Sophie BÉLAIR CLÉMENT, THÉRÈSE MASTROIACOVO,
Damian MOPPETT, Daniel OLSON, Pavel PAVLOV, Charles STANKIEVECH,
Exhibition produced by the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery with the support
of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Curator : Michèle Thériault
In the past 10 years there has been an unprecedented resurgence
of the conceptual in art. It is not so much that it spells the
triumph of Conceptual art (from the mid 1960s to the early to
mid 1970s) over other art movements, for today’s exploded
discourse of art’s relationship to life and the public sphere,
intermingled with the ferocious and frenetic forces of the market,
render such a proposition meaningless. Rather, it demonstrates
both the resilience and versatility of Conceptualism’s tactics
and its capacity for inhabiting (and being inhabited by) a diversity
of artistic practices—some paradoxically ‘unconceptual’,—that
incites one to return to and rethink the original instance and
the work it produced. A number of critics and historians have
done exactly this in books and commentaries that attempt to track
its legacy and rethink its objectives. That so many artworks incorporate
conceptualist elements and approaches today is somewhat paradoxical
given the failure of some aspects of Conceptual art’s program,
namely its inability to reach a wider lay audience and to effectively
transform the institutional apparatus of art. Furthermore, many
artists in the late 70s and early 80s turned their back on it
because it did not open to them avenues of further artistic engagement.
Canada’s Jeff Wall embraced monumental pictorialism, finding
no possibility to pursue an investigation of the social subject
in the Conceptual art of the late 60s and early70s claiming that
it deadened language and that its chosen medium (cards, files,
binders, etc) evoked a “mausoleum look”.1 Nevertheless,
that form of art along with the more loosely constituted and immaterial
activities of Fluxus in the 60s and 70s questioned the institutional
apparatus of art in an unprecedented way and offered alternative
structures for its existence in society. It also unsettled the
hegemony of visuality opening up the field to non optical forms
There are many reasons that can explain why so many artists are
embracing Conceptualism today or at least some of its strategies.
Among them is the indisputable criticality at the heart of Conceptual
art. The demands it made on conventional notions of authorship,
reception and objecthood have given it a particular status in
the art world and caused many artists to want to work off it,
to emulate it or work against it. Its use of information-based
material before information technologies had totally permeated
our lives has created a referential framework of great appeal
to artists seeking ways to make ‘work’ in an economy
of immaterial labor. Another, but by no means last point of interest,
is its economy of means that has conferred upon it great adaptability—its
ability through an apparently simple apparatus, process or action
to unfold underlying complexities.
Of course, nothing comes back in the same form and Conceptualism
is a much broader and varied category than the historical instance
of Conceptual art. In fact, the inclusiveness of the former, inflected
as it now is with feminism, postcolonialism, postmodernism, the
relational, the new temporality of the cinematic and the sonorous
has had a beneficial effect on the rethinking of the latter, opening
up the borders of its exclusiveness. This opening also traverses
all the pieces presented in Conceptual Filiations; all of which
work ‘with’ Conceptualism. In many cases these artworks
reference directly, in the form of an apparent remake (Clément
/ Michael Snow; Mastroiacovo / William Wegman, Sol LeWitt, Dan
Graham, Mel Bochner; Olson / David Askevold; Stankievech / Bruce
Nauman,) or indirectly (Pavlov / Nauman) or by quoting (Moppett
/ Michael Asher, Ed Ruscha) an earlier concept or process based
work. Some have no such connections such as Olson, Stankievech
and Wang but are nevertheless situated in that lineage. Finally,
Moppett inserts direct quotes in an ensemble that appears to negate
the basic principles that governed the quoted works’s realization.
The reinvestment, the quoting and the allusions that are taking
place in Conceptual Filiations point to the enduring effectiveness
of the conceptual mode in exposing basic problematics in art.
But a closer look also reveals contradictions, deviations or mutations
of the conceptual that form a basis for new critical possibilities.
1. Jeff Wall, Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel (Toronto: Art Metropole,1991),
ADDITIONAL SOURCES OF INFORMATION
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Alberro, Alexander and Sabeth Buchmann, eds. Art After Conceptual Art. Vienna : Generali Foundation, 2006.
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Camnitzer, Luis, Jane Farver, and Rachel Weiss, eds. Global conceptualism : points of origin 1950s-1980s. New York : Queens Museum of Art, 1999.
De Salvo, Donna, ed. Open Systems: Rethinking Art c.1970. London : Tate Publishing, 2005.
Gintz, Claude, et al. L'Art conceptuel, une perspective : 22 novembre 1989-18 février 1990. Paris : Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris, 1989.
Goldstein, Ann and Anne Rorimer. Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965-1975. Cambridge, Mass., and London : MIT Press; Los Angeles : The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1996.
Morgan, Robert C. Art into Ideas : Essays on Conceptual Art. Cambridge : Cambridge and New York : Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Newman, Michael and Jon Bird, eds. Rewriting Conceptual Art. London : Reaktion Books, 1999.
Schlatter, Christian. Art conceptuel, formes conceptuelles = Conceptual art, conceptual forms. Paris : Galerie 1900-2000; Galerie de Poche, 1990.