piece is simple, it is a series of files filled with scraps of paper created by artists, ordinary people, and creations of unknown origin, which Bochner has compiled into these ‘compendiums’. Sure, we can see them as art and we can see them as not art, as we can lump them into these two forms of categories, but ‘not necessarily meant to be viewed as art’, what could that possibly even mean? surely we would need to view them in some form? especially in the gallery, we are therefore challenged on a far greater level than anything we’ve seen before? (well, at least I was). I am still struggling to stretch my head around the concept now, and I believe it will evoke a response in me for years to come. Therefore, I believe this work has actually succeeded in what it was trying to address and do, and therefore is a very successful piece of artwork.


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