Conceptual art is an art movement that first started in the early 60’s, and its development correlates with events like the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, The Women’s Liberation Movement, and the counterculture. This art movement emphasizes the thought and concept of the art piece before the medium that it is used to create it. One of the first artist to create work with this mindset was Marcel Duchamp with the readymades, most notably “The Fountain” and was the one who laid the foundations for what artists in the 60’s developed as conceptual art. Some of the artists that were more known in this movement were John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Ed Ruscha, and many others. This movement also left a very significant legacy for contemporary artists and significantly generated more waves of this art style, at the point that contemporary art can also be described as post-conceptual.

Within this movement many artists integrated text and language into their work, at the time conceptual artists were on to the next best thing, they were free to let their creativity run without boundaries, artists focused on the concept of the work instead of the final product. Examples of this are still very prominent works today. Barbara Kruger, an American Conceptual artist known for her collage style and iconic helvetica ultra condensed text usually displayed confrontational phrases and images focusing on feminist cultural critique. Another example, John Baldessari who used appropriated imagery, blending photography and text with painting, also offered commentary on contemporary culture in his work. Baldessari’s “Pure Beauty” displayed in the Met in 2010, Is a very simple example of how conceptual artists incorporated text into their work. Here the text is the only thing standing out on a white canvas, black capital letters spelling out Pure Beauty. While everyone’s idea of “pure beauty” is different it stops and makes the viewer think but also holds a sort of humor with the simplicity of what it is and the idea behind it. I believe with a lot of conceptual art the purpose is to display a thought or sense of feeling, then make the viewer question what they are looking at and why instead of it being solely based on the initial view, because of this many conceptual artists used text and phrases that are meant to be read and interpreted. It is critical to question ourselves what is the essence of art and the intention the artworks lead you to. The boundaries we have based on different cultures and perspectives make audiences come up with their understanding, sometimes similar but most of the time might be different from each other, with the similar critical thinking processes. In many works, the text and language themselves are being questioned as to the boundaries of restricting our understanding.

Adrian Piper, “Everything #2.8″, 2003. Photograph with inkjet text. 11″x8.5”

Adrian Pipers, Everything #2.8 is a manipulated photograph printed on graph paper, sanded with sandpaper, and overprinted with inkjet text. An 11”x81/2” photograph was taken in 2003 as a part of Adrain Piper’s series called “Everything”. Within the series she captures multiple black and white photographs of what appears to be lively people posing for a picture, consistently, each subject’s face is scratched out to reveal the graph paper beneath, and applied over the blank paper is the phrase “everything will be taken away” in a classic typewriter font. This creates an ominous scene for each photo, it makes the viewer stop and think what the artist could be referring to, are these people still alive? What is being taken away? yet also takes you into a spiral of self-reflection. 

While she uses the same phrase in each piece, it unites them creating a consecutive series which helps further her point. These pictures are almost recognizable or relatable to any viewer because of how she chose such ordinary photos that you could see in anyone’s roll of film but then creates this ghostly impact with the idea that one day it will all be “taken away”.  It’s helpful to see the text with the photographs scratched out beneath the inkjet, it enables the text to stand out and be more important than the images themselves, which in my opinion is part of the concept, the text informs the viewer that not everything lasts forever, the images beneath are there to create a sense of familiarity to the viewers. This specific sentence she uses holds so much importance to each individual piece, it unites the entire series together and a majority of her other work. She continues to incorporate this phrase because it is so open-ended and creates this curiosity within her work. She uses this phrase across all levels of mediums and concepts, Everything #5 is an installation, cut out of the wall with plexiglass to reflect the image of the viewer standing in front of “everything will be taken away.” It comes up again, written repeatedly on old school blackboards with white chalk, temporarily tattooed on the foreheads of individuals walking around in public, pasted on other faceless photographs, challenging the viewer to think conceptually that not even the most powerful can keep up forever. 

Adrian Piper’s work easily falls into the conceptual movement as she uses the idea or purpose of the final experience of the piece to hold more importance over the visual aspect of it. For example, while discussing “Everything #2.8” an elderly couple smiles for a photograph, their faces are scratched out and her familiar phrase is typed along where their grinning eyes would be. This phrase refers to what the viewer interprets it as, whether it be an inspiration to live your life to its ultimate fullest before it is all gone, or a reference to the destruction from contemporary global conflict and natural disasters. With this broad range of interpretation, this work illuminates the conceptual movement because she is trying to create a feeling for the viewers, whether it be inspiration, fear, or a million other emotions in between. 

Barbara Kruger, Untitled (Your body is a battleground), 1989, photographic silkscreen on vinyl, 112 x 112 in. Board Museum

Conceptual art as a movement tends to focus on political issues to make the viewer think about the concept and interpretation of the artwork instead of the artwork itself. One artist that successfully does this is Barbara Kruger with her Photographic artwork centered around Feminism, one image from this movement is “Untitled (Your body is a battleground)” This is a photographic silkscreen on vinyl, the image consists of a woman’s frontal portrait in black and white, The image is divided in half as the right section of the portrait is the negative of the picture. Overlaid on top of the image there are three red boxes framing some white text written in cursive Futura font, the top box says “your body” the middle box “is a” and the bottom box reads “battleground” on both the right and left side of the image there ate two empty narrow red boxes that enclose the whole image.

 The language in this artwork is clearly meant to take a stand on feminism and protest anti-abortion laws, it represents the portrait of a woman that could be from anywhere and the way that the photograph is composed makes her look impotent to the viewer, the text is enclosed in red boxes in order to make it stand out from the image and be the first thing that a viewer notices because it is the most important part of the artwork, it is clear, bold, and legible in order to make the message as important as possible. It is very clearly a feminist artwork that deals with the subject of abortion laws and it invites the viewer to see it from a pro-choice perspective. the dramatic composition of this piece specifically tells the viewer to see the woman in the picture for who she is, not as an object to be regulated by any government.

This work is with no doubt a conceptual artwork since it deals mostly with the concepts of feminism and abortion and it is not about the medium or the technique used to create it. The artwork is meant to make the viewer think about the subject matter and get a reaction from them, Make them think and question their thoughts. What Kruger did in this artwork is the clear objective of what conceptual artists want to achieve when they create their work, it is meant to make the concept the most important aspect of the work, rather than the physical object or the skill involved in creating it. in this case, it is the feminist narrative that Barbara Kruger puts in most of her work that makes it so important for the conceptual art movement.

Sunrise – Sunset (To: New York)

In Hanne Darboven, Sunrise – Sunset (To: New York), 1996, we see a complete set of “calendar” system composed of 385 charts and calculation data. Among the works drawn with felt pen on these 31 x 35 cm grid paper, each paper representing the beginning of the working day is decorated with a nostalgic postcard and marked with the word “Heute”(today). These postcards show the scenic spots and scenery of New York in the past. In addition to postcards, there are some scribbled records on paper, making the whole work like a diary that can record time. Open the recording paper with postcards at the beginning, and then seven consecutive pieces of numbered paper represent seven days a week. Except for some numbers in the corners, each paper is covered with irregular corrugated lines like calculated data.

On the whole, the whole work intuitively expresses the existence and continuity of time with its chaotic data display. The ripples floating up and down in weekly records remind me of the feeling of machine reading printed on paper. Instead of “drawing” the continuity of time with color and composition, the beating data is more intuitive. It materialistically represents the continuous flow of life and a sense of space. At the same time, the narrative like a diary and the postcards at the beginning of each week make the whole series of works more cheerful and less boring. More importantly, its existence makes the works more “life”. On one side is a highly digitized chart record, on the other side is a life-oriented cover and text narration. When the two are combined, the whole series of works is more like a record of a person living in New York. The vivid and intuitive expression seems to enable the viewer to intuitively observe the daily life and time flow of the creator. Instead of using a painting to express the same theme, Hanne Darboven’s sunrise  –  Sunset   (To:   New York) gives us a sense of integration.

The root word ” image ” need not be used only to mean representation ( in the sense of one thing referring to something other than itself ) . To re-present can be defined as the shift in referential frames of the viewer from the space of events to the space of statements or vice versa . imagining(as opposed to imaging) is not a pictorial preoccupation. imagination is a projection, the exteriorizing of ideas about the nature of things seen. it reproduces that which is initially without product.”—-Mel Bochner, 1970

In this set of works, we can observe the strongly representative conceptual art style and minimalism in Hanne Darboven’s works. She not only integrates the text into her works, but these information and symbolic information replace the consideration of traditional art forms such as composition, color and techniques. This non emotional way of creating works into lists, diagrams and engineering drawings can show the introduction of repetitive, daily life and work. At the same time, it also avoids isolating art from the daily world.

Hamish Fulton is an English walking artist who was born in London in 1946. His works of art are characterized in that they are all derived from his walking experience. He thinks that walking is an art form in itself, so he records his walking in artistic forms such as photos, pictures and words on the wall. His work allows onlookers to take part in his walk, and his 1990 photograph “Small Birds at Dusk” is one of them. This action photography is made of gelatin silver printed on paper. Its size is about 50 x 73 cm, and its registration number is DE00043. This work consists of two parts: black and white photographs and words. In the black-and-white photo section, we can see a broad country road stretching into endless distance, with endless fields on the roadside, some birds that are hard to see at a glance, and romantic sky and clouds overhead. Although this photo looks very story-telling, it is only a short stay in the whole long journey. The walking time is several weeks, which is far from the time span that this photo can show, and this distance is the content of Hamish Fulton’s work.

In addition, there are two lines of text below the photo, and the name of the work “Small Birds at Dusk” is in a larger font, which is Fulton’s concise summary of the feeling of walking on this country road. These words are properly hung on the wall, but the text can still be called haiku, which has a poetic aesthetic feeling. I think Fulton is comparing himself and his peers with birds, which reflects a feeling of freedom and freedom to return to nature. The other line in small font is about the location and time span of shooting. This kind of words can expand the content of the photographic picture, and let the viewers know where the photographer is and what they are looking at. These words, combined with the black-and-white presentation of photos, and all kinds of scenes that come to the viewer’s mind: country roads, fields, dusk sky, birds and fatigue after a long journey, can make people feel immersive. Our eyes walked around this work, and at last, we suddenly found that this small structure so clear and vivid, described the memory of crossing this land.

On the whole, “Small Birds at Dusk” has a distinctive style. Black-and-white photography, as a form of expression, endows the picture with a new composition effect and significance by transforming and condensing colors. On the basis of strengthening the visual subject, it emphasizes the environment and characters. In the text part, poetic words and introductory sentences are used to increase the artistry of the works and the audience’s sense of participation. Hamish Fulton blends nature, life and art together, brings life into nature, brings nature into art, and blends quietly in a dynamic form, which is amazing and not artificial. It makes people re-recognize the art of land and its affinity with minimalism.