In the 1960s, a cerebral approach to art-making emerged. For those artists, materiality and aesthetic came secondary to the desire to convey a statement or idea. They worked in a variety of media, including performance, painting, sculpture, and installation.
Toward the end of the decade, a movement developed out of this impulse known as Conceptual art, also referred to as Post-Object art or Idea art. Sol Lewitt first referenced the term in an interview with Artforum in 1967, explaining that “in conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.”
To better understand why and how collectors incorporate this type of object into their collections, explore the history of Conceptual art and its contemporary legacy below.
Like Kinetic art, the Conceptual art movement grew from the roots of Dada. Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 readymade sculpture Fountain, which takes the form of a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt,” is considered the first conceptual work of art.
Throughout the 1960s, avant-garde performance groups like Fluxus began describing their happenings as “concept art.” As the movement solidified, it resisted definition by medium or geography. Instead, artists across Europe and the Americas were connected by a mission to expand the definition of art. Many of these artists ascribed a socio-political dimension to their conceptual works, using non-traditional means to critique society through art. Language, too, was a common thread during the Conceptual art movement – artists often incorporated text into their objects, or written instructions accompanied a performance or drawing.
Though the original movement came to an end in the mid-1970s, conceptual artists continue to appear and along with them collectors who are interested in owning their work. Collecting conceptual art can be a daunting prospect because, unlike traditional paintings and sculptures, what is displayed on the floor or the wall is not actually the work of art; rather, the certificate of authenticity alone determines value.
Authentication and connoisseurship are inherently connected to the art market, where proving or disproving that a work is by an artist can dramatically impact the monetary value or cultural legacy of an object. If a painting is not signed by an artist, it’s difficult to prove that a work belongs in that artist’s oeuvre. For contemporary works, procuring a certificate of authenticity (if the artist’s studio is known to issue these documents) when purchasing paintings, sculptures, or prints is the best way to ensure that your work is recognized by the artist and maintains its fair market value.