– Spring/Summer 2002

Looking Back Without Being Able to See

Martin Prinzhorn

It is clear that the desire to make art independent from the object, to dematerialise it and get it out of its familiar space, can always be traced back to shared motivations, however, the significance of such an action is strongly dependent on the political context.

In the West, for instance, it is possible to distinguish two relatively autonomous phases of conceptual art. In the 1960s the initial motivation was to stand up to the image-objects of the first modernist fantasy and oppose the triumphalism that had become increasingly symptomatic of post-war western society. While the 1980s saw the attempted renaissance of old systems and the media tarted-up in a certain wildness, fun and anti-intellectualism, the principles of this reaction were so superficial that most of the protagonists seemed to have disappeared or retreated into small enclaves. The second phase of conceptualism comes into play here, as a counter-reaction that cannot be understood entirely as opposing the art produced during the Reagan era but needs to also be seen in terms of a very specific relationship to the practices of the 1960s and 70s. What we might call this second phase of conceptualism does not want to discuss image, text or meaning in terms only related to the art world, although with non-art means, rather it aims to create an intersection between the spaces of art and the spaces of political discourse. Thus, any definition of autonomy is pushed further into the background and the boundaries between media disappear along with those between art practice and art criticism. To be clear, we could describe the two phases of conceptual art as follows: the first phase brought