Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 explores how artists working in Britain began to question the nature of art. The exhibition presents the development of the movement from its origins in the mid-1960s through to the late 1970s, bringing together 70 works by 21 artists to demonstrate the radical, thought-provoking and politically engaged aspects of this period in art history.
The exhibition features work by a number of influential artists of the period including Keith Arnatt, Richard Long, Bruce McLean, Stephen Willats, Sue Arrowsmith, Braco Dimitrijević, Barry Flanagan, Hamish Fulton, Margaret Harrison, Ed Herring, Susan Hiller, John Hilliard, John Latham, Bob Law and David Tremlett.
In a period of considerable political and social change, conceptual artists began to question some of the assumptions of art and used theories and philosophies to underpin their own approach to art. This questioning of widely held assumptions was part of a wider cultural movement that transformed many areas adapting ideas from a number of sources.
In many ways, Conceptual art considered the idea and concept was placed above the work’s material form, this shift was illustrated by works such as Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree 1973 – a glass of water on a glass shelf is accompanied by text suggesting possible meanings of the work.
This interplay between the artist and the viewer is a crucial aspect of the movement, many of the artists rejected the dominance of abstract modern art and believed that the ‘real world’ could offer new avenues of form and content.
The first room is dominated by Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) 1967 – a pile of oranges that in its original form visitors were invited to take an orange thereby changing the work gradually into a different form.
Some artists began to view art as a performance, Keith Arnatt’s Art as an Act of Retraction sees the artist literally eating his own words and Self Burial show the same artist in a series of photographs disappearing into the ground. Bruce McLean Posework for Plinths 3 follows a similar approach.
Other artists used common applications of art to subvert the message, Victor Burgin’s critique of modern consumerism, Possession 1976 offers a poster with its own radical message at the bottom. Many of the works in the exhibition illustrate that they were part of wider and radical social and political movements. Class inequality and gender identity were just two areas of expression for artists, Mary Kelly’s examination of the mother-child relationship in her Post-Partum Document 1974-8 explores her personal relationship within the context of ideas associated with the women’s movement.
This interesting and thought-provoking exhibition explores the concept of art itself, the conceptual artists in Britain at this period were not the first to question the concept of art but their particular approach was tied to a response to the radical changes taking place within the country at the time. Whilst many people in the art world would suggest this movement was very influential, the artists themselves are not widely known or shown. A walk around the exhibition perhaps explains this paradox, the radical aspect of the movements seems very dated and belong to a time when different world ideologies provided their own theories of the modern world. However, many of the ideas of conceptual art found greater relevance in the Information age, the use of language and text has exploded boundaries into a myriad of forms which offers questions of reality and virtual reality.
Many visitors may see a pile of sand, a pyramid of oranges or a glass of water and say ‘ Is this art ?’, it is this debate that lay behind many of the ideas of conceptual art and provides some indication of the influence of the movement.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 –1979 from 12th April to 29th August 2016
Admission £12.00 (£10.90 without donation).
Concession £10.50 (without donation £9.50)
Open daily from 10.00 – 18.00
For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Britain website here
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