Selling the idea of art
The focus of my paper is the emergence of conceptual art in the United States between 1967-1972. In particular I want to look at the innovative strategies and new possibilities for exhibiting this art devised by dealer/organiser and independent curator Seth Siegelaub in his launch of the international careers of conceptual artists Robert Barry, Douglas Heubler, Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner. This focus I believe will address some of the issues raised in the conference theme The creation and curation of ephemera. From 1966 Siegelaub operated without a gallery and marketed art, which very often had no physical presence. For instance the exhibition January 5-31, 1969 consisted of a catalogue and traces of works in an empty office space (leased by Siegelaub for the month of January) at 44 East 52nd Street, New York. There were two rooms, one with a receptionist at a desk, a telephone, a couch, a coffee table and catalogues for perusal. In the second room there were two works by each artist. Barry's works were imperceptible FM and AM radio waves. Technical details were given on typed labels in a space on the wall. Kosuth's works were pages from newspapers where he had placed thesaurus entries (as advertisements) for the words 'Existence' (New York Times, Museum News, the Nation, Artforum) and 'Time' (The London Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times, the Daily Express, the Observer). Huebler placed on the windowsill thirteen photographs of the ground taken every 50 miles along the 650 miles between three cities: Haverhill, Windham, New York. There were also polaroid photographs taken every half hour over a period of six hours, of a dispersing rectangle of sawdust that had been placed in the hallway in the morning the exhibition opened. Weiner removed a 36 inch square of plaster from the wall and poured bleach on the carpet to create An amount of bleach poured onto the rug and allowed to bleach. In his efforts to devise how to exhibit this art, how to market it, how it could be owned and later how could it be resold, Siegelaub developed all sorts of tactics that tuned into the new forms of communication and information distribution of advanced capitalism. Siegelaub seems to have recognised the synergy here between the major culture changes taking place and the emergent conceptual art. Siegelaub's influence was to go further than exhibitions. His transformation of art marketing and distribution parallelled the changes in art production then occurring. Much of Siegelaub's significant impact on the art world was due to his deep understanding of the nature and possibilities of conceptual art. Unlike his dealer peers, he seems to be excited by the challenge to sell the idea of art. There was also the appeal of being involved with radical ideals of cultural and political critique through conceptual art's disregard of privilege, hierarchy, established conventions and its desire to reach new audiences. Using Pierre Bourdieu's concept of cultural fields of power, I want to discuss the dynamics by which Siegelaub creates cultural legitimacy for the 'impossible' art he showed and for his own independent curatorial practice.
Im)permanence: Cultures in/out of Time