To me, conceptual art has always evoked a wha?? response. Sol LeWitt’s wall drawing instructions will give you a flavor of this slippery beast. Mind you, the art is the instructions.
The first drafter has a black marker and makes an irregular horizontal line near the top of the wall. Then the second drafter tries to copy it (without touching it) using a red marker. The third drafter does the same, using a yellow marker. The fourth drafter does the same using a blue marker. Then the second drafter followed by the third and fourth copies the last line drawn until the bottom of the wall is reached.
Yep, Mr LeWitt wrote instructions for others to follow, like his Wall Drawing #51, “All architectural points connected by straight lines.” This means that each time his instructions are followed at a different location, the results will be different. Clever, but is it art?
According to LeWitt,
“What the work of art looks like isn’t too important. It has to look like something if it has a physical form. No matter what form it may finally have it must begin with an idea. It is the process of conception and realization with which the artist is concerned.”
PBS’s ‘The Case for Conceptual Art” tries to explain it all.
I can see some of the points made, but what puzzles me is how one gets from concept to fancy museum exhibits and deep pocket sponsors. Maybe it all boils down to the contextualization of art, but that’s a topic for another day.
Update on 8/29/18
Just came across this article on a Sotheby’s auction for an art concept. Here’s a quote from the article:
A humorous yet subversive work, Xuzhen Supermarket replicates a Chinese convenience store, housing a functioning cash register and an assortment of familiar merchandise available for visitors to purchase at normal retail prices. From tubes of Colgate toothpaste to bottles of local Kweichow Moutai liquor, each item lacks content, consisting only of its packaging. For visitors, each act of purchasing – or not purchasing – and corresponding thought-process, contributes to a playful yet penetrating critique on consumerism, advertising and global capitalism. The fact that the work is – for the first time – offered for sale at auction adds to the irony.