Rethinking Global Conceptualism

Almost 25 years ago, the exhibition Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s traced the “spontaneous” emergence of various practices across multiple localities, subsequently expanding the study of conceptual art beyond Anglo-American historiography. In the intervening decades, scholars have provided increasingly nuanced accounts of the trajectories and genealogies of conceptualism. However, in light of new methodologies and critiques of art history, the terms “global” and “conceptualism” appear more anthropocentric and Eurocentric than initially conceived. If the global has come to be associated with neoliberal economic globalization, how can transcultural exchanges as well as local circumstances be reconsidered along planetary lines? If Global Conceptualism is not to become a historiographic artefact, how can its underlying impulses towards inclusion and expansion be reconceived and rerouted?  

This panel proposes a thorough reappraisal not only of the exhibition and its impact, but also of the oversights and viability of its central framework. With the revisionist spirit of the original curators and contributors in mind, we were particularly interested in approaching art histories of conceptualism from ecocritical and decolonial perspectives.

Session Convenors:  

Christopher Williams-Wynn, Harvard University 

 Elize Mazadiego, University of Amsterdam 


Peter Osborne, Professor of Modern European Philosophy, Director, Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP), Kingston University London 

Globality, Capitalism, and the Historiography of Conceptual Art 

Following a brief introduction recounting the effect of visiting the exhibition Global Conceptualism on the composition of my book, Conceptual Art (2002), in the Phaidon series, Themes and Movements of Contemporary Art, this paper will present a critical reconsideration of the problematic underlying the exhibition with respect to three overlapping issues. 1. The immanence of the geo-political imaginary of the global to the standpoint of world capitalism. 2. The distinctions between Conceptual Art (as a moment and a movement), conceptualism (as an art-critical -ism), and conceptual art as a (historical-) ontological category. 3. The institutional over-determination of art-historical categories and periodizations. 

Sarah Wilson, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art, The Courtauld Institute of Art 

Diachronic meditations: East/West Displacement and Zeitgeist in the work of Hungarian conceptualist László Lakner 

Trained as a painter at the Budapest Academy of Fine Art, László Lakner’s post-Pop conceptual and performance practices, photo-based paintings and book-works participated in a pan-European 1970s discourse.  A disciple of György Lukács with Joseph Kosuth, of Marx and Mao with Dada and Duchamp,  a fan of Béla Bartók with American Jazz, his always-political works later embraced issues of death and the holocaust. Translinguistic conceptual word pieces devoted to Paul Ceylan  morphed, after his emigration to Germany into gestural paintings in dialogue with Anselm Kiefer’s memory-based neo-expressionism at the time of the London/Berlin Zeitgeist show in 1983. Lakner’s  1990s word and sign-based paintings revert to the strongly conceptual, photo-based or painted, with Hungarian resonances.   

Diachronic meditations on conceptual are far from ‘untimely’ but intersectional; works dialogue through time embracing international trends (the Zeitgeist issue) and late careers: we are familiar with contemporary work by Joseph Kosuth or Art & Language veterans. ‘Global conceptualism’ is impacted by geography and East/West, North/South politics synchronically; its diachronic histories and politics within rapidly changing worlds and artworlds must be recognised however, as enriching, sometimes challenging its  remits.                       

Robert Bailey, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Oklahoma 

Decolonial Dialogues: Indigenous Conceptualisms in Art and Art History 

The exhibition Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s radically expanded the scope of art-historical inquiry into artistic conceptuality during the second half of the twentieth century, but its globalizing approach overlooked the internal diversity of settler-colonial nations where Indigenous artists such as Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisga’a), Edgar Heap of Birds (Southern Cheyenne), Gerald Clarke (Cahuilla), Gordon Bennett (Aboriginal/Anglo-Celtic), and Richard Bell (Kamilaroi/Kooma/Jiman/Gurang Gurang) have made work that dialogues with settler modernisms and conceptualisms. At the same time, settler art historians such as Ian Burn and Lucy R. Lippard, both involved with conceptual art during its inception in the 1960s, took interest in the conceptualities to be found in, respectively, the art of Aboriginal Australians and Native Americans. In this paper, I examine the emergence of Indigenous conceptualisms and the historiographical turn toward writing conceptualist histories of Indigenous art to argue that these moments of cultural exchange, sparse though connected across geographic distance, are especially generative for the politics of art and art history. Specifically, I show how engaging tropes of conceptualism enables Indigenous artists to do the decolonial work of contesting settler epistemologies by reconceiving notions of identity, land, and history. Meanwhile, settler historians embraced the conceptualities evident in Indigenous art to reconceive their own entanglements in colonial situations. Through dialogic reconceptualization, these developments extend the impulse of the Global Conceptualism exhibition toward more inclusive understandings of conceptuality in art that have ramifications for how settler-colonial presents can be conceived and transformed. 

Jeppe Ugelvig, PhD Candidate, History of Art and Visual Culture, University of California, Santa Cruz 

Pakulo Politics: Shop 6 and The Institutions of Conceptual Art 

In 1974, Filipino conceptual artist Roberto Chabet co-founded Shop 6, an artist-run space operating out of a storefront inside a shopping arcade in Pasay City. Responding directly to its retail setting, Shop 6 applied Fluxus’ experiments with commodities to the specific context of 1970s Manila, where a commercial art market was proliferating alongside the total absence of support for alternative art spaces. With a nod to Duchamp, Shop 6 sought to subvert the new culture of the autonomous art commodity not only through conceptual artworks (assemblages, ready-mades, process-work) but by performing a conceptual institutionality: swapping the privileged space of the museum or gallery with that of the everyday retail environment. So experimental was the “anti-commodity” output of Shop 6 that it prompted one cynical reviewer to describe it as pakulo: a place for foolish gimmicks or simply “rubbish”. Little scholarly attention has been paid to how conceptual art’s “globalization” played out in radically different art-institutional ecologies outside the West. If Western conceptual art took art’s institutional formats as given in its critique, the translation to other cultural contexts prompted materialist questions by asking, perhaps even more pressingly, where and how idea-based art can survive in society at all. This paper uses Shop 6 and the notion of pakulo as guides in re-thinking global conceptual art in relation to other forces of globalization, such as consumerism and museology. Exceeding dominant historiographies of conceptualism as a “lingua franca” of contemporary art, the paper grounds its object of study in actual transnational exchanges and specific local initiatives to show that these considerations advance the central epistemological objectives of the “genre”. 

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