Blurting In A & L

Answer 6/17

Author: John Abbate  
Posted: 10.12.2002; 04:09:24
Topic: Question 6
Msg #: 622 (in response to 428)
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In the exchange between Mel Ramsden and Thomas Dreher (answers 6/14 and 6/15 above) it seems that two distinct moments (or readings) of Conceptualism are being evoked and brought into conflict: 1) The radicalism of early Conceptual Art, resident in its engagement with politics and its disavowal of the aesthetic framing conditions inherent to the Modernist paradigm—a negation that Thomas seems to want to propose as an historical antecedent and potential model for the expansion (collapse?) of art into activism on the net, unhindered by conventional aesthetic notions of materiality, taste, object-hood, etc; and 2) Conceptual Art as a moment defined by the logic of Modernism itself, and intimately tied to the story of painting—a reading that characterizes Conceptual Art according to the crucial position it can be made to occupy in the historical narrative of the art object. The later work of Art & Language, through its continuing romance with painting, appears to emphasize a concern with this second reading, or at least a preference for reenacting this moment of the death/disappearance of painting-as-the-modernist-organ-of-sensuous-pleasure. (Isn't that what the insertion of canvases into large steel boxes in "Index 11, Background, Incident, Foreground" was really about?). I think that both these moments/readings were constitutive for early Conceptual Art, however incompatible they seem now. The rhetoric of "dematerialization" was perhaps the myth that sustained the contradictions.