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Conceptual Art

Introductory Texts


Conceptual Art Godfrey.jpg
Conceptual art
Tony Godfrey
London : Phaidon Press, 1998
447 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 22 cm
N6494 .C63 G63 1998

One of the strength’s of Godfrey’s approach to Conceptual art is his foregrounding of the movement (if it can be considered one at all; this is certainly a subject for debate by its participants and theorists) by its predecessors: Dada, Neo-Dada, Happenings, Fluxus, Minimalism, Pop et al. Such contextual background highlights what was new and reactionary about the art of the 1960s and 1970s, and what was a continuation of earlier theoretical and stylistic explorations. Godfrey’s classification of the varieties of Conceptual art is similar to that of Anne Rorimer in her New Art in the 60s and 70s (serialism, linguistic focus, institutional critique, photograph as document, etc.), but he places more focus upon formal matters, gallerists and collectors, work by non-American artists, and parallel movements outside of the visual arts.
Conceptual Art Osborne.jpg
Conceptual art
edited by Peter Osborne
London ; New York : Phaidon, 2002
304 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 30 cm
N6494 .C63 C587 2002 F

As with all of the texts in the Themes and Movements series, Osborne's includes a lengthy survey essay that is nuanced enough to provide a cursory introduction to the forerunners, practitioners, theories, and pervasive themes of Conceptual art. Its biggest value lies, however, in its large set of well-annotated images and its thematically organized compendium of [sometimes abridged] textual primary sources. It includes such iconic essays and transcribed documents as Sol LeWitt's "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Joseph Kosuth's "Art After Philosophy," and Seth Siegelaub's "Artist's Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement" (The original of this last item can be found in our Locked Stacks Collection; it is also addressed in detail in Maria Eichhorn's set of interviews, The Artist's Contract.).
New Art Rorimer.gif
New art in the 60s and 70s : redefining reality.
Anne Rorimer.
London : Thames & Hudson, 2001.
304 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
N6490 .R67 2001

Rorimer's thorough survey takes a thematic approach, dividing the topic of Conceptual art into sections treating photography, the changing meaning of "medium," the use of systems, the exploration of subjectivity, and the concept of site. She places extended focus upon individual artists and specific works as they apply to these themes and provides a comprehensive historical and philosophical background for the artistic developments she is tracing. Indeed, aside from its somewhat plodding cadence, the book provides a remarkably complete introduction to Conceptual art; it can be considered the authoritative monograph on the topic. For a more nuanced discussion of the role of women artists and of influences from the other arts (music, literature, etc.), see Tony Godfrey's Conceptual Art. See also Rorimer and Ann Goldstein's exhibition catalog Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965–1975, which introduces the topic through individual artist entries.
Who's Afraid of Conceptual Art.jpg
Who's afraid of conceptual art?
Peter Goldie and Elisabeth Schellekens.
London ; New York : Routledge, 2010. 1st ed.
viii, 152 p. : ill. ; 20 cm.
N6494 .C63 G64 2010

This relatively brief treatise serves two main purposes: to, as the title suggests, ease the uninitiated into the discourse of Conceptual art, and to provide a relatively (and sometimes deceptively) simple discussion of its philosophical engagement. The result is an introduction to the field that very methodically and unimposingly dissects what Conceptual art is in an ontological sense and suggests how one might appreciate it. An exhaustive survey it is not, but it does situate the movement in an art historical moment, provide a sense of what Conceptual art was and is responding to and breaking from, and, through examples, introduce the work of Conceptual artists from the late 1960s to the present. For a more theory-heavy set of essays on a similar topic, see Goldie and Schellekens' edited collection of essays, Philosophy and Conceptual Art.

Focused Studies


Art After Conceptual Art.jpg
Art after conceptual art
edited by Alexander Alberro and Sabeth Buchmann
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press ; Vienna, Austria : Generali Foundation, c2006
240 p. : ill. ; 23 cm
N6494 .C63 A735 2006

An anthology of original essays by authorities in the field (the first four essays, by Benjamin Buchloh, Thomas Crow, Helen Moleswoorth, and Ricardo Basbaum, have been reprinted), this volume both revisits and reevaluates earlier interpretations of various aspects of Conceptual art and extends these interpretations into contemporary practice. Several of the authors revisit old themes in order to unearth the work of important yet relatively unknown artists of the 1970s (e.g., Christopher Williams, Jaroslaw Kozlowski, and Bas Jan Ader); some seek to challenge the fixity of Conceptual art's supposed theoretical opposition to other forms of artistic expression (Neo-expressionism, design); others discuss the work of more recent artists--some outside of the United States and Western Europe--who are not only extending but complicating Conceptual art's legacy. This a challenging text, one that might best be approached after one has a solid footing in the subject.
Art into Ideas.gif
Art into ideas : essays on conceptual art
Robert C. Morgan
Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1996
N6494.C63 M67 1996

Art Into Ideas covers the topic quite broadly and touches upon its largest themes: its theoretical underpinnings, its subject matter, its cultural and political engagements, and its varied physical forms. As it is a collection of previously, separately published essays, however, it is by no means an introductory survey; instead, it is, in a sense, a set of case studies. Chapter titles include "Robert Barry's Return to the Visible," "The Making of Wit: Joseph Kosuth and the Freudian Palimpsest," and "Sherrie Levine: Language Games." Morgan's intention is to allow the essays' juxtaposition to illustrate what he sees as the three modes employed by Conceptual artists: the structuralist, the systemic, and the philosophical. Still, the book might be equally useful as a more straightforward anthology, a source of critical thoughts on some of the key artists of the period.
Philosophy Conceptual Art.jpg
Philosophy and conceptual art
edited by Peter Goldie and Elisabeth Schellekens.
Oxford : Clarendon Press ; Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2007.
xxi, 273 p., [12] p. of plates : ill. ; 25 cm.
BH39 .P474 2007

This book attempts to analyze Conceptual art using the language of philosophy, asking what constitutes Conceptual art, how Conceptual art and aesthetics intersect, what intellectual value Conceptual art carries, and on what level(s) Conceptual art should be appreciated.
Six Years.jpg
Six years: the dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972; a cross-reference book of information on some esthetic boundaries ...
Edited and annotated by Lucy R. Lippard.
New York, Praeger [1973]
272 p. illus. 23 cm.
N6494.C63.L56

Lippard was a primary critic and theorist of Conceptual art; this book, however, provides not commentary but, instead, primary documentation. It takes the form of an annotated, thematic timeline: the chapters list books (including exhibition catalogs) published each year, followed by articles, statements, activities, and works arranged by month. Photographs illustrate selected works. The annotations are, for the most part, as documentary as possible (transcripts, excerpts of artists' statements, etc.). Lippard's editorial hand is most visible in her inclusions and exclusions; less so in her only occasional textual insertions. As such, the book performs as Lippard had envisioned: "to expose the chaotic network of ideas in the air, in America and abroad, between 1966 and 1971" (5).
Fogle2003.jpg
The last picture show : artists using photography, 1960-1982.
Douglas Fogle.
Minneapolis, Minn. : Walker Art Center, c2003.
335 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 26 cm.
TR645 .M542 W354 2003

Fogle's excellent catalog, which accompanied an exhibition of the same name, delivers critical essays written especially for the exhibition, as well as historical texts from the era (Dan Graham, Vito Acconci, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, etc.), with twenty-five writings in all. Fogle's "Last Picture Show" and Stefan Gronert's "Alternative Pictures: Conceptual Art and the Artistic Emancipation of Photography in Europe" effectively demarcate the issues under investigation: the questionable status of the object, the photograph as document, claims of the original, etc., or, as Louise Lawler's photograph asks, "Why Pictures Now" (1981). Extensively illustrated. Matthew Witkovsky's Art Institute of Chicago exhibition and catalog, Light years: Conceptual art and the photograph, 1964-1977 (2012), provides a more recent analysis of the period.
Unconcealed.jpg
Unconcealed : the international network of conceptual artists 1967-77 : dealers, exhibitions and public collections.
Sophie Richard ; edited by Lynda Morris.
London : Ridinghouse ; [Norwich, England] : Produced in association with Norwich University College of the Arts ; Santa Monica, CA : Distributed in the US by RAM Publications, 2009.
511 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.
N6494 .C63 R53 2009

Source Texts

These anthologies deliver many of the core essays and interviews necessary for studying Conceptual art of the 1960s and 70s. Also try a SearchWorks search for additional interviews with specific artists.

Conceptual Art Osborne.jpg
Conceptual art
edited by Peter Osborne
London ; New York : Phaidon, 2002
304 p. : ill. (some col.) ; 30 cm
N6494 .C63 C587 2002 F

As with all of the texts in the Themes and Movements series, Osborne's includes a lengthy survey essay that is nuanced enough to provide a cursory introduction to the forerunners, practitioners, theories, and pervasive themes of Conceptual art. Its biggest value lies, however, in its large set of well-annotated images and its thematically organized compendium of [sometimes abridged] textual primary sources. It includes such iconic essays and transcribed documents as Sol LeWitt's "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," Joseph Kosuth's "Art After Philosophy," and Seth Siegelaub's "Artist's Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement" (The original of this last item can be found in our Locked Stacks Collection; it is also addressed in detail in Maria Eichhorn's set of interviews, The Artist's Contract.).
Conceptual Art Critical Anthology.jpg
Conceptual art : a critical anthology
edited by Alexander Alberro and Blake Stimson
Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, c1999
lii, 569 p. : ill. ; 24 cm
N6494 .C63 C597 1999

This collection of artists' statements, interviews, essays, and commentaries ranging in date from 1966-1977 is a valuable sourcebook and introduction to the contemporary literature. The introductory essays by editors Alberro and Stimson review the critical and political contexts surrounding the writings they've selected; their summary nature, however, is augmented by argument and commentary, making it clear that the entire text is not meant to be an exhaustive and unbiased anthology. Rather, the inclusions and exclusions follow an editorial trajectory, delineating the various models and ambitions of Conceptual art. Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology becomes, therefore, both a guide for further study (Alberro and Stimson's notes are numerous) and its own Conceptual document. For a collection of artists' writings that integrates Conceptual art with other contemporary practice, see Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings, edited by Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz.
Conceptual Art Meyer.jpg
Conceptual Art.
Ursula Meyer.
New York, Dutton, 1972.
xx, 227 p. illus. 21 cm.
N6494.C63 M45

As in Lucy Lippard's Six Years, this collection of photographs, diagrams, drawings, essays, statements, and interviews (conducted by Meyer) provides contemporary documentation rather than outright analysis. As such, the task of defining and negotiating the field is left to the artists themselves (though Meyer's editorial hand is evident, of course, in her choice of artists to represent the subject). Joseph Kosuth, for example, is represented by his iconic essay "Art After Philosophy;" On Kawara by a selection of I Got Up postcards; the Bechers by a short essay describing "the function of cooling-towers" and by a sample of their typological photographs. Meyer's text serves today as both a source of primary texts and a larger primary text itself, an artifact of the field's early critical reception.
Recording Conceptual Art.jpg
Recording conceptual art : early interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelaub, Smithson, and Weiner by Patricia Norvell.
edited by Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell.
Berkeley : University of California Press, c2001.
162 p. : ill. ; 26 cm.
N6512.5 .C64 R43 2001

This book contains a set of nine previously unpublished interviews of Dennis Oppenheim, Seth Siegelaub, Robert Morris, Stephen Kaltenbach, Robert Barry, Lawrence Weiner, Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson, and Douglas Huebler (Carl Andre and Joseph Kosuth also participated, but their interviews are not included in this publication.). All were conducted by Patricia Norvell in 1969, a year when the interviewees were concurrently producing their own innovative works of art and attempting to define their larger, more philosophical roles in reformulating the scope of the art world (NB, one subject was Seth Siegelaub, not an artist but an influential art dealer and curator.). Although each interview varies according to the personality and interests of the individual, Norvell placed her own focus specifically upon each artist's relationship to objects, presentation, and documentation.
Six Years.jpg
Six years : the dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972 ....
Edited and annotated by Lucy R. Lippard.
New York, Praeger [1973].
272 p. illus. 23 cm.
N6494.C63.L56

Lippard was a primary, contemporary critic, theorist, and curator of Conceptual Art; this book, however, provides not commentary but, instead, documentation. It takes the form of an annotated, thematic timeline: the chapters list books (including exhibition catalogs) published each year, followed by articles, statements, activities, and works arranged by month. Photographs illustrate selected works. The annotations are, for the most part, as documentary as possible (transcripts, excerpts of artists' statements, etc.). Lippard's editorial hand is most visible in her inclusions and exclusions; less so in her only occasional textual insertions. As such, the book performs as Lippard had envisioned: "to expose the chaotic network of ideas in the air, in America and abroad, between 1966 and 1971" (5).
The Artist's Contract.jpg
The artist's contract : interviews with Carl Andre, Daniel Buren, Paula Cooper, Hans Haacke, Jenny Holzer, Adrian Piper, Robert Projansky, Robert Ryman, Seth Siegelaub, John Weber, Lawrence Weiner, Jackie Winsor.
Maria Eichhorn ; edited by Gerti Fietzek.
Köln : Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König ; New York : Distribution, D.A.P., Distributed Art Publishers, c2009.
336 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
N6494 .C63 E33 2009

Centering around Seth Siegelaub's Artist's Reserved Rights Sales Agreement from 1971, Maria Eichhorn's interviews, dating from 1996-2005, address the issues of sales, ownership, and authenticity of Conceptual art. The interviewees--all artists with the exception of Siegelaub, John Weber (and art dealer), and Robert Projansky (a lawyer who advised Siegelaub during his composition of the Agreement)--describe their experiences and opinions regarding the Agreement's usefulness, legitimacy, and legacy. Many of the conversations expand into wider discussions of Conceptual art's meaning and value (both monetary and cultural). Eichhorn's interviews are part of a larger art project (also entitled The Artist's Contract); in this context Siegelaub's document gains meaning as not only a tool, but as a work of art itself.

Primary Sources

The Art & Architecture Library holds many primary sources--exhibition catalogs, documents, artist's books, etc.--pertaining to Conceptual art in both its Main and Locked Stacks. The list that follows contain a small number of key items. To view Art Locked Stack materials, please make a request by title and call number at the Art & Architecture Library Circulation Desk.

Every Building on the Sunset Strip.

Edward Ruscha.
[Los Angeles] 1966.
TR654.R872 ARTLCKS

Ruscha's iconic 1966 accordion book is a prime example of the documentary, typological turn that photography had taken in the 1960s. Presented without commentary, the images provide a snapshot of the built/commercial environment in a particular segment of a particular city (one increasingly relevant to the contemporary art world) at a particular time--no more, no less.

Family.

Images © Victor Burgin. Used with permission.

[expanded book viewer]

Victor Burgin.
New York : Lapp Princess Press, c1977.
1 v. : chiefly ill. ; 16 cm.
N7433.35 .U6 L37 1977 ARTLCKS

Victor Burgin's Family is one of eleven volumes published in a series in the late 1970s by Amy Baker's Lapp Princess Press. Baker began the series with the aim of providing a conceptual space for artists to explore the possibilities and restraints of the book form. Meant to be affordable, portable, and easily reproducible, Baker set the dimensions of each work at six inches square and selected papers and inks that were widely available to printers.

Burgin's response to his commission was to embrace the sequentiality that a bound book demands, presenting a textual narrative, a series of images, and a progression of upper- and lowercase letters. The thick paper pages, bound with a plastic spiral, mimic the design and simplicity of children's alphabet books. Yet, as in many of his other works, Burgin appropriates this simplicity in order to draw attention to the complex, unwritten cultural messages that photographs and other cultural objects can bear. As he textually describes the submission of family structure to the dictates of capitalism, he also employs ordinary, black-and-white photos in order to illustrate his point, the neutral-seeming images "absorbing" meanings in their juxtaposition with his text. And hidden in the letters, photos, and caption words on the right side of each page are the elements of three overarching concepts: F-a-m-i-l-y (spelled by the letters at the top corners), F-a-t-h-e-r (spelled by the first letters of the objects in the photos), and M-o-t-h-e-r (spelled by the first letters of the words beneath the photos). These three roles are always highly dependent upon, and influenced by, the socio-economic forces that surround them.

Further reading on Lapp Princess Press:
Korner, A. "Interview: Amy Baker, Editor of Lapp Princess Press Ltd., Talks to Athony Korner." Drawing 1, no. 1 (May-June, 1979): 8-10.

Four Basic Kinds of Straight Lines: 1. Vertical. 2. Horizontal. 3. Diagonal l. to r. 4. Diagonal r. to l. and their Combinations.


Sol Lewitt.
[London, Studio International] c1969.
N40.1 .L675 A1 ARTLCKS

Lewitt's small book of cross-hatched lines is a key, relatively early example of his career-long interest in the production of art by systematic means--in this case, by mathematical permutations.

Royal Road Test.

[by] Mason Williams, Edward Ruscha [and] Patrick Blackwell.
[New York, G. Wittenborn, 1967].
TR654 .W5 ARTLCKS

Splitting.

by Gordon Matta-Clark.
New York : Loft Press, c1974.
N6537 .M4 A67 1974 ARTLCKS

The Post Testament : connoting today's standard version.

Xu Bing.
Madison, WI. : Publication Center for Culturally Handicapped, Inc., 1993.
N7433.4 .X8 P68 1993 ARTLCKM

The Post Testament, an edition of 290 volumes (the Art & Architecture Library's copy is an artist's proof) printed in letterpress and bound in leather with gold accents, is an element of the installation Cultural Negotiation. The book, meant to look like a classic antiquarian volume, is in fact an unconventional text, a contemporary exploration of cross-cultural communication and societal values. Created by alternating words from the King James Version of the New Testament with those from a mass market novel, the English text is almost, but not quite, readable. Through its illegibility, the text highlights the complications that occur when discordant contexts within a society--the high and the low, for example--are brought together. In the Cultural Negotiation installation as it was realized at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 1993, The Post Testament was placed alongside volumes from the artist's project Book of Heaven (which is comprised of texts and characters that appear to be--but aren't--Chinese); this juxtaposition extended the concept of discordant contexts into the charged dichotomy of East and West.

The red book.

Xu Bing.
[S.l. : s.n.], 1999.
TR654.R872 ARTLCKS

The Red Book is one component of the contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing's Tobacco Project, a set of works which explores the historical impact of the importation of tobacco products from the U.S. beginning in the late 19th century, the continuing influence of Chairman Mao in contemporary China, and the manner in which media and commercialization influence the structure of life in China today. Using tins of Zhonghua brand cigarettes, Xu Bing ink stamped quotations from Chairman Mao on the sides of the cigarettes; each tin provides one complete quotation to viewers when it is opened. The Art & Architecture Library acquired two of these tins displaying two different quotations, so that viewers might gain an important sense of the books' serial quality and political scope.

This is Not Here : A Show of Unfinished Paintings and Sculpture.

by Yoko Ono ; guest artist, John Lennon.
[Syracuse, N.Y.] : Everson Museum, [1971].
N6537 .O56 A4 1971 ARTLCKL

[One month].

One Month_1_0.jpg
Seth Siegelaub.
New York : The Author, [1969]
[33] leaves ; 22 cm. N7433.4 .S535 1969 ARTLCKS

Seth Siegelaub was one of the key figures in the development of Conceptual art in the late 1960s, curating shows that often contained no tangible objects (and, in turn, finding a niche in the commercial art market for these same non-objects). The catalog for the exhibition "March 1969" (more frequently referred to as One Month) is a document of just such a show. Artists such as Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, Richard Long, and Lawrence Weiner were each given a page on which to create an artwork--an assignment which resulted in diagrams, tables, simple statements, and photographs. The resulting calendar was itself the show: a conceptual event composed of conceptual elements.

Further Research

Consider searching Socrates using some of the Library of Congress Subject Headings listed here.
The databases listed below them are key starting points for accessing the periodical literature associated with Conceptual art.
Conceptual art
Conceptual art--History
Conceptual art--History and criticism
Conceptual art--Influence
Conceptual art--Psychological aspects
Conceptual art--Social aspects
Conceptual art--Themes, motives
Conceptual art--United States
Conceptual art--20th century
Conceptual art--21st century
Conceptual artists
Earthworks (Art)
Environment (Art)
Installations (Art)
Land art
Language and languages in art
Minimal sculpture
Performance art
Performance art--Documentation
Process art
Video art
Common subdivisions:
--Catalogs
--Exhibitions
--[geographical location]
--Influence
--Themes, motives
--[time period]
Relevant databases:
for journal articles/book chapters/catalog essays:


for images:


for newspaper articles/reviews:


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