Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979


Enter the exhibition and you are greeted with the strong smell of fresh oranges, many oranges all pilled up on the floor next to another instalment- a pile of sand.  If this doesn’t intrigue you, confuse you or make you ask yourself why? Then this perhaps is not for you.

Conceptual art as described in the programme “undermines the traditional view of art as something to be looked at or admired” it rejects the dominance of abstract art or art that is traditionally judged purely on its aesthetics externally from the wider world.  Conceptual art is the response, taking a critical stance to the world we live in. Finding inspiration in the everyday, in language and in new spaces, subverting ideas of what we find visually pleasing, what we may consider art to be. I believe it is important to understand this position before making assumptions about conceptual art, rather ask ourselves whether or not we may have been conditioned to only consider that which is aesthetically pleasing, that which makes sense as deserving of the label of art.

Conceptual art wants to bend the rules and ask questions by doing a lot or little work, allowing the processes whether mechanical or natural to run their own course or planning to the detail the end result. For example, the pile of oranges that started off as a pyramid but each visitor was entitled to take one home, at the point of or arrival there were probably over 30 oranges but no form. As a result, the art object is no longer static, its alive, it takes up space not only on the gallery floor but in our pockets. We destroy form, but do we rebuild it?

It is not without saying that I believe art should be accessible to all, there are parts of the exhibition that are highly theoretical drawing on philosophical works and phrases to impart knowledge and critique. Consequently, there are some people who may find this boring, high brow or simply confusing. My experience was wholly different, as a philosophy graduate I appreciated the use of theory, felt inspired and admired the use of language and aesthetics.

Therefore, there must be a balance, allowing the artists to stretch and bend the normalisations of the art world but also allow new people to enter into conceptual art and manage to comprehend some of it while being left thinking considerably about the things they did not quite manage to understand.  I believe the exhibition does quite well in giving the viewer a chance to comprehend the conceptual art movement and its stages and development, especial those of which that engaged in radical social-political practice. These parts of the exhibition especially the pieces that combined advertising and critique not only engaged the viewer but demanded the viewer to engage in more than just aesthetics.

Conceptual art gives the viewer a role not merely as a passive observer but an inquirer, a critic, an artist and a thinker. It provides us with the opportunity to break the ideological oppression that exists not only in the real world but also the art world, a chance to form our own conclusions.

As Keith Arnatt said “conceptual art is questioning the condition that seems to rigidly govern the form of visual art- that visual art remains visual”

With that in mind, I’d highly recommend it.

Chisara Agor

Conceptual Art In Britain- Tate Britian

ticketed/free for members

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