'Selling the idea of art'

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Ostling, Susan
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University of Queensalnd


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 will look at the innovative strategies and new possibilities for exhibiting ephemeral conceptual 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. From 1966 Siegelaub operated without a gallery and exhibited and marketed art, which very often had no physical presence. In his efforts to devise how conceptual art might be exhibited, marketed, owned and later resold, Siegelaub developed all sorts of tactics that tuned into the new forms of communication and information distribution of advanced capitalism. In this way Siegelaub seems to have recognised the synergy here between the major cultural 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 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. Siegelaub was also very attracted to conceptual art's assertion of radical cultural and political critique. It was conceptual art's claimed disregard of privilege, hierarchy and established conventions as well as its desire to reach new audiences that was of particular appeal. Using Pierre Bourdieu's concept of cultural fields of power, I will discuss the means by which Siegelaub creates cultural legitimacy to sell art as ideas, rather than as tangible objects.

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Prefixing. The 10th Annual WIP Conference

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