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.


PART 1: Aesthetic autonomy and subjective self-construction versus scientific rationality and instrumental reason? Speakers: Lawrence Weiner, Daniel Buren, Art and Language (Michael Baldwin and Mel Ramsden) and Robert Barry. Moderator: Carles Guerra.
Conceptual Art and Philosophy

When revisiting conceptual art, one of the most widespread impressions is that it came so close to philosophy (above all analytical philosophy) that at certain times, its identity ran the risk of being confused with a new branch of philosophy. This occurred in nearly all cases with the artists who are at this panel, to a greater or lesser extent. What was at stake? Was it a transferral of authority, such that philosophy could legitimise artistic practices? Or was it the replacement of aesthetic concerns by technical, institutional and ideological issues?

A Transitional Practice
If conceptual art had a fundamentally clarifying function with respect to the mystifying Greenbergian view of modernity, and if it was not really conceived as a style, but rather as a self-teaching process, couldn't conceptual art have played a transitional role and wouldn't its destiny be to suffer a gradual decline until it fell into oblivion once the early stage was over? Nonetheless, it has endured and its documents are cult objects. Does this mean that the current version of conceptual art is a degraded, corrupt, exhausted and lifeless form? What role does conceptual art play in today's art system?
Although we must definitively overcome the debate on 'labels', to what extent the term, 'conceptual art', universally spread by art critics and historians, has obscured the specificity and multiplicity of the processes surpassing the conventional limits of the art-system taking place throughout the 60s and 70s, and that, in many cases, it has contributed to attenuating its most critical and explicitly political elements? If so, what characteristics make your work particular?
The Conceptual Artist as an Entrepreneur of the New Capitalism
So-called 'conceptual art' began in the mid-60s, at a time when the art establishment, the market, museums and ways of addressing the public were beginning to adapt to the new cultural system that Jameson defines as part of late capitalism. Is conceptual work a sort of awareness of these changes? A critical or analytical stance with respect to them? An instrument of the art establishment itself to get its bearings in the new scenario?
Assuming that conceptual artists were conceptual insofar as they were taking their first professional steps in the world of art, and given that they did so with a fully different grasp of what was work and what wasn't, of the use of time, and relations with the public and with institutions, the majority of them being very young, they may have founded a new form of immaterial work. Those who stopped practising art in their early years found a place in society by applying the same skills and knowledge that they used in the world of art. To what extent would conceptual artists be the model of new entrepreneurs, who use their creativity, autonomy, freedom and self-organising capacity? Could conceptual art be ascribed the honour of having inspired a new form of production that advanced capitalism has made its own?
PART 2: Is it possible an abject conceptualism? Speakers: John Baldessari, Thomas Schütte and Luciano Fabro. Moderator: Jesús Carrillo.
Conceptual Art and the Discourse of the Other

Was conceptualism simply dissection and analysis of the processes of discursive construction of the modern aesthetic subject and therefore merely asserting the asocial, alienated dimension of contemporary culture – or was it also the bridgehead for making the dissonant voices of the sexual, cultural, racial or class others heard? Does conceptualism register the pressure that these others exercise, both in the artistic and the extra-artistic spheres?
A Global Vanguard
So-called conceptualism, more than any other 'ism' of the second half of the 20th century, has been a vehicle for the most diverse operations and strategies in the most outlying and different corners of the world. Could it therefore be considered the first truly global avantgarde movement, or is it just that the term 'conceptualism' has been used systematically to classify phenomena that have nothing to do with 'truly conceptual' concerns?
Conceptual Art and Popular Culture
Considering the previous statement, should we rethink conceptual art, leaving behind the strictly linguistic categories used by art historians, such that its nature as permeable to the 'minor' discourse of popular culture, to procedures of distortion, parodical humour and imitation, and the plurality of voices would become visible? Having done this, could we continue speaking in a strict sense of 'conceptual art'? To what extent would this affect our perception of modernity and its hypothetical end in conceptual art?

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