The years between 1965 and 1980 marked a period of major social and political upheaval, including significant civil unrest and global conflict – not least the intensification and ultimate conclusion of the Vietnam War.
Conceptual art offered socio-political critique via an interrogation of traditional forms of representation. The 1969 exhibition, When Attitudes Become Form at the Kunsthalle Bern, curated by Harald Szeemann and the publication of Lucy Lippard’s book, Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972 four years later in 1973 indicated a sea change in artists’ approaches to the role of their medium in society.
This political context provides the conceptual framework for Simon Lee’s current exhibition which features a wealth of artists including Paul Thek, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Carl Andre, Giovanni Anselmo and many more.
During this decade artists became increasingly critical of institutional convention. British collective, Art & Language’s work confronted mainstream art practices, while Romanian artist, André Cadere used his Barres de bois rond (1970-178) – poles handmade from primary-coloured wooden cylindrical components – to liberate himself from the confines of the gallery space. Daniel Buren’s in situ striped artworks interrogate the relationship
between art and the spaces in which it is installed. Akin to Cadere’s nomadic practice, Stanley Brouwn’s work captures movement and time. From the 1970s, Brouwn obsessively recorded his own footsteps on index cards archived in metal filing cabinets, making impersonal the subjective experience of the journey.
Central to many Conceptual artists’ practices was the intersection of linguistic and visual representation. John Baldessari’s Word Chain: Faucet (Ilene’s story) (1975) builds a narrative from a fragmentary database of words and images. Collaged together, the cyclical nature of the work hints at events and memories from the eponymous Ilene’s life, while the words guide the viewer’s understanding of its timeline. While his later work went on to explore language, Mel Bochner’s early practice probes the ways in which we receive and interpret information. In Forgetting Is The Only Continuum, first conceived of in 1970, Bochner questions the essential relationship between an idea and the means of its communication; this body of work marked a critical moment in the history of early conceptual art. Challenging the traditional relationship between an idea and its visual explanation, Marcel Broodthaers’ Roule Moule (1967) sets out the title of the work beneath a panel of varnished mussels, leading the viewer to consider the structural connection between language and image.
Image: Marcel Broodthaers, Roule Moule, 1967, White and blue painted panel, mussel shells, book pages.