Leave a comment

If You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault

New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday, by Jack Dziamba
John Baldessari "Two Unfinished Letter, 1992-1993"

John Baldessari Two Unfinished Letter, 1992-1993

“If You Don’t Understand Conceptual Art, It’s Not Your Fault,”

is the title of an excellent Artsy Editorial By Isaac Kaplan, published on Mar 31st, 2016.

The Article is reprinted here:

“Conceptual art gets a bad rap. It’s the butt of endless jokes. Works of this genre that were nominated for the high honor of the Turner Prize were called BS by the U.K. culture minister. Shia Labeouf used it as an excuse to put a bag over his head. So why is conceptual art so confounding? How do curators make it palatable? And what are we even talking about when we talk about “conceptual art”?

What Is Conceptual Art?

“It’s not a movement, it’s not a style, it’s a set of strategies,” says Andrew Wilson, curator of the Tate’s upcoming exhibition “Conceptual Art in Britain 1964–1979.” One can see the rub instantly: A “set of strategies” is a spot-on description, but hardly a straightforward one.

Conceptual art—its Western variant anyway—emerged in the 1960s as a reaction to Clement Greenberg’s militant commitment to formalism and art that concerned itself with the flat surface of the picture plane, such as Abstract ExpressionismSol LeWitt laid out the terms for conceptual art in his seminal “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” published in the June 1967 issue of Artforum. “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work,” LeWitt wrote. “When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” That planning is, essentially, a set of strategies.

But isn’t all art planned with a concept? The nebulous taxonomy of conceptual art isn’t easy, even for the experts. Jens Hoffmann, deputy director of exhibitions and programs at the Jewish Museum, told me he long pondered similar questions himself, though a meeting with John Baldessari offered some clarity. A towering figure at 6 feet 7 inches, known for, among other things, putting dots on faces, Baldessari told him that “conceptual art wasn’t about art that had a concept, but about interrogating the concept of art,” as Hoffmann recalls.This interrogation, not confined to any one medium, has historically been seen as the province primarily of white men (we’ll revisit this glaring issue later). Among the touchstones of early conceptual art are Bruce NaumanJoseph BeuysEva Hesse, and Joseph Kosuth, whose One and Three Chairs (1965) features a physical chair, a photograph of that chair, and the dictionary definition of a chair. It’s what you’ll see in any Art History 101 class and it’s guaranteed to make students’ eyes roll—and not without good reason.

Curating Conceptual Art

The self-reflexive underpinnings of Kosuth’s work run dangerously close to reinforcing art as the domain of an elite few with the requisite knowledge. Indeed, the experience of engaging with conceptual art is often marked by the suspicion that the work’s central, revelatory idea is somewhere in your mind’s peripheral vision, just out of sight. A bad conceptual work makes you feel that the idea isn’t worth finding. A good one spurs you to keep searching. Why did Maurizio Cattelan hang every work of art he’s ever created from the ceiling of the Guggenheim? It’s a funny but cerebral question that’s likely to leave visitors puzzling, and happily so, for some time.

Providing a viewer the information to get to that central thought, or set of strategies, without overwhelming them is a perpetual challenge, but curators confronting how to make conceptual art digestible without inducing a tummyache must tackle it. Hoffmann, who has staged ambitious re-thinks of seminal conceptual art exhibitions like “Other Primary Structures,” recommends a balanced diet of programming, tours, and didactics (aka, words that tell you things). But the strategy isn’t without peril. The wall texts that accompany conceptual shows can grow dense “to the point at which the artwork becomes difficult to see,” as Wilson puts it.

  • John Baldessari, 'Hegel's Cellar: Two Boats,' 1986, Diane Villani Editions

    John Baldessari Hegel’s Cellar: Two Boats, 1986 Diane Villani Editions Not for sale

  • Ideally, wall text is superfluous. In the late 2000s, curator Leslie Jones of LACMA worked in conjunction with the the Tate’s Jessica Morgan to mount “John Baldessari: Pure Beauty,” a major retrospective of the artist’s work that traveled around the globe. “Baldessari’s work is very clear,” Jones told me. (“Clear” is not often a word one hears used to describe conceptual art.) Sometimes pared down to just words scrawled on a canvas, the tongue-in-cheek pieces were effectively their own wall texts. “Humor puts people at ease. They laugh first and then they start thinking,” Jones said.

Conceptual Art in the World

Baldessari’s visual language challenges the perception that conceptual art is either wholly the domain of the over-informed (Kosuth) or of those hungry for vapid spectacle (Koons). “In the ’60s, when [Baldessari] was first leaving painting behind, he wanted to talk to people in a language they understood,” Jones told me. “And for him that meant text and photographic image. That seemed the most democratic.”

Even in the founding document of conceptualism, one finds an impulse towards populism—or at least the recognition that it is people who make meaning. That may seem strange given that conceptual art today is often viewed as hermetic, self-reflexive, and impenetrable except to the mind that divined it. But “once it is out of his hand the artist has no control over the way a viewer will perceive the work,” LeWitt wrote. “Different people will understand the same thing in a different way.”

And that “thing” wasn’t a flat splatter canvas but bits and pieces of the real world. It’s a fact that Wilson wants to impress upon viewers when they see “Conceptual Art Britain,” which opens in April. “One of the things that I would very much hope people might come away from this exhibition with is actually understanding how engaged [conceptual art] is with the stuff of everyday life,” he told me.

Case in point: Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1967). The conceptual work is part of an art-historical dialogue about form (“against the modernist ideas of geometrical syntax,” says Wilson), but it is also a pyramid of 5,800 oranges. As they rot or are taken away by visitors, the geometry shifts and changes, thanks to the organic processes, be they our hands or the passage of time. Go on, eat one—it’s a good idea.

Conceptual Art’s Legacy

For all its navel-gazing, conceptual art also tackles issues of authorship, time, space, identity, and even ownership (how do you buy a concept?)—themes that have very tangible manifestations in the real world. Anyone can employ the instructions that LeWitt used for his art (he often used assistants himself) and create a perfect geometric wall drawing, but trying to hang your DIY conceptualism at the MoMA is not recommended. Still, the question is raised: How is authorship ascribed? Conceptual artists “were putting the condition of the art object in question,” says Wilson, “but in doing that they were taking the strategies that they’d evolved to put the condition of society in question as well.”

Trying to craft entirely self-referential works of art is doomed to fail anyway, either because viewers will be bored to tears or because the work will be unable to escape the world outside of the museum. But ultimately, it’s that outside world that can lend conceptually minded art its meaning and value. Around the same time that Thelma Golden’s “Black Male,”—a now-iconic exhibition that the New York Times once derisively called “slanted toward conceptual political work”—opened at the Hammer in L.A., the O.J. Simpson trial began in the city. A courtroom is no more hermetically sealed from the broader context in which it exists than a museum or piece of conceptual art is, and Golden’s exhibition has become a hallmark for how art can parse pressing political conditions.

Indeed, despite all the claims made to conceptual art’s intellectual purity, broader societal inequity is partly why it was historically dominated and defined by white men. No doubt more study will reveal overlooked minority and women artists forced to practice conceptual art outside the lens of art history’s white microscope. But regardless, subsequent politically engaged and inclusive modes of artmaking that harnessed some of the tools of conceptual art, like feminist art, institutional critique, and performance art, have explicitly looked for meaning beyond the white walls. Where conceptual art ends and those movements begin is difficult to say.

During a panel about black conceptualism at the Hammer, artist Rodney McMillian spoke of the relationship between Charles Gaines and Sol LeWitt. Though rooted in conceptualism, Gaines’s practice expands on LeWitt’s foundational paragraphs, he said, opening them up to include ideas around representation in art so that “there could be space for artists of color and gendered minorities.” When LeWitt died in 2007, Gaines sent around a message with a few thoughts, which McMillian shared with those who had gathered to hear the talk. “Sol was the most generous person I know,” the message read. “His passing leaves an enormous hole for me personally and I dare say to the world of contemporary art.”’ —Isaac Kaplan.

More: Phaidon, Understanding Conceptual Art in Less than Three Minutes,  Conceptual art on Artsy




Leave a comment


April 20, 2016. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday by Jack Dziamba

Shakespeare’s First Folio: “The greatest work in English literature.”

WHEREFORE ART THOU, MACBETH? ArtDaily -The “First Folio” was published in 1623 — just seven years after Shakespeare’s death — preserving “Macbeth” and 17 other works that were never published in the Bard’s lifetime and would otherwise have been lost.

The anthology contains 36 works including 18 that were published for the first time in the book and would probably have disappeared including “Macbeth”, “The Tempest”, “The Taming of the Shrew”, “All’s Well that Ends Well” and “A Winter’s Tale”.  Around 750 “First Folios” were published and only around a third of them have been preserved. ” (ArtDaily ).

Shakespeare Coined over 1,700 works for the English Language – including “Unfreinded.”

“Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.”

Shake Pic First_Folio_

 The first four Folios of William Shakespeare’s collected works — including an unrecorded First Folio — are to tour New York and London, where they will be auctioned. Christie’s is to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) with a landmark sale, offering the first four Folios of his collected works in a special four-lot auction in London on 25 May.


shakes Folio Group-1


Leave a comment


April 13, 2016 – New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday, by Jack Dziamba
PaulKlee Insula_Dulcamara

PaulKlee Insula Dulcamara

   “A new exhibition exploring the themes of irony and satire in Paul Klee’s work recently opened at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, in what is the first major retrospective of the German-Swiss artist work in France in over four decades.” (Source: France24)

The Exhibition

‘“L’ironie à l’oeuvre (Irony at work)” at the Centre Pompidou in Paris until August 1, 2016 is the first major retrospective in France of the work of the German-Swiss artist Paul Klee since the 1969 exhibition at the Musée National d’Art Moderne.

“Featuring about 230 works on loan from the Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern and other international and private collections, the retrospective is the first to take a fresh look at Klee’s work through the prism of Romantic irony and the related ideas of satire and parody.”

“Encompassing the breadth and scope of his career, which spanned cubism, primitivism, and constructivism, the exhibition examines Klee’s oeuvre in the context of the artistic movements of his time as well as the work of his peers.” (Source: “The Irony of Paul Klee at the Centre Pompidou in Paris,” by Nicholas Forrest, AI, April 7, 2016.)

Klee’s Approach to Irony

“Klee’s approach to irony originated in early German Romanticism and is characterized by what the Centre Pompidou describes a constant shift between a satire and the affirmation of an absolute, finite and infinite, real and ideal.

‘“L’ironie à l’oeuvre (Irony at work)”’ is organized around seven themes: Satirical Beginnings (the early years), Klee and Cubism, Mechanical Theatre, Klee and Constructivism (the Bauhaus years in Dessau), Looking Back (the 1930’s), Klee and Picasso, and The Crisis Years.” (Nicholas Forrest.)

The Exhibition – Here – Fine Art in the New Media

The Centre Pompiedou has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to see the Paul Klee Exhibition. The Centre’s whebsite contains all of the pictures in the Exhibition (Click, then scroll down the page), which can be enlarged for viewing. Below is a screen shot of one of the works, Ein Haus.


 Paul Klee Ein Haus

Paul Klee Ein Haus

Press Kit

The “Press Kit” for the exhibition contain the text, which allows the viewer of the art to see the works unhindered.

The website focuses completely on the art itself, for as long as you want, unhindered by crowds (and with no language barrier). Often, in an actual museum exhibition, visitors spend most of their time reading the wall tags, rather than looking at the art. Notice the next time you visit.


Paul Klee “L’ironie à l’oeuve” –  Centre Pompidou –  From 6 April 2016 to 1st August 2016

Leave a comment

Delacroix’s Colour – Why is This Such a Great Museum Video?

April 6, 2016. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday, by Jack Dziamba

Delacroix’s Colour | Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art | The National Gallery, London*

Why This Is Such a Great Museum Video

This blog reviews Fine Art in the New Media, and the goal to make art accessible to everyone, everywhere.  The video above by the National Gallery  is one of the best museum videos we’ve seen.  Check out the following 20 reasons

  1. It focuses on  a single artist – Eugène Delacroix
  2. It focuses on a single subject –   Delacroix’s use of Col0ur
  3. The statements made by  the narrator, Professor Paul Smith – History of Art – University of Warwick, about  Delacroix’s use of colour are simple, direct, and,  jargon free.
  4. The narrator focuses on the subject.
  5. The narrator does not try to impress the viewer with  “erudite” statements.
  6. The visuals of the Art are the dominant part of the video.
  7. The narrator clearly loves the subject.
  8. There are no background distractions in the shots of the narrator.
  9. The visuals match the narrative, and are kept moving to keep the viewer engaged.
  10. The shots of the Art, and of the narrator are kept purposely tight.
  11. Comparisons to other artists, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gaugun, Kadinski,  are made visually, with single images.
  12. The video does not attempt to encompass  the full panoply of “The Rise of Modern Art”, but makes its point clearly and directly.
  13. We can easily explain Delacroix’s use of colour to others, including children.
  14. We like the narrator.
  15. We are stimulated to watch the video more than once.
  16. We are stimulated to want to learn more.
  17. There are additional videos, (below) including the Curator’s Introduction, are easily obtainable.
  18. There is a clean, non- obtrusive user interface.
  19. AND, ‘cuz it’s just very well done.


Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 11.45.09 AM

Screen Shot
                                                    *Why did Paul Cézanne describe Delacroix’s palette as ‘the most beautiful in France’? Professor Paul Smith explores Delacroix’s theories on colour and how his approach had a profound influence on the artists associated with the rise of modern art.
Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art.  17 February – 22 May 2016 National Gallery London. (Source: YouTube)

More: Delacroix, The Complete Works

h/t ArtDailyVideos

Leave a comment


March 30, 2016. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday, by Jack Dziamba


       Image printed by Pablo Inirio, with printing notations .

How Iconic Images Were Made in the Darkroom

“Want to see what kind of work goes into turning a masterful photograph into an iconic print? Pablo Inirio, the master darkroom printer who works at Magnum Photos‘ New York headquarters, has personally worked on some of the cooperative’s best-known images. A number of his marked-up darkroom prints have appeared online, revealing the enormous amount of attention Inirio gives photos in the darkroom.

Before Photoshop There Was The Darkroom

The comparison images above show photographer Dennis Stock’s iconic portrait of James Dean in Times Square. The test print on the left shows all the work Inirio put into making the final photo look the way it does. The lines and circles you see reveal Inirio’s strategies for dodging and burning the image under the enlarger, with numbers scattered throughout the image to note different exposure times. “(Source: Peta Pixel Sept. 12, 2013, Marked Up Photographs Show How Iconic Prints Were Edited in the Darkroom.)

Ansel Adams – in the Darkroom – Before and After

Ansel Adams with the straight print [as it came out of the camera] side-by-side with the finished print of “Moonrise.”

Ansel Adams with the straight print [as it came out of the camera] side-by-side with the finished print of “Moonrise.”

How Did He Do That?

In the darkroom. Adams, in his book, The Print describes the work that he did in the darkroom on another of his famous images, Mount McKinley and Wonder Lake, Alaska (1948),

“The sky was of such low saturation blue that no filter would have had much effect… Considerable burning [darkening] and dodging [lightening] are required. I hold back the shadowed lake and foreground for about three-fourths of the exposure time, using a constantly moving card held relatively close to the lens…The lake surface is burned in later to balance the amount of dodging of the surrounding hills and foreground.” -Ansel Adams, The Print, Little Brown (1983), p. 166 from “ANSEL ADAMS, AND PHOTOGRAPHY BEFORE PHOTOSHOP.”

The Darkroom Preserved

“At the time of the transition to digital photography, the Canadian photographer Michel Campeau initiates “The Dark Room” series in honor of photographic laboratories.Thanks to Pascal Beausse, head of the photographic collections, and to the teams of the Centre National des Arts Plastiques who have produced the above video.  The video is is registered in the inventory of the National Collection of Contemporary Art. (Source:l’Oedil de la Photographie.com, In the Collection of the Cnap : Michel Campeau 30/03/2016 by Pascal Beausse .)

More: Sarah Coleman of The Literate Lens , “Magnum and the Dying Art of Darkroom Printing.”






1 Comment

E- Museums: The Museum of Modern Art Puts 65,000 Works of Modern Art Online. So, How is this Different?

March 23, 2016. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday, by Jack Dziamba

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 6.44.45 PM


It seems that one can hardly turnaround before another museum or institution has posted a huge number of art works online. For example, Download 35,000 Works of Art from the National Gallery, Including Masterpieces by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rembrandt & More, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Puts 400,000 High-Res Images Online & Makes Them Free to Use,  and Download 100,000 Free Art Images in High-Resolution from The Getty.

Also, the Google Art Project has works  online from some 151 institutions from 40 countries, in gigapixels, searchable, the works can be enlarged and viewed, up close, for as long as the viewer wants, and in much more detail than one would be allowed to  in a brick & mortar institution.  Many institutions in the Google Art Project have interior “street views” where one can roam the institution’s halls and exhibition rooms.

So What?

And now, this month,  The Museum of Modern Has Put 65,000 Works of Modern Art Online. So, what makes the MoMA upload different?

Take a look at this screenshot:

MoMA screenshot

And this one:

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 6.08.21 PM

An Extraordinary View of Art

In the realm of the blockbuster museum exhibition, only one artist is shown, Picasso, Rembrandt, Duchamp, for example.  Indeed one feels somehow shortchanged, or insulted even if one other artist is shown. This unconscious attitude can be depicted as, “I didn’t come to the Picasso exhibition to see other stuff by other artists.”

This Is How The MoMA Upload Is Different

One couldn’t say it better, I think, than expressed by Josh Jones  in Open Culture,

“When you spend a great deal more time with modern art—looking over artists’ entire body of work and seeing how various schools and individuals developed together—it becomes apparent that all art, even the most radical or strange, evolves in dialogue with art, and that no artist works fully in isolation.”

Now, look at the two screenshots again. You will see some startling similarities in the artists’ works, so much so that one may expect the work to have been done by one artist, Picasso, Duchamp, Gris, or Exter, only to find that it was done by another, Exter, Gris, Duchamp, or Picasso. This feature allows one  to see the works in context, and see how the artists, the styles, and the movements are are very much interrelated.

This ease of comparison may seem like not an important use of New Media tools by MoMA, but the brilliance of the groupings allow one to see the art and the artists as perhaps one has never seen before. This not only leaves a dramatic and lasting impression, but opens up a whole new way of looking at art, which is not possible  to realize in the typical  blockbuster exhibition.

This allows the viewer online to see and appreciate an important concept in art. As expressed again by Josh Jones,

“Early 20th century modernism often seems to come out of nowhere, especially when our exposure to it comes in the form of a survey of singular great works. Each sculpture, film, or painting can seem sui generis, as though left by an alien civilization for us to find and admire.”

Fine Art in the New Media

The MoMA online exhibition of Modern Art is an excellent example of the use of the New Media tools to fulfill the mission to make art accessible to everyone, everywhere, with a user  interface which is seamless, elegant, and non-obtrusive.

Leave a comment

Whither the E- Book: What Do These Charts Mean?

          March 16, 2016. New Post Goes Up Every Wednesday by Jack Dziamba

What is Happening to E-Books?


The percentage of readers who finished reading each chapter of three specific e-books.

                 A successful U.S. novel …                                                                                   A not-so-successful one …                                                                one that had its marketing scaled back.
An analysis by Jellybooks of how readers read e-books found that once most people make it past the first 50 to 100 pages they usually finish the book. But not everybody gets that far. (Source: Jellybooks via the New York Times, 3/14/16.)

“On average, fewer than half of the books tested  [by Jellybooks, a reader analytics company based in London.]were finished by a majority of readers. Most readers typically give up on a book in the early chapters. Women tend to quit after 50 to 100 pages, men after 30 to 50. Only 5 percent of the books Jellybooks tested were completed by more than 75 percent of readers. Sixty percent of books fell into a range where 25 percent to 50 percent of test readers finished them. Business books have surprisingly low completion rates.” (Source: Moneyball for Book Publishers: A Detailed Look at How We Read by New York Times, March 14, 2016.)

E-Book Sales Slip


“Five years ago, the book world was seized by collective panic over the uncertain future of print.”

“As readers migrated to new digital devices, e-book sales soared, up 1,260 percent between 2008 and 2010, alarming booksellers that watched consumers use their stores to find titles they would later buy online. Print sales dwindled, bookstores struggled to stay open, and publishers and authors feared that cheaper e-books would cannibalize their business. Then in 2011, the industry’s fears were realized when Borders declared bankruptcy.”  (Source: The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead by Alexandra Alter, New York Times, September 22, 2015.)

And Now:

“E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.”

“Digital books have been around for decades, ever since publishers began experimenting with CD-ROMs, but they did not catch on with consumers until 2008, shortly after Amazon released the Kindle.”

“But those double- and triple-digit growth rates plummeted as e-reading devices fell out of fashion with consumers, replaced by smartphones and tablets. Some 12 million e-readers were sold last year, a steep drop from the nearly 20 million sold in 2011, according to Forrester Research. The portion of people who read books primarily on e-readers fell to 32 percent in the first quarter of 2015, from 50 percent in 2012, a Nielsen survey showed.”  (Source: New York Times, September 22, 2015)

Whither and Why?

Some analysts conclude that the popularity of e-books has faded along with the popularity of e-readers themselves. Others, see the decline in e-book sales as a sign that readers are actually returning to print books, with all that means for book publishers and independent book stores.

But, what’s the real reason?

Value vs. Price

In 2102, in our Purpose Page, we wrote:

“THE BOOK, both print and even current versions of the electronic reader, are already near artifacts. Book publishing is in the death throes of the last century, bound up in static, linear publications. At the same time, the technology of the new media has developed to such a degree of creativity and innovation that Alice Rawsthorn commented in the New York Times of November 28, 2010 that,

“‘These devices offer thrilling possibilities for us to do much more than read words on a screen, and it is deeply disappointing that so few designers and publishers are embracing them.”

In IS THE E-BOOK DEAD, OR JUST ASLEEP? PART 2 , we wrote, “The End. Until e- book publishers add value by content which enhances an e-book, the digital book will be regarded simply as reading a paperback with a light behind each page. This is not worth the price.”


“In a prior post we wrote about the enhanced e-book, “e +,” as a new genre which requires the incorporation of many disciplines and technologies. Now, Penguin Books has published an enhanced e-book by Jack Kerouac’s novel: On the Road. Both Penguin editors and the Kerouac estate curated this digital edition of On the Road. The book includes valuable features that show what can be done with the enhanced e-book novel, and is an excellent example of the use of New Media digital technology to enhance the value of the e-book, and the reader’s experience.”

What is to be Done? 




“… the Musée d’Orsay and Artepublishing have produced an Impressionist Exhibition book exclusively in digital format, Great Impressionist and Post Impressionist Paintings The Musée d’Orsay.” 

“A further and great feature of this enhanced e-book is that there are between 10 and 30 curated links for each artist and featured painting. These include biographies of the artist, articles about the artist, works by the artist in other museums, artist quotes, videos and even free e-books about the artist. Following the featured works are other paintings by the artist in the d’Orsay.”

We think without the enhanced value as exemplified by such enhanced e-books such as On the Road, and Great Impressionist and Post Impressionist Paintings  the e-book will be regarded simply as reading a paperback with a light behind the page. It is not worth the price.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 143 other followers

%d bloggers like this: