Conceptualism: politics, protest and the urban

Vernall, Colin (2005) Conceptualism: politics, protest and the urban. MPhil(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis concentrates on attempts by artists to engage with issues which, in some instances, promote difference in the face of evolving forms of power and dissent in society, but which also re-constitute a case for the political throughout visual culture. Section one looks at the internationally dominant American art preceding conceptualism, an analysis of which formed a critical foundation for later art production. Section two examines ways in which some American artists took up this criticism, making work, which, in part, evolved from Abstract Expressionism while rejecting its emphasis on specialisation. Sections three and four concentrate on some of the more politicised European art of that period which was produced under very different circumstances to the US post war economic boom. Part three, in particular, highlights these circumstances, focusing on work by the Hungarian artist Miklos Erdely in which he employs many of the strategies later associated with conceptualism in the West. His work, Unguarded Money, was an overtly political piece constituting a form of art-activism with a Situationist understanding of power relations and dissent in urban geography. This section also describes precedents for a Hungarian avant-garde and shows how, in some instances, left-wing politics were central to this. The critical nature of Unguarded Money counters the view of a simple cold war divide where free innovation in the West supposedly contrasted Eastern Bloc Socialist Realist orthodoxy. Section five looks at a number of works from the West. However, this includes one piece made by the Catalan Grup de Treball working under the Spanish dictatorship, further questioning assumptions about democracy in western visual art during the Cold War. Again, urban geography, with its interstices of social and political control, is central to art production and political commitment. The section further examines these issues within the liberal democracies; in relation to class, with Victor Burgn's poster Possession; gender, with Martha Rosler's Semiotics of the Kitchen; anti-Vietnam war protest, looking at The Artists' Tower of Protest in LA; and the issue of migrant workers is examined in Welcome to America's Finest Tourist Plantation, a work made by a collaboration of Southern Californian artists. However, the section begins by looking at a piece by Robert Barry which relates more specifically to commodification and distribution within the art world, paralleling similar developments in society. The conclusion examines recent attempts to maintain a critical, politicised art in the face of globalisation, the end of the Cold War, and a prevailing sense of an apparent lack of alternatives to multinational capitalism. The section looks at recent protests and art production within a de-centralised, non-hierarchical paradigm, which, while retaining a recognition and acceptance of difference, might connect across boundaries to constitute what Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have called a 'multitude of singularities'. This is again placed in the context of the urban, and the role of art in phenomena such as gentrification.

Item Type: Thesis (MPhil(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Art history, art criticism.
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art
Supervisor's Name: Supervisor, not known
Date of Award: 2005
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2005-71196
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 10:49
Last Modified: 09 Aug 2021 14:25

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