Alberro Chapter 1

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SR.: So I wanted to start to ask you about the two different strategies of writing about conceptual art. When [...] I see it right, you were using something like the critical anthology in your two books "Recording Conceptual Art" and the »Critical Anthology". And the other thing is where you set up the critique in relation to one thread that was the »Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity« [CAPP].

A.A.: Two different modes of writing... [...] I also edited an anthology, »Recording Conceptual Art«, are you familiar with that one?... Patricia Norvel and I, an interesting set of documents from early 1969, interviews with eleven artists, [...] a lot of them went on to be known as conceptual artists. It's interesting because the book that I wrote, the single author book, CAPP, I published all my research material, all the resources that I used to write the book before I published it. So if you think of the "Conceptual Art Anthology" with MIT Press and the "Recording Conceptual Art" with University of California Press, a lot of that material were the archives that I used in order to construct the argument that I constructed in CAPP. [...] In a way they are connected for me, because those were the resources. [...] I did a lot of research. In fact [...] CAPP was essentially my dissertation. And there was such a need for that information in the 1990s that I published all my sources before I published the book that the sources were based on. It was an awkward situation writing CAPP because if you look at the footnotes I ended up having to cite myself in the anthologies because I published so many of the articles and so many of the essays and so many of the manifestos that I used the buttress of the argument in CAPP prior to the publication of CAPP. The anthologies were very useful. The first one, "Conceptual Art. A Critical Anthology", has done very well in terms of sales – not that that matters to me – but it seems there was clearly a need for that kind of book, because it seems to have been placed on a lot of reading lists of professors who assigned it to their students. The other book also seems to be doing well, the "Recording Conceptual Art". But the single-authored book, what I tried to do there was more what I considered [...] an ideological critique of conceptual art. I wanted to not just write a history of conceptual art,[...] well I wrote a history of a discourse, if you will, that came to be called conceptual art, but I also wanted to critique it, I wanted to approach it in what I considered to be a dialectical manner of addressing it, but also looking at it from different angles to try to see what kind of meaning we can really glean from that discourse that came to be called »conceptual art«. Of course I knew when I wrote that book that there were earlier moments where artists had claimed the term »conceptual art«. That wasn't something that interested me, though. What interested me was this construction of a movement, which I think was very clear [...] in the way that it was discussed, a movement that came to be called conceptual art. And I try to make an argument that the construction of that movement was one that was not by chance. It was highly organized. Seth Siegelaub [...], I consider him to be a very important figure in coalescing all of these disparate elements, but so were certain artists that were involved with Seth Siegelaub. I try to make the argument, though, that thIs particular cristallization of what came to be called conceptual art [...] could not have taken place without the particular social and historical context in which it took place. There was a need in late 1960s, not to say 1968, for an art that spoke to the social movements of '68, and it seemed that conceptual art fit that need, if only for a moment, if only for nine months. But [...] I tried to show in certain [...] critical writings by Gregory Battcock, Lucy Lippard, and others that they look like conceptual art was the art of '68. [...] That would be a historical argument that I try to make, based on the historical research that I was doing, rather than a critical argument talking about any kind of value judgment. I was just trying to show that at that particular moment that's how it was read. Whether or not we think today that it was an art of '68 is another issue. But in early 1969, in a weird way, May '68 in New York takes place in January 1969 with the [...] coalition of the art workers and other phenomena that take place in early '69. [...] In a sense then, these two different approaches to the history of conceptual art for me are very connected on a personal level. [...] Someone else would [...] probably provide a better critical analysis of the two different approaches, because they are so connected for me. Basically, the anthologies are the resources that I used to write the single-authored book. So I don't see them separate at all, but [...] perhaps another person would see them as separate. And I really think that would be a valuable critique, a valuable analysis of that phenomenon.


S.R.: So –  would you say that after your writings about conceptual art you are now ready with it?

A.A.: What do you mean? Ready? Am I done with it? Yes. (laughs) Why? Because I've written a lot on it now. [...] One thing that i have to say that I really like is that [...] there is still a lot of room for a discussion of conceptual art separate from the one that I made. [...] A lot of scholars are now seeing Fluxus and conceptual art, and I think that's a very productive way of looking at it – I don't see it. [...] From my research there is not [...] the reading that a lot of conceptual art is coming out of Fluxus... my research doesn't bear that out. But if somebody else can make that argument and show that in fact there were a lot of important, real connections.[...] One of my criticisms of a lot of scholarship is that it only looks at the formal aspects: Because a particular work looks like conceptual art then it's conceptual art. George Brecht does something that looks like conceptual art therefore that's a conceptual art piece. [...] I think that's really a misunderstanding.

Alexander Alberro »