Conceptualism and Abjection. Towards Other Genealogies of Conceptual Art
Activity

Conceptualism and Abjection. Towards Other Genealogies of Conceptual Art

Debate around the Herbert Collection

In his influential 1989 essay on conceptual art, From the Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions, Benjamin Buchloh describes how, after its closure, conceptualism became a kind of unconscious for all artistic production after 1969. Taking as his initial premise that "conceptual art made the most rigorous investigation of the post-war period into the conventions of pictorial and sculptural representation, as well as a fundamental critique of traditional visual paradigms", Buchloh constructs a historical narrative that culminates in an information art that reactivates the postulates of the productivist avant-garde of the Russian Revolution whilst questioning the role of the artist, who is bureaucratically redefined as a mere "employee who catalogues". This historical process of conceptual art is closed by such works as Hans Haacke's Visitor's Profile, a statistical compilation of the features of visitors to an exhibition and, most importantly, by Marcel Broodthaers's "Musée a vendre par faillite", also a premonition of an imminent future: the disappearance of the space for critique inside the museum as a central, legitimising institution in the bourgeois public sphere and its transformation in the hands of the new mass entertainment industry (as reflected in the spectral reappearance of pictorial and sculptural paradigms from the past, which conceptualism had abolished). Nonetheless, the historic closure of conceptualism did not necessarily entail its disappearance; rather, it entailed its interiorisation into critical artistic practices, ushering in what we now call "institutional critique", which itself emerged in the wake of conceptual art as a relative and ambiguous continuation of the radical avant-garde in the museum context, increasingly mediated by the cultural industries after the 1980s.

Buchloh's historical account of conceptualism has become a canonical reference, one that this debate aims to review. According to Buchloh, conceptualism has been historicised and displayed in museums like a dry administrative, bureaucratic aesthetics, lacking of platicity, in a way culminating the high modernist avant-garde aesthetics of postwar art. The debate seeks to counter a teleological vision of modernity implicit in avant-gardism, sketching out other possible genealogies of conceptualism based on minor genres and popular culture. All this, from the standpoint that the ruptures of the 1960s imply the historic emergence of new, minority or peripheral political subjects that question the universality of the bourgeois liberal subject theorised by Habermas and implicit in Buchloh's avant-gardist account. The debate, therefore, poses questions about the heterodox, parodic, humoristic and grotesque aspects that can be identified with historic conceptualism and its evolution.

Debate around the Herbert Collection

In his influential 1989 essay on conceptual art, From the Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions, Benjamin Buchloh describes how, after its closure, conceptualism became a kind of unconscious for all artistic production after 1969. Taking as his initial premise that “conceptual art made the most rigorous investigation of the post-war period into the conventions of pictorial and sculptural representation, as well as a fundamental critique of traditional visual paradigms”, Buchloh constructs a historical narrative that culminates in an information art that reactivates the postulates of the productivist avant-garde of the Russian Revolution whilst questioning the role of the artist, who is bureaucratically redefined as a mere “employee who catalogues”. This historical process of conceptual art is closed by such works as Hans Haacke’s Visitor’s Profile, a statistical compilation of the features of visitors to an exhibition and, most importantly, by Marcel Broodthaers’s “Musée a vendre par faillite”, also a premonition of an imminent future: the disappearance of the space for critique inside the museum as a central, legitimising institution in the bourgeois public sphere and its transformation in the hands of the new mass entertainment industry (as reflected in the spectral reappearance of pictorial and sculptural paradigms from the past, which conceptualism had abolished). Nonetheless, the historic closure of conceptualism did not necessarily entail its disappearance; rather, it entailed its interiorisation into critical artistic practices, ushering in what we now call “institutional critique”, which itself emerged in the wake of conceptual art as a relative and ambiguous continuation of the radical avant-garde in the museum context, increasingly mediated by the cultural industries after the 1980s.

Buchloh’s historical account of conceptualism has become a canonical reference, one that this debate aims to review. According to Buchloh, conceptualism has been historicised and displayed in museums like a dry administrative, bureaucratic aesthetics, lacking of platicity, in a way culminating the high modernist avant-garde aesthetics of postwar art. The debate seeks to counter a teleological vision of modernity implicit in avant-gardism, sketching out other possible genealogies of conceptualism based on minor genres and popular culture. All this, from the standpoint that the ruptures of the 1960s imply the historic emergence of new, minority or peripheral political subjects that question the universality of the bourgeois liberal subject theorised by Habermas and implicit in Buchloh’s avant-gardist account. The debate, therefore, poses questions about the heterodox, parodic, humoristic and grotesque aspects that can be identified with historic conceptualism and its evolution.

dates
8 February 2006
price
Auditori MACBA. Free admission. Limited seating. Simultaneous interpretation service available.
title
Conceptualism and Abjection. Towards Other Genealogies of Conceptual Art
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