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Movements in Modern Art :: CONCEPTUALISM
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Conceptualism began in the first half of the c20th. Not as an artisitic movement but as a philosophy. As a questioning of what was taken for granted. The work of the Dadaists is fundamentally conceptualist. It questions the meaning of art itself. The work of Marcel Duchamp, in particular, is fundamentally conceptualist: Duchamp argued that the idea of a work matters more than its physical representation.

And it is this statement, more than any other, which underpins all Conceptualist art.

As an artistic ‘movement’ Conceptualism itself arose in the 1960’s. A reaction against the contemporary art of that period. The artistic development of work in the Philosophy of Semantics and Language, most notably by the Philosopher Wittgenstein. And the necessary evolution of the earlier aforementiond work.

Conceptualist art may not be recognisable as art. A pile of sweets on the floor may be art or a word written on a wall. It may only exist for a moment, and survive afterward in notes or photographs, which document the work without being the work itself. Conceptualism is also about liberation. Any medium can be used to portray the artistic idea. Or even, as was the case with Fred Forest's blank space, no real medium at all.

Conceptual art is also, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the artist, a rebellion against the commercial art world. Why should a poor work by a great artist be valued more than an outstanding work by a lesser artist? What is so important about 'the artists touch'? Some Conceptual artists sought ways to avoid this by creating works that have little or no physical presence. A performance piece, for example, exists physically while it is being performed; once the performance is over, there is nothing to hang on the wall. Documentation, such as photographs of a piece being performed, or a written list of instructions, may survive, but these are not the work of art itself. (See the work of Lawrence Weiner, for example).

As with all good rebels, those Conceptualists who did not create solid artworks expected to be poor, as they had nothing to sell. However, if the core of the work is the idea, the design, that might be sold. Collectors began purchasing these 'works'.

Although the heyday of Conceptualism per se was on the 1960's and 1970's it remains very much alive in the art world today. Artists such as Damien Hirst, who came to prominence in the late 1980s, are seen as conceptual, even though their work relies very heavily on the art object to make its impact.

Other artists, albeit using differing headings other than 'Conceptualism', have reiterated the fundamentals of Conceptualist philosophy but have sought to change the basis of the artistic relationship. Geoff Bunn and Marc Bergerman, for example, have turned to new media as well as more traditional means of artistic representation as a means of once again connecting art with the viewer.

(FR) Wikipedia article about Conceptual Art