Exhibiting practice : retrospective survey exhibitions of conceptual art, 1989-2000

Palmer, Daniel (2007) Exhibiting practice : retrospective survey exhibitions of conceptual art, 1989-2000. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


In recent decades, the retrospective survey exhibition has become one of the primary sites for the presentation of art historical propositions. This thesis examines the contribution of four such exhibitions to a history of Conceptual art: L’Art Conceptuel, Une Perspective (Paris, 1989); Reconsidering the Object of Art, 1965-1975 (Los Angeles, 1995-96); Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s-1980s (New York, 1999); and Live in Your Head: Concept and Experiment in Britain, 1965-1975 (London, 2000). These exhibitions could not claim access to an objective and empirically verifiable category of 'Conceptual art,' but played an active role in the construction of that category. Through individual case studies, this thesis analyses the processes through which the history of this relatively recent art 'movement' has been elaborated. It seeks to understand how works of art can be accommodated to a museum-based art history and how they can be called upon to support particular curatorial narratives. At the same time, it considers to what extent they may be able to resist the conditions of display imposed upon them and may, instead, continue to signify independently of curatorial intention. In so doing, this thesis re-emphasizes the notion of critical practice, as well as the performative and discursive dimensions of Conceptual art that have often been passed over in historical exhibitions. It rejects the "oppositional" model of radical artists pitted against conservative institutions and argues for an understanding of Conceptual art based upon the recognition that claims for its independence from the institutional art world were made within the available rhetorics of a discourse that sustains the self-identities of both artists and institutions. Ultimately, this thesis reflects the understanding that to continue to regard artist and institution, artwork and exhibition, in their isolated functions is to fail to attend to the ways in which art, as a social practice, may support broader ideological structures.

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