January 31, 2011

Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object


As originally posited in the 1960’s, Conceptual Art focused attention on the idea behind the art object and questioned the traditional role of that object as the conveyer of meaning. Subsequently, those theories cast doubt upon the necessity of materiality itself as conceptual artists "de-materialized" the art object and began to produce time-based and ephemeral artworks. Although total dematerialization never occurred, the art object became flexible – malleable – and that malleability, coupled with semiotics and process, has resulted in the postconceptual object.

The possible dematerialization of the art object was always a threat to its exchange value. Conceptual Art questioned the status of the object as commodity and it was no longer possible to insist that artistic value lies solely within the object. Postconceptual artists elicit inquiry on the ability of an art object to contain any value, including “use value” and “exhibition value,” without the contextual support provided by supplemental texts (essays, lectures, reviews) and institutional validation. The successful postconceptual artist explores and defines use, exhibition and exchange values. The tenuous nature of value attribution through that cultural validation makes it doubtful that cultural values are “guaranteed” to any art object.

Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object explores the work of nine artists who individually extend and expand upon the theories and ideas of Conceptual Art in unique ways. As postconceptual artists, the selected artists approach the art object as the “always already” signifier it never ceased being. Yet they use process to circumvent aesthetics, approach perception through deciphering, reconfigure commodity through intention and convert data into form.

Postconceptual art remains suspicious of the art object as commercial “product” and frequently disrupts this commodification and its static nature. David Williams reconfigures the artifice of commercially manufactured product containers to “transcend the original consumer intent of these materials” and re-envisions their temporary “rubbish” status as a metaphoric re-contextualization through the exhibition context. William Brovelli mocks the historical ideal of paintings as precious, fixed entities through his contractual “interaction between the artist and the collector” that extends the act of painting by prohibiting his object “from permanently settling into a static condition after purchase.”

Postconceptual art trumps “taste” by adherence to process and eliminates subjective judgments by the artist during the making. As Sol Lewitt said, “To work with a plan that is preset is one way of avoiding subjectivity.” Information is conveyed through language and Meg Mitchell shows us that a “non-discriminatory body of data” resulting from her Google search can also yield form. By using erasure as both action and critique, John James Anderson memorializes the interminable “disappearance” of newsprint journalism and newspaper culture as we succumb to ubiquitous digital media.

Intentionality in postconceptualism often benefits from an artist’s procedural transformation of a pre-conceived idea through functional, environmental or intellectual designs. Cat Manolis radically alters modular and environmental design processes to consider our “spatial relationships with the natural world.” Manolis creates a space in which gridded “tiles” merge with architecture to “become a visual/physical/psychological navigation system” that provokes our perceptual experience of space. Diane Blackwell’s screen, The Word, quite literally transforms “the basic elements of language” as both contextual and supplemental support of the art object. Originally conceived as utilitarian “furniture,” Blackwell’s object is “deconstructed” through a definitive metamorphosis as “art” supported by language. Recent work by Ken Weathersby resurrects painting through a negotiation between the intellectual and physical properties of the support. Weathersby subverts the “language of painting” through a three-dimensional manipulation that disrupts our perception by creating a “no-space space.” Reuben Breslar documents his “personal experiences” through multiple medias that ultimately reflect upon art objects as ways to visually interpret our procedural engagement with perception.

My own contribution to this exhibition continues my exploration of participatory art through spectator perceptions. My installation is conceived as both a literal and contextual stage where art is accessed through action and memory. Initiated through performance, the site becomes activated by participation as viewers are invited to decipher language heard moments before as spoken word. The site is time-based, to be continually modified by spectator contribution throughout the exhibit, and temporary. When the site is dismantled its contextualization as art is also “erased” as its physicality evaporates. The perceptual experience of immateriality is realized through art’s transcendence from objects and further evidence of the dominance of concept.

Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object champions the assembled artists, their individual visions and their commitment to the continuation of key theoretical ideas of Conceptual Art. The best of our ideas generate art objects that not only expand upon the transformation of the object within the context of art but also refocus the object’s critical potential within the contemporary art experience.


Postconceptualism: The Malleable Object opens March 10, 2011 at University of Maryland's Stamp Gallery.

Image: Space is Language is Space (detail); wood, urethane; dimensions variable; © Copyright 2011 by Meg Mitchell.

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