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Conceptual Art Peter Osborne Pdf _HOT_

In 1998, Silvia Kolbowski asked 22 artists to describe conceptual works from the period 1965-75, which they personally witnessed at the time, without mentioning author names or titles of works. The resulting video recordings were exhibited and text transcriptions were published in the journal October in 2000.

Conceptual Art Peter Osborne Pdf

In his new book Peter Osborne attempts to give a philosophical account of contemporary visual art. Osborne claims that contemporary art is in what he calls a post-conceptual condition arising from three recent events in the visual arts: the broad acceptance of the idea that any materials, and not just traditional ones used in drawing, painting, and sculpture, can be put to use in a work of art; the broad acceptance of conceptualism, understood as a theory of art claiming that a work of art is the contingent embodiment of an 'idea' or 'concept'; and the broad acceptance of the idea that contemporary works of art embody the working out of these two points, resulting in their 'transcategorial' condition, wherein paradigmatic works consist of elements from different mediums or spheres, unified by some governing idea. Such works present novel challenges to understanding, but Osborne is particularly concerned that the practice of art in contemporary life tends to succumb to a kind of social pressure to conformism, which manifests itself most saliently in the attempt to understand works of contemporary art as instances of the traditional genres of painting and sculpture, suitably expanded. Against this conformism, Osborne urges a 'critical' philosophy of contemporary art, one that in addition is closer to the achievements the works embody than is grasped in the conformist model.

On Osborne's account the pivotal moment in art history for the emergence of distinctively contemporary art is the short-lived Conceptual Art movement in the United States and England, particularly in the work of Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth in the late 1960s. The central concern is to advance the conception that what is of central importance in a work of art is the idea governing, organizing, and/or unifying the work. This thought is made more determinate with the claim that the idea need not be embodied or 'realized' in any particular medium, and similarly, any particular embodiment, or series of embodiments, do not exhaust the artistic interest of the idea. In this sense, the artistic interest of the idea always 'exceeds' its embodiments. The embodiments afford perception for a work's viewers, and such perceptions and their expressive qualities constitute the aesthetic dimension of the artwork. But since by stipulation the (non-perceptible) 'idea' of the work is what is of artistic interest, conceptual art is a non-aesthetic art.1 Further, the emergence and development of conceptual art is driven by the conceptual artist's desire to eliminate the aesthetic dimension of the artwork, and so conceptual art is anti-aesthetic. But conceptual art was a short-lived movement: the desire to present works without aesthetics drives artists to present bits of text, the burden of which is simply to argue for their own status as artworks.

Yet the movement, Osborne thinks, has established a new ontology for artworks. The achievement of conceptual art is to break in practice the hitherto taken-for-granted equation between the realm of aesthetics and that of artworks. Though conceptual art ended in a kind of self-trivialisation wherein the subject of work is simply the assertion that the work is indeed an artwork, contemporary artworks maintain as part of their ontology the condition that a non-aesthetic idea is part of a (serious and non-conformist) work. Aesthetics returns, but no longer as exhaustive of the center of artistic interest. As Osborne puts it, conceptuality is a necessary but insufficient condition for something being a work of contemporary art. The sufficient conditions are supplied by the use of various materials, put to artistic uses within the characteristic conditions of contemporary art.

Much of the effort, both analytical and polemical, of the book is devoted to presenting the distinction between conformist and critical ways of construing the physical materials of contemporary works. As noted above, Osborne is particularly opposed to thinking of post-conceptual artworks as expanded versions or developments of the traditional genres of painting and sculpture, and offers as an alternative various considerations for thinking that seeking continuity between contemporary and pre-contemporary art in this way is misguided. One problem is that such a construal could not contribute to a philosophical account of the basic features of contemporary art, which is marked by non-traditional uses of traditional materials, non-traditional materials, and emergent genres such as installation, video, and performance.

A ready response to this would be that construing post-conceptual art as falling into expanded traditional genres along with new genres provides a stable framework for categorization, and further helps shape an investigation into the ways in which perennial ways of making artistic meaning are taken up in both kinds of newer arts. For Osborne this response is superficial, as it misses the key phenomenon of the "the crisis of mediations." (p. 83) This crisis arises as an expression of a long-term process of social transformation increasingly embodying and institutionalizing the conception of freedom as the unhindered expression of individuals, with the concurrent conception of art as an expression of freedom. "Yet, in art as in life, absolute individuation destroys meaning." (p. 107) So for works of art to be so much as intelligible, or "to acquire social objectivity" (p. 107), there must be categories, or 'mediations'. The categories of contemporary art are then "mediations of the crisis of mediation." (p. 83)

In Osborne's usage "mediation" is the most general term for whatever categories are used in classifying and understanding the arts; 'period', 'style', 'genre', and 'medium' are all artistic mediations. At least for modern and contemporary art, which mediations are rightly used (that is, the ones that play a productive critical, non- or anti-conformist role) is itself a major issue in understanding the art. 'Period' is the most general of the mediations, as in 'modern art' or 'contemporary art', and the determination of the central mediation within a period is both contested and holistic; the former, in that there are relatively conformist and relatively critical ways of conceptualizing a period; the latter, in that the particular conceptualization of the period orients the mutual determination of the less general mediations. In addition to these mediations mentioned above, Osborne takes each period to embody a distinctive conception of artistic unity, that is, of what counts as integral to a (good) artwork. Osborne points to the centrality in recent art of works presented on the model of unity as a series, and not of works presented so to speak one at a time. Osborne explicates this as a kind of resumption of the philosophical Romanticism of Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis: the work is a fragment of an infinite project that attempts to embody the artist's full sense of self and self-awareness. As such, the project is infinite, and the series can only be grasped as an infinite approximation.

Contemporary art, then, considered as a non-conformist, critical activity, is a post-conceptual art of series and ephemeral categorizations ('mediations'). Osborne attempts to make this account more determinate in three ways. First, he repeatedly criticizes what he takes to be the leading alternative account, one he associates with a concern for 'medium-specificity', which was influentially articulated by Clement Greenberg, and whose prominent representatives currently are the art historian Michael Fried and the photographer Jeff Wall. Second, he offers an account of the artist Robert Smithson's work and his influential conception of artworks as structured by a 'dialectic of site and non-site'. Third, he offers an account of several recent exemplary works, each using multi-media to address the topic of displacement of peoples and memory.

(1) "Medium-specific" modernism is one of three salient ways in which the temporal dynamism characteristic of modernism is conceived and practiced. The dynamic common to these ways is the concern embodied by modernist art to reject the past, established art forms and their typical ways of being practiced in favor of some new manner, and thereby to affirm the new manner as a way, and perhaps the uniquely appropriate way, of practicing a kind of art expressive of the modern world. Osborne claims that this conceptualization "ontologizes the plurality of arts as mediums" (p. 80); that is, each medium (again: painting and sculpture) "expresses an 'irreducible element' of experience" (p. 80), and so its practice presumably is legitimated to the extent that works in a particular medium express the relevant element. A problem with this conception is that it blocks the formation of the "generic conception" of a work of contemporary art that best captures the work's distinctive ontology. In this 'generic' conception of art, artworks are categorized primarily as (simply) art, and not primarily as instances of a particular medium, such as painting; there are of course artistic paintings in contemporary art, but on this conception only as and through 'determinate negations' of their traditional or modernist character.

Further, the worked and exhibited materials and their contextual non-site could be treated to further semantic operations, such as being drawn, photographed, or filmed; the initial non-site could then in turn be the site of these further materials exhibited yet elsewhere. And the process of taking something from a site to a non-site could itself be documented or represented, producing thereby, and in an in principle open-ended way, further materials for further sites and non-sites. The term 'relation (or dialectic) of site and non-site', then, and with it Smithson's work, is meant to indicate the entire non-finite process.2 Osborne rightly notes that both the recent conceptualization of Smithson as a sculptor, and in the works of recent artists practicing an 'academic formalism' in attempting to orient themselves to Smithson's work, fail to grasp the breadth of Smithson's conception. Properly, that is, 'critically' understood, Smithson's conceptualization is grist for Osborne's mill: the conceptual dimension is ineliminable but insufficient, and all of Smithson's later works involve minimally a site, an initial non-site, and some further documentation. 350c69d7ab


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