“Nor do I think all conceptual art merits the viewer’s attention. Conceptual art is good only when the idea is good”. Sol LeWitt
I pricked up my ears this morning at the mention of Duchamp’s Urinal (good old Radio 4!) and then tuned in to Start The Week with more attention, since the discussion was about Modernism:
On Start the Week Andrew Marr looks at the legacy of modernism. Kevin Jackson returns to 1922, the year he argues changed the literary world with publications of Joyce’s Ulysses and TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. And Ali Smith reveals how her writing today melds different forms to explore style, love, death and the art of writing. But Will Gompertz and the composer Julian Anderson argue that art and music respectively embraced modernism earlier and more profoundly than the world of literature.
Producer: Katy Hickman.
Will Gompertz made the provocative suggestion that a curator at one of the leading British or European museums should pick works made in the last twenty years that they do not like, to create “a subjective exhibition of bad art. This would be a conversation people are dying to have”.
A little more honesty concerning conceptual art, in particular, (to which Gompertz is clearly referring), would certainly be a healthy and cleansing thing to do. But, alas, as I am quickly discovering, the art is so enmeshed, and almost indistinguishable from, the Marketplace, that it is in no one’s interests to ever admit that some of the work held in major collections and promoted by the most influential dealers and galleries just isn’t that great.
And so the debate rages on, with the ignorant masses on one side, decrying the whole of conceptual art as a pointless and expensive waste of time, and the cognoscenti on the other, declaring that they, and only they, know what constitutes Good Art.
I think Gompertz has a point when he says that we mostly lack the tools to be able to approach conceptual art in an objectively critical way. Julian Anderson disagreed, suggesting that what we need is more exposure in order to be able to understand the language of conceptualism. I think both are probably true, but, in order to get people to understand and feel confident around conceptual art, you have to get them through the gallery doors first…
Will Gompertz is the BBC Arts Editor.
What Are You Looking At? 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye is published by Viking.