Alberro Chapter 3

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A.A.: You know the term »conceptual art« is of course a very complicated one because not many artists refer to themselves as »conceptual artists«. If you talk to Lawrence Weiner [...], Dan Graham [...] - it's not a term they particularly associate themselves with. That's why I consider it a discourse. They came to be associated with that term. How did that happen? It happened [...] through talking, through a discourse that was in the press, [...] in critical reviews, picked up by writers, Jack Burnham, Lucy Lippard at first, Ursula Meyer to a certain extent. And then [...] museums started to exhibit it as a movement like that. Movements were very important for a museum to consolidate something. [...] Think of something like Conceptual art. Look at the »Information« show. There were like 200 artists exhibiting there. So you have to put them under some kind of rubric, and the rubric came to be conceptual art. [...] It made more sense if you could say: These are conceptual artists. [...] The term is a very [...] difficult term to use because if you [...] look at the term from today's perspective, anything that a critic cannot describe, any kind of gesture that a critic cannot describe, they just call it »conceptual«. In other words: If they don't know how to [...] describe it - well, that's conceptual. [...] It takes on this lazy sense. Instead of figuring out what it is, they just say it's conceptual art.

S.R.: There is another rhetoric figure: If artists use language, if they use images with language or with letters for example, they also call it conceptual art, even if there is no kind of approach of critique, there's no kind of ideological critique, epistemological critique or whatever.

A.A.: Absolutely. Just the other day somebody was trying me to tell that Kiefer was a conceptual artist because he uses language. [...] I almost think it's not a usable term. In fact today, 35 years later, if you will, it's absurd to refer to works. It shows a certain laziness in the person that's writing, the critic in that case, to talk about these works as conceptual. That's one of the things I tried to do with my book, try to be historical: [...] These artists came to see themselves, [...] the dealer advanced them as conceptual artists. If we're going to talk about this term which today means anything that you cannot describe... You have to have some kind of relation to what was initially termed »conceptualism«. I don't know of any other moment in history, perhaps you can think of Cubism, how in the 1910s and 1920s anything that was kind of fragmented and abstracted but not completely abstraction, a kind of figurative [...] abstracted work, came to be seen as Cubism. [...] The term became very watered-down. I think a similar situation has happened with conceptualism.


S.R.: My suggestion in this [...] historical and discourse situation is that I want to differentiate between two terms. One term is conception. That is something like a reflection, that the artist is reflecting history of art, is reflecting different positions of painting, sculpture, whatever, and is using this reflection for his own work. [...] This could be something like a conception. In German you can put it easier in the writing. The second is the relation to »conceptual« and conceptual for me can mean something like a reference to the historical conceptual art in New York, Britain, centre of Europe, like Daniel Buren, art & language and the group you wrote about in New York. Then we can divide this »conceptual« which is highly reflexive on ideology, epistemological critique, art critique and things like that; we can differentiate again through places, for example New York or Europe and different places in Europe [...] or also like Luis Camnitzer in South America [...] or different positions like Oiticica or others in Japan or Africa. And then we can differentiate how they relate to comparable sources or places of communication in art history. [...] In my questions I'm using this problematic term of »influence« but then you call the whole discourse like the anxiety of influence and all these things. [...] I'm using the term influence but I want to use »influence« not in the traditional way like inspiration, intuition [...]. I use [...] influence more like a [...] relation of communication.

A.A.: [...] I think that if one tries to link fabulously interesting work like Oiticica, some of the work you were talking about that took place pretty much around the world between the 60s and the late 80s and you try to see it as conceptual, I think it's a very interesting phenomenon, whereby there is another kind of colonialization of art movements that had nothing to do with conceptual art. Oiticica... there's a whole history of what he was working with: the Tropicália movement, the Anthropofágia movement... (?) There was such a rich history that in order to see it through the lens of conceptual art [...] I think it's such a peculiar phenomemon to try to do that because it sees it through the lens of New York, instead of seeing it as an art movement that in fact, if you look at it historically, - I'm talking in this case of the movement in Rio - they tried to separate themselves from New York. They had this whole history from Europe to Brazil and trying [...] to cut a different picture than the abstract expressionists. They were trying to mediate and in fact they were. They had their own genealogy. To now see it through the lens of conceptual art... I just don't see... it's strange for me when even people from [...] Latin America want this to happen, because it just seems like a desire of being colonized. Why not talk about the fabulous history and genealogy that lead to this work that was separate from minimal, conceptual, New York-based art movements. I don't see what the gain is to see, since we're talking about Oiticica, to see Oiticica as a conceptual artist. [...] You can then say I included him in my Critical Art Anthology. And I think that [...] what I was doing was trying to show that actually conceptual art is a discourse, [...] this was happening around the world, and part of what he [...] and Lygia Clark and others were actually doing had a kind of, in a discursive way, a parallel. We are talking about parallels but I didn't go as far as to call them conceptual artists. [...], because I think the actual term conceptual art becomes so specific that [...] it starts to refer to almost very, very few people. That doesn't mean that there is anything primary, anything particularly significant about these individuals other than the fact that they themselves decided that this was their term and they were going to wear that term as their own. Typical figures emerge here again, Kosuth, even art & language. The first journal of art & language, the first issue was called the »Journal of Conceptual Art«, or subtitled. But they dropped that very quickly. They knew how loaded that was. Buren didn't want to have anything to do with that. Hans Haacke... they don't bother it. Even Sol Lewitt once told me: At a certain moment I just gave [...] it to Kosuth, he wants it so badly, he can have it. [...] We don't care, just keep it. (laughs)

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