One of the multiple post-World War II modern art movements, the Conceptualism, made a revolutionary breakthrough in the understanding of the art as it is. Conceptualists indicated a fresh approach to creation and representation of the art pieces. Having turned to the new art forms, this movement had a great impact on the modern art and its further development. Conceptualism has become an important milestone in the art history, having demonstrated non typical ways of the generation of ideas and their expression. Conceptualists fully rejected previous standards of art traditions by proclaiming the idea as a basis of the artwork. What the author had to convey to a spectator was first and foremost, and thus almost any phenomenon, process or thing considered to be an art object.
Outlining the Conceptual Art
As a movement, the Conceptual art emerged in the mid of 1960s, as a kind of an answer to the previous movements such as Abstract Expressionism, New Realism, Pop Art, and other avant-garde art tendencies. In terms of the aesthetic of the materiality, the Conceptual art proclaimed that there was an “idea” or a certain “concept” which was dominating the art object over the physical form. Reechoing Structuralism’s definition “the death of the author,” the Conceptualists metaphorically determined their direction as “the death of the object” and made it clear that the “idea” is prior to the visual means by which a piece of art is expressed. The most important thing was “what” an artist had a say, what a “meaning” he put in his art work, and what a “message” he intended to convey.
Thus, the Modern art completely became determined by the context and considered the author as a generator of ideas, but not as a creator of things. In this regard, it was nonessential what material had to be used for creating the art work. Thus, the art works dealt with air, light, weather, and other ephemeral media. The art objects could be organized as texts, charts, schemes, photographs, as well as audio- and video-materials. The ideas could be embodied in any ways and by any means which included installations and performances.
Those Conceptual artists of the sixties and seventies who worked with landscapes and natural phenomena were called Land Artists. Among them, there were Robert Smithson, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Walter De Maria. They raised deep philosophical issues such as a man and the power of nature. The American Smithson was one of the first exponents of Land Art or Earth Art, who was working with the spaces and fluctuating conditions of the physical world (Hopkins, 2000, p.172). His most famous artwork “Spiral Jetty” (1970) is a half-hour-long film that embodies the idea of “a reassertion of nature’s rights over man’s” (Hopkins, 2000, p.172). One more example of Land Art can serve a photograph “Wave Rock” (1966) by the Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. In this work, he combined landscape, partially seen through the glass, with words “rock” and “wave” written on it. Furthermore, Landist’s artworks is “Lightning Field” (1971-7) by the American Walter De Maria, who addressed the issue of a raw power of nature. He “demonstrated 400 stainless-steel poles planted in an area of approximately one square mile near Quemado, New Mexico, a location noted for its high incidence of electric storms” (Hopkins, 2000, p.176), and the flash of lightning above them in the dark sky.
To express and convey their ideas, Situanists created and made use of diverse situations. The core motif of Situationists in their creative works was the urban life. They regarded the city as a live organism with its “existing routines and sign-systems” which they believed “had to be rearranged” (Hopkins, 2000, p.164). They took the position that the city had its own myth which affected the life and consciousness of its citizens. Thus, they provided their ideas by producing counter-cultural situations on the city streets. The French artist Daniel Buren, who worked in the tradition of Situationism, in his photograph “Untitled” (1968), showed two “sandwich men,” who are walking along the streets of Paris bearing signboards with the stripes. The image was supposed to be translated as “directionless protest” (Hopkins, 2000, p.161 – 162). The stripes were standardized at a width of 8.7 cm, whereas the surfaces they were printed on was different in size. This way, Buren symbolically emphasized priority of the idea over the process.
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The idea of Conceptualism has grown in popularity and become an international art. In the mid-1960s, Italian artists were to become grouped under the Art Povera (Poor Art) movement. They worked in the traditions of Minimalism reflecting in their art works specific circumstances of Italian reality. Mass migration from the south to the north in the 1960s in Italy was metaphorically conveyed in one of the hanging sculptures of Luciano Fabro “Golden Italy” (1971), which represented “a map of Italy hung upside down” (Hopkins, 2000, p.171).Another Italian Jannis Kounellis made use of installations to represent his ideas. To convey the message, he chose twelve live horses of various breeds and colors, associating them symbolically with energy and power (Hopkins, 2000, p.171).This installation took place at the Galleria L’Attico in Rome in 1969 over a three-day period (Hopkins, 2000, p.171).
Conceptualism as a movement grew in popularity and was established not only in Europe and America but also in Australia, Japan, and other countries around the world (Hopkins, 2000, p.178). Therefore, the Conceptual art underwent certain changes and transformations in its forms of expression. Thus, the Japanese-born artist On Kawara started to produce so-called “date paintings” to present the idea of existence. His date painting “9 August 1968” (1968) constituted purely numbers and letters on the black background (Hopkins, 2000, p.178).
Art of Performance
As a genre, live performance was first introduced by the Fluxus performers, when artists used their bodies as the materials for creating an art piece, and Conceptualists leaned heavily on this experience to convey their ideas to the spectators. The author was at the same time both an idea generator and its performer. The British performance artist Stuart Brisley first introduced his “10 Days” performance between December 21 and 30, 1972 in Berlin. The artist was sitting daily at meal times at a table served with food and demonstrated the refusal to eat, leaving everything on the table to rot. Brisley did not explain this action; he just performed it. Since the event took place during Christmas holidays, and at the same time, the news constantly reported about Third World famine, it was supposed that his performance was directly addressed to underline how contrastive the world is (Hopkins, 2000, p.193).
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To conclude, Conceptualism, as a modern art movement, was specific in the ways of understanding and expressing the art. It implicated a “dematerialization” of an object, having proved that the art, first of all, is an idea and not just material. In the pieces of art, a creative concept was prior to its expression in physical terms. The representatives raised global aesthetic, social, and cultural issues concerning ecology, the way of thinking, and society in general. They revealed new angels of the art performance and demonstrated how either natural phenomena or a human being could be an art object as well as artwork by itself. Conceptualists made a breakthrough, fundamentally reframing the way the art is functioning and the manner in which the artwork can be produced and exist.