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Conceptual Art

Discover how Conceptual artists used language, performance, and instructions to fuel creativity, and sought alternatives to institutional settings.

Language and Art

Explore the role words played in Conceptual art’s emphasis on ideas over visual forms.

Outside the Museum

Discover the work of two artists who thought beyond the confines of a museum.

The 1960s were a time of experimentation and rethinking the social order, of struggles against established power structures and institutions of all kinds, including museums. Artists began to look outside the museum, to public spaces, including streets and university campuses, as sites well suited for artistic intervention. Their practices merged with political movements of the time, including antiwar, civil rights, and feminist movements, to critique underlying power structures in society.

To explore more, click on each artwork thumbnail, then click again on the larger image that appears in the box above.

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

Art that emerged in the late 1960s, emphasizing ideas and theoretical practices rather than the creation of visual forms. In 1967, the artist Sol LeWitt gave the new genre its name in his essay “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” in which he wrote, “The idea itself, even if not made visual, is as much a work of art as any finished product.” Conceptual artists used their work to question the notion of what art is, and to critique the underlying ideological structures of artistic production, distribution, and display.

Questions & Activities

  1. Following and Breaking with Tradition

    What, if any, characteristics do Buren’s and Matta-Clark’s work share with more traditional forms of painting and sculpture?

    Brainstorm and write down a list of commonalities.

  2. Debating Daniel Buren

    Many Conceptual artists challenged the authority of museums, galleries, and other institutional art settings. Daniel Buren stated, “The museum/gallery instantly promotes to ‘art’ status whatever it exhibits with conviction, i.e., habit, thus diverting in advance any attempt to question the foundations of art.”

    Do you agree, or disagree? In a one- to two-page essay, argue either for or against Buren’s statement.