Conceptual art: the advocates of a cerebral, immaterial kind of art with a soft spot for collage and photo-collage


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Like Fluxus, conceptual art can be said to be a descendent of the original Dada. International in scope, it began in the 1960s in the West (mainly the US and Europe), then gained popularity in Asia and South America.

By “conceptual art” we mean, in its most simple definition, a type of art in which the concepts and ideas expressed are the most important aspect of the work (“art as idea as idea,” Joseph Kosuth).

In fact, conceptual artists brought forth the notion that the essence of art doesn’t reside in its physical nature or qualities, but rather in the idea behind it. In other words: the concept upstream from the piece is more important than the work itself; the idea is more meaningful than the object that resulted from it.

In the words of Douglas Huebler, an internationally-renowned conceptual artist, on the relative unimportance that physical objects play within his work: “The world is full of objects, more or less interesting; I do not wish to add any more.”

The rarity of physical and emotional content in conceptual art soon came to express a cerebral, anti-artistic, anti-emotional and self-referential art form (“art as art and nothing but art,” Ad Reinhardt).

Even conceptual artists often used (and still use) techniques such as collage and photo-collage. But, unlike other modern avant-garde art movements, in their work they mostly used original photographs instead of images taken from other sources (i.e., there was very little copying and pasting going on).

The few artists that included “borrowed” images in their collages and photo-collages were: John Baldessari, Giulio Paolini, Victor Burgin, Edward Ruscha, Joseph Kosuth and On Kawara.

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