In order to understand what conceptual art is, let’s see one of its implementations.
An artist finds an ordinary chair in the garbage, attaches a tag with his name to it, then takes this chair to an art gallery and tries to convince the curators that the chair is his artwork, which contains a powerful artistic message to the world and a deep philosophical idea. He offers to make it part of the exhibition, and then sell this chair for big money.
The gallery curators, of course, tell the guy to go and eff himself, but there appear some champions of new forms of expression, who also assure the public that the guy is right, he is an innovative artist, and those who do not share his ideas are incompetent. And if art collectors want to be known as progressive patrons of art, they should buy the masterpiece of the brilliant artist right away, and exhibit it in the best museums of the world.
Then begins the most important phase. Since the chair has just been broken on his back and thrown back to where it was found, in separate parts, the artist finds a new chair at the garbage dump, puts a tag with his name on it, sells it for big money, and relishes the triumph that he had planned at the very beginning.
The question is why these well-wishers, declared him a genius and innovator instead of kicking the artist away and hitting him with the chair. Because he gave them a theoretical concept, clearly explaining that the chair from the garbage dump was actually an artwork. And because this smart guy was not a swindler but a conceptual artist. This is the way he sees it.
In fact, the history of conceptualism began not with a chair, but with a urinal in 1917. Marcel Duchamp, an artist, sculptor and chess player, as well as an art theorist, which is important, once brought an unremarkable urinal called Fountain with the mysterious inscription R. Mutt to the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.
Staring at the object brought by Duchamp, the independent but very confused artists became alert (maybe because of the inscription), and decided not to let Duchamp join the exhibition, and the artwork was most likely just thrown away by some profane. Art progressed over the years, and in 1950 Duchamp made a reproduction of his Fountain. Fourteen years later, different artists created eight copies of the urinal, and they took their places at various art sites on both sides of the Atlantic. One of these copies of 1964 was sold for $ 1.7 million at Sothebys.
After all, in terms of conceptual art, it does not matter whether Duchamp had made his urinal with his own hands, or used the one found somewhere.
It is important that declaring it an artwork, the artist filled it with a new meaning, unconceivable earlier. According to British scientists (in December 2004, a special survey was conducted), nowadays Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal Fountain is the most important masterpiece of the twentieth-century world art. So it goes.
The chair, by the way, was also brought to the gallery, but this happened much later, in 1964. At that time, Duchamp’s ideas reached the society, and in the 1960s, they gave rise to a new artistic style conceptualism in the USA. Its name comes from the Latin conceptus (thought, performance). The term conceptual art was put into circulation by the musician and philosopher from the USA Henry Flint after publishing an essay with the same name in 1961.
Conceptual art was designed to solve an important task, to answer the question what is art. Here the philosophical underpinning of artworks is more important than their aesthetic and informative value. Everything will fit, video and audio, photos, texts, drawings. All these can serve as examples of conceptual art. The theorist of this style is the author of the essay Art after Philosophy.
There were many interesting personalities among the masters of conceptual art. Joseph Kossuth called for a rethinking of all art. He argued that all art after Duchamp is already conceptual in nature and exists only as an idea. It was he who brought the chair to the art gallery, naming the object “One and Three Chairs”. It was actually him who brought a chair to the art gallery and called the artwork One and three chairs. In addition to the chair, the art installation includes his photo, the dictionary article Chair and the installation scheme.
Conceptualism, of course, is not limited only to the above described ready-made. Artists can create completely original artworks of this genre.
For example, in 1961, Italian conceptualist Piero Manzoni packed up his own feces into 90 tins, calling the series Merda dartista (artists shit).
His art went down like a bomb. Now the cost of each 30-gram tin is 30,500 euros, and one of them in 2007 was sold for 124,000 euros at Sothebys.
Bruce Nauman is a modern artist and sculptor from the United States. He is the creator of neon inscriptions like The true artist helps the world by revealing mystic truths, spaces that cause claustrophobia and disorientation, chimeric sculptures (as if made by a crazy scientist), as well as sound artworks.
CONCEPTUALISM AND PAINTINGS
The time when conceptual art appeared is 1960s - 1980s. It originated in the depths of avant-garde and modernism, accompanied by the customary statement of the demise of traditional art. Initially, theorists of conceptualism wanted to unite science, philosophy and art.
Choosing between the idea and its embodiment, they have preferred the idea. And its materialization in form of a conceptual painting, artwork or performance is only additional to the description of the idea.
Often this addition is optional. The perception of art, according to conceptual artists, should have become not only visual, but intellectual. Probably within this style they succeeded.