Skip to main content

Worldly Matter: The Materials of Conceptual Art

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - WorldlyMatter (Worldly Matter: The Materials of Conceptual Art)

Reporting period: 2017-10-01 to 2019-09-30

The aim of this project has been to re-evaluate established narratives of Conceptual Art in North America and Western Europe and their global context. It has examined the importance of materiality and subject matter – or “worldly matters”, to borrow Conceptual artist Douglas Huebler’s term – for Conceptual Art in the 1960s and early 1970s. Engaging with the most recent discourses around materiality, the project combines a genuinely art historical objective, oriented towards the reconstruction of historical contexts, with broader theoretical perspectives. By studying artistic practices in-depth and reconstructing historical debates, it makes an important contribution to the history of Conceptual Art, and hence the immediate prehistory and preconditions of today’s cultural production.
Work on this project has developed along two main axes of inquiry: First, through broader consideration of the theoretical issues and their implications for artistic practice in general, and second, in the form of individual case studies, dedicated to a number of artists as well as critics and theorists. Some of this research has been published in the form of a peer-reviewed volume edited and co-authored by the researcher; other results are awaiting publication or will be exploited in the researcher's forthcoming habilitation thesis. Moreover, research on this project has demonstrated the urgency of these issues as well as the need to discuss them in the framework of modern and contemporary art more generally. For this reason, results have been discussed at a range of events, some of them aimed at the wider public.
Through the reconsideration of conceptualism’s neglected material aspects, this project has revealed the rich range of artistic inquiries into theoretical and political notions of matter and material, that is, the implicit or explicit materialisms of these inquiries. In doing so, it also conveys importance of specific materials and their properties in conceptualist practices. These studies revise and diversify the account of this important chapter in the history of twentieth-century art, whose significance for subsequent cultural production has been widely acknowledged. This reassessment carries wider implications for the study of art and materiality in general. The reappraisal of materials and their productivity generates critical perspectives on idealist assumptions, notions of authorship and gender, and also of society and politics more widely. Conceptualism has not only shaped contemporary art to this day — many of the larger questions that it raised remain still relevant or have in fact come to matter even more.
Lawrence Weiner, A BIT OF MATTER AND A LITTLE BIT MORE, 1976, language and the materials referred to