The earliest conceptual artists to get wide public attention were the Earth Artists, including Michael Heizer, Robert Morris, Dennis Oppenheim, and Walter De Maria, who in October, 1968, exhibited mainly photographic documentation of their works in a group show called “Earthworks”, now commonly known as “Ecological Art”. This was actually the first major American show of Conceptual Art, although the form was then generally termed Impossible Art, for the reason that it was impossible to bring into a gallery or to buy and sell it.
The movement imploded because of the conflict underlying the relationships between the artists and the lack of a commercial mechanism to make it viable to continue to receive sponsors.” There was a lot of caustic feeling underlining everything. All of the earth artists hated each other. Body artists wanted everybody else who was doing that work to die!…Certainly land art was uncompromising in its lack of concern for the audience. I got a lot of criticism when I was doing it because people would say, We only have photographs here. Are you a photographer or a sculptor? And I would say, Well Im not a photographer, and theyd say, Well why are you doing photographs? There was a lot of bickering.” ( Dennis Oppenheim )
The conceptual artists owe a debt to Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray who almost 100 years ago proclaimed that such ordinary objects as a bicycle wheel, a wine rack and a men’s room urinal were works of art. To that point,sculptors have rarely taken objects as their subjects, usually concentrating on the human figure. In doing so, they created an interesting confusion between a design object and a object,where the basic distinction between them was that a design object had to be functional, while a sculptural object did not.The transformed object is an apparition of everyday reality and the relatively frivolous inventions have overtones of grim absurdity. And conceptual art in the form of the unrealized concept, went even further beyond Dadaist theories, in that the artist wouldn’t go to the trouble of literally sending a men’s room urinal to a gallery. He’d simply propose that it be done and let it go at that.The ideal and ultimate medium of Conceptual Art, may therefore be mental telepathy:
“…cultural obsession with the art object is slowly disappearing and being replaced by what might be called ‘systems consciousness.’ Actually, this shifts from the direct shaping of matter to a concern for organizing quantities of energy and information…Deep-rooted drives lasting several millenia are not erased from the human personality overnight. Yet there is abundant evidence that the modern era of artistic expression through sculptured objects is drawing to a close. Taking the path outlined up to now, it would be logical to speculate on the quasi-biological nature of future art…Unless the world is substantially altered for the worst, the logical outcome of technology’s influence on art before the end of this century should be a series of art forms that manifest true intelligence, but perhaps more meaningfully, with a capacity for reciprocal relationships with human beings…( Jack Burnham, 1968 ) Burnham’s clinical approach to the artists brain is interested in abnormal functions and their relation to art. He may still be proved right…in the long term.
Everyone is an artist according to Joseph Beuys, but this becomes muddied by conformity, social norms and conventions.Language artists deal entirely with words rather than with visual objects or even with ideas for visual objects. Post Object Art or “art as idea as idea” , according to Joseph Kosuth.The philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, among others, influenced the development of his art from the late sixties to mid seventies. Kosuth’s work has consistently explored the production and role of language and meaning within art. Koseth turned out blown-up copies of dictionary definitions in the late 1960″s , the most famous of which is his copy of the definition of the word “definition”. “it is impossible to see my work, … what is seen is the presentation of the information. The art exists only as an invisible , ethereal idea.”
Kosuth does address the paradox:as an artist, he is consigned to produce objects,and yet he develops objects that cast off their identities as things and become pure ideas.In ‘one and three chairs’ (1965), he displayed a photograph of a chair, an actual chair, and a dictionarydefinition of the word ‘chair’. the piece distinguishes between the three aspects involved in the perceptionof a work of art: the visual representation of a thing(the photograph of the chair), its real referent (the actual chair), and its intellectual concept(the dictionary definition).reality, image, and concept: the three ‘sides’ of a perceived thing.
Dennis Oppenheim has gone from Earth Art to Body Art, then to machine works, anti-sculptures, or sculptures in denial, scuptures as metaphors in denial, meant to reflect the creative process. Going from the instability of video and photo documentation of performance, as deconstruction, into a form of object art, transformed into performance art; ” the early machine pieces which seemed infused with a confidence in rationality and in the possibility of grasping the structure of the mind to the late works which were designed to literally blow up and which seem to celebrate the triumph of irrationality and chaos”. Again, the issue is how does one compromise the pure principle of conceptual art in the unrealized form, an invisible ethereal idea, into a narrative of co-dependence with the art market at large, exemplified by Oppenheim’s 1970 piece, “Parallel Stress”. On conceptual art:
“There seems to be no market. But then there became some interest, but not much. There’s never been much interest in the documents and in the residues of conceptual art. Here and there. But not anywhere near painting and traditional sculpture. So the journeys of artists are very much flavored by the individual personal idiosyncracies and abilities to stimulate momentum through financial means. I mean, you’re already identifying yourself as a persona unbeknownst to you in the kind of works you do and the kind of works you don’t do. You’re already exposing yourself and your political savvy by the kind of shows you get into and the kind of shows you don’t. …There are those who behave like good school boys and girls that behave themselves — having this uncanny sense of where the boundaries are, of how to work with the system as it’s unfolding, and those who simply don’t have a clue, and just make these terrible blunders that they spend the rest of their lives paying for. So already at that young age, you’re slowly uncovering your identity and discovering yourself through the products you make, and the feedback in which you engage and dialogue with the critical world. So the shapes are coming from all over. The force some kind of cerebral holding pattern, and year by year you’re unfolding your agenda. Your agenda is constantly being undermined and being inundated with the counter forces, and your personality is being stressed out and showing signs of , your mental state is already beginning to into the work in ways that you would like to repress. So you’re being thrown around by the very function of being an artist. And this is indicating itself in the work. ( Dennis Oppenheim )