The groundwork for Conceptual art was laid by
and his readymades, particularly Fountain
(1917), the sculpture that he created by turning a urinal on its side, signing it with the pseudonym “R. Mutt,” and submitting it to the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists. Though no work can be declined by the committee, the work caused such an uproar that the overseers decided to hide the work from view, saying in a statement: “Its place is not an art exhibition, and it is by no definition a work of art.” It was discussed in
publications in New York and Paris, but had little lasting effect until the 1950s, when Duchamp’s career roared back
artists claimed him and the readymades as pivotal influences, and the impact of Fountain
was cemented. (In 2004, a poll
of 500 art experts commissioned by a sponsor of the Turner Prize named it the the most influential work of modern art ever made.)
The term “Conceptual art” was coined in the early 1950s by
, a California-based pioneer of large-scale installations and a key figure in the Los Angeles art scene, according to Roberta Smith’s 1999 essay. He was also one of the so-called Neo-Dada artists who took up the baton from Duchamp in the 1950s. Throughout the 1960s, Kienholz developed a series of works he called “concept tableaux,” deemed as such because until they were purchased, they were not realized works. The ownership of the idea would be transferred to the buyer once the first transaction occurred, and then two more stages of payment would facilitate the creation of an actual object.
For instance, in 1965, Kienholz offered for sale a proposed work called The World (1964), a 15-by-40-foot tableau of 5-foot-thick concrete, to be placed in Hope, Idaho. There, visitors could write whatever phrase they would like—“The Fuck You’s will have to stand with the Jesus Saves,” Kienholz wrote in the description of the work—and when the top gets completely covered in writing, another slab would be placed on top. The price is $10,000 for the idea ($80,771 in today’s currency), which can be sold on the secondary market as the new owners sees fit. The price for a full sketch of the project beyond the text description would be $1,000, and then the actual construction would be simply the cost of materials and wages for the artists.