A New Look—and Look Back—at Conceptualism
“In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art...It is usually free from the dependence on the skill of the artist as a craftsman.”—Sol LeWitt
The term “Conceptual art” came to the fore in 1967, after an article by Sol LeWitt (excerpted above) hit the stands in the pages of Artforum—the sentiment being that the idea, planning, and production process of a work were more important than the result. Artists like Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner, and Yoko Ono—all primary figures of Conceptualism—would come to exemplify these ideas in their work, but a new exhibition by Barcelona-born, Brooklyn-based Martí Cormand flips these concepts entirely on their heads. Choosing a handful of seminal Conceptualist works, Cormand assumed the opposite attitude of the Conceptualists, focusing on time and attention. Shifting the medium to drawings in paper, Cormand reproduced the works by hand in extraordinarily precise graphite drawings—100- to 200-hours in the making—to create what would ultimately represent slow renderings of the conceptual art movement. Next week, Cormand’s drawings will fill a booth at PINTA New York. Until then, here’s preview of his works and a crash course in the background behind the originals.Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, First Edition, 1964
A pioneer of Conceptual art, in 1964 Yoko Ono self-published an art book, titled Grapefruit, which was a collection of 150 instruction paintings—or “event scores”—that replaced artwork with whimsical handwritten ideas. Texts include: “Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in” or “Burn this book after you’ve read it.”
Waltercio Caldas’ O Livro Velázquez, 1996
In the late ’90s, Brazilian Conceptualist Waltercio Caldas manipulated the works of Spanish master Diego Velázquez to comprise a disorienting work à la coffee table art book—but where from cover to cover, every artwork was out of focus and every page of text was blurred. Using Photoshop, Caldas removed all of Velázquez’ figures from the images, leaving empty rooms and horses without riders to challenge the sight and perception of the viewer.
Lawrence Weiner’s TO SEE AND BE SEEN, 1972
Lawrence Weiner has famously chosen language as his medium, believing it to function as adequately as a constructed object. In his language-based sculptures, like TO SEE AND BE SEEN, Weiner adopts ready-made idioms, finding the value of the work to exist in the idea.Cildo Meireles’ Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project, 1970
To counteract political oppression in Brazil in the 1970s, Cildo Meireles printed political messages on Coca-Cola bottles, which he could circulate freely—void of government censorship. Meireles used white ink to silkscreen messages onto the returnable bottles, and as the ink was nearly-invisible on the empty glass, the messages were only legible after the bottle had been refilled at the factory.Cildo Meireles’ Cruzeiro do Sul (Southern Cross), 1969
Believing the size of an artwork should not weigh upon its significance, Meireles placed a tiny cube made of oak and pine—nine mm squared—in an otherwise empty gallery room. “In my art, it is precisely the smallest works which are the most comprehensive,” Meireles once said.Marcel Broodthaers’ Casserole and Closed Mussels, 1964
Marcel Broodthaers was famous for his use of readymade, everyday objects. In Casserole and Closed Mussels, the artist reproduced the specialty dish of his native Belgium using a family-owned pot and discarded mussel shells from a local restaurant. “The bursting out of the mussels from the casserole does not follow the laws of boiling, it follows the laws of artifice and results in the construction of an abstract form,” he said.Alighiero Boetti’s Alighiero e Boetti Self Portrait, 1977
In 1972, Italian Conceptual artist Alighiero Boetti chose to add the letter ‘e’ (meaning and) between his first and last name—thus reborn as two selves, Alighiero and Boetti. Acknowledging the dual roles of the artist and his collaborators, Boetti created a series of portraits depicting himself holding hands with a twin.Luis Camnitzer’s Coca-Cola Bottle Filled with Coca-Cola, 1973
Simply put, in 1973 Uruguayan conceptual artist Luis Camnintzer filled a Coca-Cola bottle with glass from—you guessed it—another Coca-Cola bottle.Joseph Kosuth’s One and Three Chairs, 1965
In one of Joseph Kosuth’s best known works—created when he was only age 20—a wooden chair is accompanied by a life-sized photograph of the chair as well as a printed dictionary definition of the word “chair”. In each iteration, the chair is chosen and photographed upon installation. “By changing the location, the object, the photograph, and still having it remain the same work was very interesting. It meant that you could have an artwork which was that idea of an artwork, and its formal components weren’t important,” Kosuth said. [See a similar example with a lamp.]
On view at Josée Bienvenu, PINTA New York 2013, Contemporary, Booth PC1, Nov. 15th–17th.
“Formalizing their concept” is on view at Josée Bienvenu Gallery, New York, October 31 - December 14, 2013.