Category Archives: conceptual

12 pieces of conceptual art that would probably work as tweets

From the 20th century onwards, the beauty of much art is it has no need for the eye of a beholder. Conceptual works, in theory, place as much importance on the idea as the finished visual object. And while lots can be said about the dozen pieces below, the kernel of each is a thought of no more than 140 characters.

This is not to assume that simple ideas are the best. But it is possible that in a time of information overload, and web-based attention spans, they are the ones that travel best. If these artworks translate into tweets, it is only a sign of their power.

  1. Benjamin Peret, Insulting a Priest (1926):
    “A black and white photo of a surrealist poet harranguing a man of the cloth, as featured in a 1926 manifesto for the liberation of desire”
  2. Robert Rauschenberg, Erased De Kooning Drawing (1953):
    “After six weeks of careful erasing a heavily worked drawing by Willem de Kooning becomes a gold-framed piece of near blank paper”
  3. Marcel Broodthaers, Femur of a Belgian Man and Femur of a French Woman (1964-5):
    “Two human bones, one from Belgian man, one from a French woman, each painted in the colours of the flags of their respective nations”
  4. Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs (1965):
    “A folding wooden chair, a photo of the same (not by the artist) and a blown up definition of the word chair to be displayed as one piece”
  5. Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (1969):
    “A white-walled Rome gallery became a temporary stable for 12 quite mucky and fairly noisy live horses”
  6. John Baldessari, The Commissioned Paintings (1969-70):
    “Out on a walk, the artist took close up pics of a friend pointing at interesting things, then asked 14 sunday painters to paint the photos”
  7. Adrian Piper, Untitled Performance for Max’s Kansas City (1970):
    “The artist wears blindfold and gloves and pays a visit to a New York bar where the art world generally go to see and be seen”
  8. Jørgen Nash, Decapitated Little Mermaid (1972):
    “The head of Copenhagen’s most famous statue is cut off by (it is said) the Second Situationist International. The artist is a member”
  9. Hans Haacke, Manet-PROJEKT 74 (1974):
    “A proposal that a Manet painting be displayed next to panels giving details of all the work’s previous owners and their business activities”
  10. Gordon Matta-Clark, Splitting (1974):
    “A suburban house is cut down the middle and undermined causing it to split and thereby open a rift in the social fabric”
  11. Gavin Turk, Cave, 1991:
    “For his degree show, the artist leaves nothing in his studio but a blue plaque with the words: Gavin Turk, Sculptor, worked here 1989-1991”
  12. Sherrie Levine, Fountain (1991):
    “Marcel Duchamp’s infamous urinal readymade has been recast in bronze to give it, at last, some respectability”

By now you should be convinced, some of the most important works of modern and contemporary art lose little from a lot of distillation. They might even work as tweets, albeit ones with plenty more to say.

More details on the 12 artworks can be found in Conceptual Art, by Tony Godfrey (published by Phaidon), which contains hundreds more like them all discussed in considerably more depth.

Giorgio Sadotti, Went To America Didn’t Say A Word (1999)

A 24-hour recording of ambient city noise is, on the face of it, boring. Few people will ever sit through all of the 1999 Giorgio Sadotti piece currently on show at Milton Keynes Gallery.

Behind the soundtrack, however, is an amazing story. Sadotti flew from London to New York, stayed overnight, and came home the next day without speaking to anyone. And that has the makings of an urban legend.

Now simply by hearing about the artwork, you can experience it. It can be easily shared, at no cost, between friends, over a drink. Never mind the lengthy audio documentation. The anecdote, surely, is just as much the artwork, as the tapes from across the Atlantic.

You may wonder how it was possible, logistically, to do such a thing. In its invisible way, the piece is as remarkable as a tromp l’oeil ceiling or an ornate manuscript. It must have been solitary, dogged work to produce.

The next question is what he might have said. The title implies withheld judgement or perhaps a kept secret. It draws attention to what Sadotti was thinking and the recording offers no clue. This gives the piece an essential and age old mystique.

In an attempt to demystify Went To America Didn’t Say A Word, I went to my local shop for a pint of milk and maintained a strict silence. Here is the documentation. You won’t find it in a gallery: Went To The Cornershop Didn’t Say A Word.wma

The The Things Is (For 3) is at Milton Keynes Gallery until 12 September

Ignacio Uriarte, The History of the Typewriter Recited by Michael Winslow (2009)

Skill and accomplishment are at the forefront of this unusual work. But instead of technique with a brush or a chisel, we are treated to the novel and maybe useless vocal imitation of 32 typewriters.

This is representational art of the highest order. Each sequence of hammer strikes does sound, it must be said, just like a typewriter and a different one each time. With no immediate sources to refer to, the performance is taken on trust. As with Mona Lisa or Dora Maar, there is little point in questioning resemblances.

But while Da Vinci or Picasso went all out to capture beauty or its opposite, Ignacio Uriarte has gone in for precise realism in an area which, unlike a model or a landscape, has marginal interest. The 21 minute film, in which we hear the same phrase typed over and over, is mono-manic.

But that 56-character phrase, The History of the Typewriter Recited by Michael Winslow, is also the title of the film. So in a sense, the sounds you hear refer to nothing more than the sounds you hear. The virtuoso performance with all of its mimetic skill is little more than a sideshow. It is fitting that Winslow is a comic actor and he cannot resist a good many gestural asides throughout the film.

Be dazzled by all means, but rather by the force of its creation. not the means of its execution.

Feature: Soundtracks for an Exhibition

Ron Terada, Soundtrack for an Exhibition, video still. Courtesy of Ikon

Art is getting noisier. Galleries echo with moving image installations. The quieter ones provide you with audio-guides. Sound is now such a vital dimension of art, some artists are making art about that very phenomenon.

In a boxlike construction at Ikon in Birmingham, you can pull up a beanbag and enjoy some music. On a giant screen ahead a retro turntable plays a selection of vinyl LPs. It reconstructs the type of experience you might have at home, yet you are sat in a sculpture.

This is Soundtrack for an Exhibition (2000-) by conceptual artist Ron Terada. It features a selection of his favourite tunes from the last ten years and celebrates his first major show in Europe. Pavement, The Magnetic Fields and The Walkmen are among the bands included.

Curator Helen Legg explains the popularity of the work: “Ron likes making mix tapes and people like having mix tapes made for them . . . so people are working out whether there is a narrative to the work.” This particular mix tape has also been pressed up as a free record that gallery goers can take home with them.

The melancholy tunes can be heard throughout the exhibition, and it should be mentioned that this show is called “Who I Think I Am”. This personal selection of music seems a direct way of getting to know the artist, or is it?

“I think that Ron is very smart guy,” says Legg. “He’s very self aware, so the music is both the kind of music he would listen to – they are his favourite songs quite genuinely – but he is also very aware of impression they give of him, so that’s why the show is a self portrait and the music too.”

Either way, Terada has good taste, which makes this a contender for the best sounding show of the year. It makes you wonder why so much art is still looked at in silence.

“I think its just a cultural habit, which I guess comes from the history of exhibition making and the way museums and galleries have operated historically,” explains Legg. “But I think with moving images becoming more prevalent within galleries that’s starting to be challenged and fade away. I think curators are increasingly becoming aware of the uses of sound, and artists too.”

Not content with soundtracks, many creative arts shows are now developing audiovisual idents. A recent example can be found at Life in 2050 at Proud Central in London.

Most of the work in the future-focussed exhibition, which runs in support of the 9th Sci-Fi London Film Festival, is comprised of relatively quiet illustration, photography and design. So the ident, projected from the mouth of a sculptural robot onto the white wall, sets the atmospheric tone.

Visually, it is a code-generated animation, which appears to map the evolution and dissolution of an entire world. It is abstract, cerebral and, like the Terada piece, hypnotic. Meanwhile the ambient techno backing provides an unofficial soundtrack to your visit and indeed the entire film festival.

Creative Director Andrew Jones and his agency Future Deluxe set out to find music that could bear repeated listening. “Some of the first pieces we looked at were quite electronic and quite structured, with too much emphasis on the beat, but when we heard Quadrant 3 [by Harmonic 313], it matched the animations because you could keep listening to it again and again,” he explains.

Jones says that in the world of digital arts, it is now standard practice to develop an ident: “In terms of promotion and the online element it works very well, getting people talking about it, building up a bit of hype before the exhibition starts.”

Yet he admits there is a historical precedence for silence before the work of art. “There’s definitely some things that are carried forward from the past with art galleries. There is I think an element of ‘That’s how we do things in an art gallery, because that’s how we’ve always done it.’”

“I don’t know why,” he adds. “I don’t agree with it.” And as he demonstrates, shows with added music leave a powerful impression. Anyone might come round to Jones’ way of thinking.

Written for Art & Music.

Review: Ron Terada – Who I Think I Am

Ron Terada, Soundtrack for an Exhibition, video still. Image courtesy Ikon

Exhibition: Ron Terada – Who I Think I Am, Ikon, Birmingham, until May 16 2010

A brief digression on Vancouver may be needed. Thanks to a generation of artists that includes Jeff Wall, the third largest city in Canada has become an unlikely art world capital. So Ron Terada has emerged from a local scene which is also an international brand.

In the most comprehensive exhibition of his work to date we are greeted by this fact. A large highway sign facing the entrance marks out the cultural space with the words: Entering city of Vancouver.

It is too literal to be taken seriously and comes with quote marks attached. A photo on the wall shows an original sign by the roadside on the cover of a book about art in the city. The image was also used for a group show poster, then for an ad, and Terada has put similar signs in gallery windows.

The meaning of the piece gets more complicated at every turn, and the same could be said of all Terada’s work. Shifting contexts are a vital part of the experience.

Another piece, Soundtrack for an Exhibition, is both a video installation and an LP. A darkened enclosure has been constructed where you can listen to the soundtrack and watch it spin on a turntable at the same time. Stacks of the eponymous record propped against the wall appear to offer the chance to extend the exhibition into your home.

Even when Terada paints, he paints about painting. Jack is an extensive typographic work which reproduces the text of out-of-print book Jack Goldstein and the CalArts Mafia.

Lacking recognition as an artist, Goldstein becomes a drug addict living without electricity or water in a trailer. Eventually he kills himself. There is a fierce irony about the inclusion of these slick acrylic panels in a show called Who I Think I Am.

Ultimately, Terada is a conceptual artist from Vancouver with a hip taste in music who presents himself as a conceptual artist from Vancouver with a hip taste in music. Rest assured, that is more complicated than it sounds.

Written for Culture24.

Review: Richard Grayson at De La Warr Pavilion

The end of the world is nigh in the art of Richard Grayson. But we might just be saved by work like this. It has a light touch, which never gives way to despair.

There is irony even in the title of Ways The World Ends. Competing prophecies are ranged against one another in acid-coloured prints which spiral their way in and out of comprehension. Bright and trippy, these texts from the outer reaches of the internet are rendered harmless, yet dizzying.

Close by are more angst filled texts in a piece called Hadron Collider. These come from the blogs of individuals working on the science of the Big Bang theory. These are black and white, accompanied by dull photographs, quite boring. Yet they warn scientists could create a black hole here on earth.

Cosmic forces are also evoked by another text-based work called Intelligence. This compares the star charts of six protagonists in the recent politics of the middle east. It offers a fatalistic twist on all the rhetoric of spreading democracy or resisting imperialism.

The backdrop to all this work is the twang of Country and Western music, which echoes out from a gallery filled with bales of hay. You can make yourself at home on one of these barnyard seats and get down to the folksiness of the band on one of the giant projections. Another screen reveals their lyrics to come straight from Handel’s Messiah. The choral work now seems like enjoyable hokum.

In another video piece a choir take their places to sing an alternative to Handel’s choral work. This time the libretto comes from, again, the internet, namely the site of a US cult whose vision is part book of revelations, part pure sci-fi. From the look on their faces, it is just another piece of music. The high seriousness of the genre now appears empty and foolish.

Music figures indirectly in a third video piece, The Magpie Index. This 80 minute film features a monologue by singer-songwriter Roy Harper. Whether talking about New Labour or intergalactic space travel, the result is compelling. Like many voices in this show, his comes from outside the mainstream. Harper keeps a sense of humour. But if the truth is out there, we are in trouble.

To bin or not to bin? A journey into Michael Landy's Art Bin

Put work in a gallery and it becomes art. Put it in a bin and it becomes rubbish. But put work in a bin in a gallery, and you may find it becomes both. Such is the strange new context for the many damaged pieces already piling up in the Art Bin.

Take the glass-encrusted skull print by Damien Hirst. Put that in an auction room and it would have become money. Nearby rests a Scottish flag, one by Tracey Emin and I’m told there’s a Gillian Wearing photo, buried. It’s art, but it’s no longer theirs.

Art Bin is the project of Michael Landy, an artist with a track record for trashing stuff. In 2001 he destroyed all of his own possessions in a factory production line for a work entitled Breakdown. Now he is appealing for unwanted art to fill up his latest project.

It seemed to be my journalistic duty to respond, but where to find some worthless art? A printmaker friend was begged for some or other cast off from his studio, but he refused. “I agree with the sentiment,” said the friend. “There’s too much art in the world. Just not enough of mine.”

That’s how I came to attempt my own sketch for the Art Bin, choosing a subject much loved by tourists. It took me a cold hour on the pebbles of Brighton beach to draw the dilapidated West Pier. The result was a sort of Art Brut pastiche.

All the while I was haunted by the possibility that Landy or his representative might reject my application to put work in the bin. He has described the installation as a “monument to creative failure.” But to fail at failure would be traumatising.

Determined to get my masterpiece validated by an institution, I submitted it twice, first online and later in person at the gallery. This offered a chance to see the steel framed bin first hand and press my nose up against the see-through polycarbonate panels.

“There’s nothing I can say in particular aesthetically about the bin,” said Landy, who wore the look of a stern judge, it seemed to me. “It has to be physically imposing so that it pushes people kind of up against the wall. And obviously you have to see into it.

“It’s kind of robust,” he added. “Bins have to be robust.” In addition to a pinstripe suit jacket he wore a pair of old running trainers, presumably for getting up and down the scaffold staircase to the top of the 600m3 bin.

What criteria, I wondered, would decide a work’s acceptance to the bin. “It’s just what I like,” said Landy. Oh dear.

“Well, what I like is going in and what I don’t like is going in.” This was better. “So there’s nothing too good to go in the bin and there’s nothing too bad.”

Once in the bin, however, all work is bad. “It has no value because it’s going to be destroyed,” said Landy of his unloved collection. “All the things are exactly the same. You know it gets unceremoniously thrown into the bin then something else lands on it and, before you know, it’s just mingled in with everything else as well there.”

“For some artists this is their first show,” he joked, which seemed a carte blanche invitation to unveil my amateur offering.

“Oh yes, you submitted this online,” said Landy. “I turned it down.” Ouch!

“Is this a view of where you live? So it struck me, I didn’t know the circumstances, but it struck me you were bored or something and heard about this project and you thought ‘What’s out the window? Oh, I’ll just draw that and I’ll submit that as a proposal.’ So that’s what you did.”

“I’ll try and think,” he said, looking more carefully at some of the truly artistic flourishes, or so I hoped. “I did decline you but it seems a bit mean so I’ve changed my mind. It can go in.” Success. Or should that be creative failure?

For the overall project to succeed, the criteria are also vague. “I’ve offered this bin up to be filled with artworks that have failed somehow,” says Landy. “I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

To help find out, proper artists can now make their way to the South London Gallery with work they no longer want. You could say they’ll take any old rubbish.

Written for Culture24. Link to follow.

Preview: Michael Landy – Art Bin at the South London Gallery


Exhibition: Michael Landy – Art Bin, the South London Gallery, January 29 – March 14 2010

Michael Landy, who famously destroyed all his possessions in the name of art, is set to dispose of a whole gallery of art, perhaps in the name of destruction.

For six weeks Landy will turn the South London Gallery into a 600m2 disposal unit called Art Bin. The website shows a classic grey wheelie bin, but one hopes the work itself will be spectacular.

For the pulverisation of his Saab and his birth certificate in Breakdown he designed a colourful production line in a disused Oxford Street store. The execution matched the boldness of the idea.

A few of those worldly goods were themselves artworks made by other artists. So many will look on Art Bin as a sequel.

 But it also follows up a 1995 piece called Scrapheap Services, when Landy formed a corporate cleaning company to clean up an East End gallery which was infested with thousands of cut-out figures.

 While Breakdown may have worked because the stakes were so high, the London-based artist is playing down the risks in his new venture. 

“Art Bin is about failure,” he has said, “Either within particular art work, or more generally in artists’ practice: nobody discards art which has some sort of intrinsic value, so the bin becomes a monument to creative failure”.

Artists are invited to bring their creative failures along to South London Gallery from January 29 where Landy or his representative will assess its worthlessness. Though be warned. It may get rejected, even from a bin.

Fortress of Solitude by David Blandy at 176 / Zabludowicz Collection

Published on Culture24

David Blandy – Fortress of Solitude, 176 / Zabludowicz Collection, London, until Summer 2010

Strap on the artificial guitar and fire up the games console and you are ready to enter David Blandy’s world. It is indeed, as he demonstrates, a stage. We find our truth in the roles we play.

Guitar Hero is just part of it. Fortress of Solitude includes a library of games, books, comics, films and records which invite the viewer to load up, read, or put on different mass culture artefacts. Each carries a Soul Archive label as if a piece of Blandy’s very essence.

His influences, and the show is about nothing else, are eclectic. They include Kafka and Joyce, but also Marvin Gaye and EPMD. Martial Arts seem to tie the whole lot together as the sphere where hip hop, video games and of course film collide. Way of the Samurai is the subtitle of both a book (Mishima) and a movie (Jim Jarmusch).

It could also reference Blandy’s longest running video pieces. Soul of London, Soul of the Lakes and The Five Boroughs of the Soul all star the artist in an orange kung fu suit, with staff and portable record player. Each one documents a quest or in search of truth or the meaning of soul. On the subway in New York, a barefoot Blandy explains to a bemused local that he is doing a penance.

In the Bronx, he risks getting shot. In London, he risks mockery. In Cumbria, he risks cut and bruised feet. But each film is cut and spliced with clips from the music and the movies the film-maker loves. So they combine postmodern hyperreality with real endurance, an intriguing mix.

The artist also puts himself on the line with emotive lip-synced performances of hip-hop, reggae, funk and soul classics. In Hollow Bones he even mimes along to a Syl Johnson track called Is It Because I’m Black? Blandy by the way is, apparently, not.

That could mean his performances are as hollow as the bones in the film’s title. Or it could mean that they are still bones, still the structure of his existence.

Keith Tyson at Parasol Unit

Written for Culture24

Exhibition: Keith Tyson – Cloud Choreography and Other Emergent Systems, Parasol Unit, London, until November 11 2009

It goes something like this: n pigeons/a non-graceful tree of 2n generations where each gen has r vertices and then has r+1 edges and r and n are random integers within the limits (0<n>5) (1<r>9). The work is called Operator Painting: n Pigeons and a giant painting of 1 bird accompanies the equation.

Keith Tyson’s new Operator Paintings are characterised by a mix of science and surreal humour. Numbers and words appear as important as images and many are written with the precision of a signwriter. Pictorial elements are rendered with the functionality of a text book.

Indeed the first Operator Painting is entirely typographic. Large Abstract relies on mental imagery, building a narrative out of arbitrary phrases such as “a half buried tile” and “chlorinated eyes”. Poetic fragments revolve around another dense equation involving pi, cos and theta.

Each of these pictures has its own formula. The relationships look like nonsense and it would be easy to dismiss them as satire. But there’s an air of intelligence and surprise about the rules which suggests they carry their own meaning, at least as far as Tyson is concerned.

In the wider context of the exhibition, his interest in science goes beyond a sense of fun. It has also led to the discovery of a new technique. The Nature Paintings variously resemble mineral, brain tissue, lava and aerial photography. They use paint, pigment and an innovative chemical reaction on aluminium.

The Fractal Die sculptures also call attention to the creative role (or roll) of chance. These are blocky 3D chaos patterns; the primary colours and 90 degree angles suggest an explosion in a Lego factory.

The show’s eponymous painting group is Cloud Choreography. In style they move from fresco-like study of heavenly fluff to photo-realist panels depicting jet vapour. Mushroom clouds and globally-warmed tornadoes also feature. Clouds have lost their innocence, and guess what, so has art.