Towards Infinity: 1965-1980 at Simon Lee Gallery
If you often find yourself asking, "but is this really art?” while in a gallery or a museum, have a look inside Simon Lee Gallery to see works by conceptual artists, spanning from 1965 to 1980. Why? Because the way art can look like now, was to a great extent shaped by conceptual artists active in this period.
What does conceptual actually mean? It does not describe an exact movement or a style, but rather a set of methodological approaches to art making. For artists, who considered themselves to be involved in such type of art, the form of the art object was not relevant at all. What they aimed at, however, was to emphasise the mental processes involved in artistic creation, and the ideas which those artworks represented.
An example of such a work is Cane all Specchio (Dog at the Mirror) by Michelangelo Pistoletto (1971/2018), a work which can be seen already from Berkeley Street. It is one of the artist's signature “mirror paintings”. With them, Pistoletto intended to achieve the highest degree of objectivity in the work by trying to "mirror reality". The artist grew up surrounded by paintings in traditional medium (his father was a picture restorer), and while he rejected to use it, he referred to it with his mirror works, as if they were also - a common Renaissance conviction - windows looking out to the world.
Conceptual artists agreed on the fact that the form of an object is not of great importance, and soon the necessity of having any objects was questioned. And thus, plans, written forms and language took over the role of artistic medium. If the idea can be translated into an object, it can be also represented with words.
This linguistic approach was undertaken by, among others, Mel Bochner in his Forgetting Is The Only Continuum (1971/2018). The artist was interested in the difference between writing as art criticism and writing as an art form. These words are painted onto the wall as if they were a lesson on a blackboard. They embody a contradiction and the work’s presence on the gallery’s wall negates its market status.
The space in which conceptual artworks were displayed became of greater importance because of the change in the status of an art object. Artworks became less and less easily-identifiable as such, so the galleries took on the roles of intermediaries. For the works to operate, it was necessary to place them in a physical space. But this event also gave the artists an opportunity to experiment with the space itself.
Andre Cadere’s B 02403010 (1975) is a wooden stick with painted segments. The artist referred to his works as ‘paintings’, further undermining the meaning of what an art object is. Every combination of colours Cadere employed was governed by a mathematical permutation, reflected by a work’s title. Due to their portability, the artist was able to present his works in public spaces, the same making his art easily accessible to a wider public and open up a discussion about his works. Sometimes, he would also put them at the walls in exhibitions in which he did not participate.
Every artist in the exhibition had his own mode of production and display of work, but they have shared a vision of art, which was based more on ideas than on execution. At first the artworks displayed might look unconnected because Towards Inifnity: 1965-1980 features various media and each of works on show has its own style, however, it is a very comprehensive introduction to the art of that period, with key-players included.
Gilbert and George
Until September 7
Simon Lee Gallery
12 Berkeley St, Mayfair, London W1J 8DT