From Duchamp to Demand: 10 Masterpieces That Show the Evolution of Conceptual Art

In a 1967 Artforum article titled “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” the artist Sol LeWitt gave a simple definition for what would soon become one of the crucial facets of contemporary art in the 20th century and beyond. “In conceptual art,” he writes, “the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work….The idea becomes the machine that makes the art.” In a few short paragraphs, LeWitt cast aside concerns about aesthetics and visual expression in favor of a new way of art making, one that takes place primarily in the mind of an artist such that the making of the physical object becomes “a perfunctory affair.” Unbound from traditional art mediums, conceptual artists quickly moved into idea-privileging formats such as found objects, archival documentation, text, and video.

Conceptual art was very much in vogue from the late 1960s through the ‘70s, alongside related movements like Minimalism, but strictly speaking it precedes LeWitt’s famous definition. Today, we might see it as existing on a continuum from the early-20th-century works of Duchamp and Magritte to the very 21st-century art of Thomas Demand. The ten works below, each excerpted from the new edition of Phaidon’s The Art Book, offer just a slice of the depth and variety of conceptual artworks from the past 100 years.

What Is Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ Really Selling? Cracking the $100 Million da Vinci Code

Jesus saves, but the buyer of da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ will spend—a lot.

The signs all point one way: Christie’s upcoming sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s spooky Salvator Mundi is the latest and perhaps most convincing portent that we are living in the End Times.

In the Bible, Christ and his apostles held their property in common. Now, this image of Christ as “Savior of the World” will be the ultimate piece of private property, sold in a spectacle of unhinged wealth (the pre-sale estimate is $100 million). As a symbol of society out of balance, the golden calf’s got nothing on the Salvator Mundi.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24). Maybe so—but the rich man can buy a form of earthly immortality through association with “the last Leonardo in private hands.”

Lord knows in whose hands, public or private, the Salvator Mundi will end up. I hope it goes somewhere people can see it, because it’s a cool painting, full of oddities and mysteries.


The Evolution of Art: Artworks That Advanced Our Understanding of the Medium, Part I

Today, art can be almost anything. But there was a time in the not-so-distant past when abstraction was inconceivable, and it was believed that art could only represent something that already existed in the real world. There was a time when an object couldn’t be considered art unless it showed evidence of the artist’s touch. And until relatively recently, processes like silkscreen printmaking or the use of industrial materials like steel were considered off-limits in the realm of fine art.

So, how did we get to where we are today? Who were the artists that changed the course of art history? And what were the artworks that broke the mold? Though you’ve probably heard of most of the artists in the list we present to you below, we’re here to explain what discovery each artist made, and how they effectively changed the definition of art. In this two-part series, we’ll first describe the advances in Modern art beginning with Duchamp’s urinal and ending with Donald Judd and the Minimalists in 1969. In Part II, we’ll introduce some of the more recent developments leading up to art today. 

Yayoi Kusama and the Amazing Polka-Dotted, Selfie-Made Journey to Greatness

The artist of “Infinity” rooms has become an Instagram darling.  But two new gallery exhibitions in New York show that she’s much more than that — an almost frighteningly fertile talent.

Sometimes I think Yayoi Kusama might be the greatest artist to come out of the 1960s and one of the few, thanks in part to her long life, still making work that feels of the moment. Other times I think she’s a bit of a charlatan who produces more Kusama paintings than the world needs and stoops to conquer with mirrored “Infinity” rooms that attract hordes of selfie-seekers oblivious to her efforts on canvas.

Ms. Kusama’s current three-ring circus of exhibitions at David Zwirner’s uptown and downtown spaces — which include 76 works on canvas — argue in favor of greatness.  On all fronts, Ms. Kusama has a formidable urge toward art and fame fueled by what seems to be a steely will and also a great mental focus — partly a function of psychological imbalances that have led to periods of hospitalization. (She began to experience visual and auditory hallucinations as a child and they continue.) She has characterized art as her chance for salvation both here and in the afterlife.

Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? (Linda Nochlin, From 1971)

Implications of the Women’s Lib movement for art history and for the contemporary art scene—or, silly questions deserve long answers.

A version of this story originally appeared in the January 1971 issue of ARTnews.

While the recent upsurge of feminist activity in this country has indeed been a liberating one, its force has been chiefly emotional—personal, psychological and subjective—centered, like the other radical movements to which it is related, on the present and its immediate needs, rather than on historical analysis of the basic intellectual issues which the feminist attack on the status quo automatically raises.1 Like any revolution, however, the feminist one ultimately must come to grips with the intellectual and ideological basis of the various intellectual or scholarly disciplines—history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, etc.—in the same way that it questions the ideologies of present social institutions. If, as John Stuart Mill suggested, we tend to accept whatever is as natural, this is just as true in the realm of academic investigation as it is in our social arrangements. In the former, too, “natural” assumptions must be questioned and the mythic basis of much so-called “fact” brought to light. And it is here that the very position of woman as an acknowledged outsider, the maverick “she” instead of the presumably neutral “one”—in reality the white-male-position-accepted-as-natural, or the hidden “he” as the subject of all scholarly predicates—is a decided advantage, rather than merely a hindrance of a subjective distortion.

What is important is that women face up to the reality of their history and of their present situation, without making excuses or puffing mediocrity. Disadvantage may indeed be an excuse; it is not, however, an intellectual position. Rather, using as a vantage point their situation as underdogs in the realm of grandeur, and outsiders in that of ideology, women can reveal institutional and intellectual weaknesses in general, and, at the same time that they destroy false consciousness, take part in the creation of institutions in which clear thought—and true greatness—are challenges open to anyone, man or woman, courageous enough to take the necessary risk, the leap into the unknown.

The Four-Hour Art Week? Read Carol Bove’s Self-Help Guide for Artists

The sculptor Carol Bove likes to play with associations and forms as she builds her assemblages of constructed and readymade objects. Time and space to experiment are crucial elements of her process, as is a certain psychological sovereignty—Bove writes that “creating a nonpurposive, free space in which to play and have fun is essential.” Here, the Brooklyn-based artist gives her best advice for finding happiness (rather than “succeeding”) as an artist, excerpted in its entirety from the new book. 

For example:

MONEY   Becoming an artist is not a good business plan.

Coming Face to Face With Jimmie Durham

The sculptor’s retrospective at the Whitney Museum is a “brilliant, half-century-long act of politically driven self-invention,” our critic writes.

“I feel fairly sure that I could address the entire world if only I had a place to stand,” the peripatetic American artist Jimmie Durham said in the 1980s. Now he has that place: the fifth floor of the Whitney Museum of American Art, where his magnetic traveling retrospective has arrived with a comet trail of controversy.

The controversy, like many attached to art are these days, is about identity and ownership: who has the right to do and say what. Mr. Durham, 77, is widely perceived as a Native American artist, maybe theNative American artist. He has often spoken of himself as Cherokee; his work has made frequent references to indigenous culture.

But when the retrospective, “Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World,” moved from its originating institution, the Hammer Museumin Los Angeles, to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, several historians raised objections to his ethnic claims, asserting that there’s no evidence that he is Indian at all.

Jeff Koons Gives it Up to The Masters

Whitewall met with the artist in his sprawling Chelsea studio just days after his “Masters” collection launched for Louis Vuitton, a project he saw as quite public and accessible, too. The special line puts the work of Da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, Fragonard, and Van Gogh on accessories like bags and scarves, touting the name of each master in bold reflective metal type. So while perhaps the Louis Vuitton bags aren’t accessible in cost per se (albeit much more than an original Koons work), they will be seen on the street.

We chatted with Koons about his experience working with LVMH for the second time and about the connection between our cultural life and our biological makeup.

It’s about reaching the highest state of consciousness. I just saw a Twombly show in Paris at the Pompidou. It’s an amazing show. At the beginning of the show in 1953 there are a couple examples of Cy’s paintings. As you go through the show, you see the work developing. When you come to the last section of the show, where his late works are, you realize it’s almost like he prepared himself his whole life for his last works. These works are absolutely dealing with the sublime. And it’s like he’s on the other side; he’s there. It’s phenomenal.

I think Cy did it. Picasso did it. Picasso’s late works, I think, are this level of intuitive thought. I think both these people really ended up at the sublime. And we all can do it. Every individual has the freedom to exercise this power all the time.  I believe that on our deathbed, right at the moment of passing, that we may feel a sense of how easy it would have been to do all the things we really wanted to do. And think, “Oh, if only.” And I would like to do that now. I would like to achieve that level of understanding now. We have that freedom now, and we can exercise all this. So that’s why I make my work, to try to get closer to that level of consciousness.

Artist Stan Douglas: why I restaged the London riots

Stan Douglas’s latest photographs recreate two key moments from the civil unrest of 2011. The artist talks racial profiling, riot porn and why he’s fascinated by ‘ruptures in the status quo’.

So how much of your work is really documenting the ineptitude of the police?” Stan Douglas is laughing at my question without completely avoiding it. “Well, the work can’t conceal the points at which they are out of their depth,” he says. We’re sitting in the Victoria Miro gallery in Mayfair, London, talking over the sounds of drilling as the artist’s latest large-scale works are secured to the wall next door.

The 57-year-old Canadian has spent the last 30 years making richly cinematic and allusive conceptual works that echo Hollywood noirs, westerns and cold war spy thrillers, Melville, Kafka and Hitchcock, while digging into deeper sociopolitical themes. His 2016 film The Secret Agent relocated Conrad’s novel, set in 1886 London, to Portugal after the 1974 carnation revolution. Disco Angola (2012) and Luanda-Kinshasa (2013) also explored historical moments of upheaval – what he calls “a rupturing of the status quo”.

An Eye-Popping Mid-Century Apartment Filled With Pollocks, Klines, and de Koonings

If you had Ben Heller’s eye, you’d have picked 50 straight Derby winners, or signed 100 future Hall of Fame ballplayers when they were 17. “When I think of my old apartment on the Upper West Side,” says the tall, spry Heller, who is 91, “even I’m shocked.” In the mid-1950s, the talent he was spotting was Abstract Expressionist, and the art he amassed and later sold would be worth about a billion dollars today.

In this living room at 151 Central Park West — where Heller lived from 1959 to around 1975 he had three Jackson Pollocks and one Barnett Newman. In the dining room was a Giacometti sculpture, a Kline, and a Johns. Also hanging around were works by Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still.


The Four Horsemen of America’s Apocalypse: Their Work Unearths the Seething Muck Beneath the Shiny Surface of American Culture

The Apocalypse has long been a staple of American film, pulp fiction, popular culture, and high art and literature. Lately it has also been looming large in our political consciousness. From a presidential adviser who is convinced we have entered the fourth and final “turning” in human history to charges by environmentalists that our withdrawal from the Paris climate accord may push global climate change to a tipping point, the Trump era has so far been a time of dark forebodings and doomsday rumblings. At the same time, the art world has been facing its own version of Armageddon with the threatened demise of federal arts funding, the uncertain future of the NEA, and renewed attacks on the First Amendment.

Conner, Shaw, Pettibon, and Wojnarowicz burrow into moments in America’s recent past when the forces of darkness seemed ascendant. Conner’s reflections on the allure of nuclear annihilation during the Cold War, Shaw’s fascination with religious sects that resist the pull of modernity, Pettibon’s exploration of the rubble left by the failure of the 1960s utopian dreams, and Wojnarowicz’s evocation of the AIDS catastrophe of the 1980s all belong to a tradition of anxiety rooted in Apocalyptic thinking. But they also remind us of the ambiguity at the heart of the eschatological narrative. The End looms, but there remains a large space for human agency. A sense of doom may be eternal. What matters is what we do about it.

Tehching Hsieh, extreme performance artist: ‘I give you clues to the crime’

The Venice Biennale is hosting the biggest exhibition of work by the Taiwanese artist Marina Abramović calls ‘the master’.

“My impression of the Venice Bienniale is that it is the Olympic Games of the arts,” says Tehching Hsieh. “I’m in the category of marathon.”

If any artist knows about endurance it is is Hsieh, a Taiwanese artist who has created some of the most extreme performance art ever made. His work, mostly made in obscurity in a series of challenging one-year performances, was a precursor to the likes of Marina Abramović who acknowledges him as “the master”.

Recognition has come relatively late for Hsieh, who at 66 years old describes himself as “semi-retired”. Thirty years after his first year-long performance piece, his work was exhibited in 2009 in the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art, and in 2014 he held an exhibition at Carriageworks in Sydney. In his most extensive retrospective yet, at this year’s 57th Venice Biennale, he is representing his home country Taiwan in a pavilion that records some of his most fascinating and thought-provoking works via an archive of documents, contracts, photographs and maps.

Rachel Whiteread Retrospective @ Tate Britain

A metal sign among the found objects, tiny moulds, and notebooks, selected and arranged from across Rachel Whiteread’s 30 year career, reads: ‘Ancient Monuments Acts, 1913 and 1931. Any person who injures or defaces this monument may be fined and ordered to pay the costs of repairs or may be imprisoned.’ The display case is located in the foyer before the exhibition and, along with photographs of Whitereads public installations and a film documenting the construction and demolition of House (1993-4), sets up the retrospective as a study in sculpture as an interrogation of public structures and space. It’s not clear where the metal sign came from, or whether Whiteread found it or removed it from its monument, but either way its removal points to the ephemeral nature of public buildings. Decay, exposure to the elements, or vandalism mean that, Ancient Monuments Acts or no, any structure’s days are numbered.

Gerhard Richter: Brisbane show honours German master’s irony and influence

The Life of Images offers a sweeping retrospective of a visionary photo painter whose work continues to resonate

To say that an international artist can be hugely influential in Australia, where their work has rarely been seen​, is to pay testament not just to the aesthetic qualities of their work but also to the appeal of the ideas behind it. 

German-born Gerhard Richter is one such artist. Since the early 1960s he has explored a number of related themes and ideas, producing paintings and photographs that question the nature of the images that can be produced by both mediums. Through magazines and books, and later the web, Richter’s work has been the subject of intense interest by many Australian artists – even when access to it meant trips to galleries in Europe or the US.


What It’s Like to Live With Art That Doesn’t Love You Back

At a time when art is as commodified as oil, a few collectors have chosen to buy works that are messy, perishable and threaten to take over their lives.

PAUL LEONG, A YOUNG banker who lives in downtown Manhattan, spends an unusual amount of time thinking about square watermelons. He wonders where to get them, how long they’ll last, when they’ll next be in season. This is because two years ago, Leong bought a work by the Los Angeles-based artist Max Hooper Schneider called ‘‘Genus Watermeloncholia’’: a bioengineered square watermelon in a glass case filled with water. The watermelon is connected to an LED sign that is positioned so that it appears to be transmitting the watermelon’s depressive thoughts: ‘‘This is all a mistake,’’ for instance. Leong doesn’t quite know why he bought it, only that he was curious how the work might look in his apartment, with its sculpture of a miniature tank by Lutz Bacher mounted to seem as if it’s driving up the wall over the entrance to his bedroom, or Stefan Tcherepnin’s life-size Cookie Monster statue, which dominates the guest room.

Duchamp’s Last Riddle

By now, the story has become a legend: in 1917, artist Marcel Duchamp took a urinal, signed it with a pseudonym, and submitted it for an exhibition put on by the Society of Independent Artists—who rejected it. Fountain, as he winkingly titled the urinal, was one of his ready-mades: a manufactured object that he deemed artworks in an effort to throw off the yoke of what he called “retinal art” in favor of a more conceptual and cerebral one.

Duchamp was good at gestures. Just six years after the Fountain controversy, he announced he was quitting the art world and would devote the rest of his life to his other passion, chess. Most people believed he had. But when he died in 1968, at the age of eighty-one, his grandest gesture was revealed: Duchamp had been constructing an artwork in secret for twenty years. He left it behind in his studio on Manhattan’s East Eleventh Street—a mysterious, life-size tableau. It featured a realist sculpture of a naked woman lying on a bed of twigs and leaves with her legs spread open. She could have been dead or unconscious, except that her left arm held aloft a gas lamp, behind which glowed a landscape of colorful trees and a waterfall. The uncanny scene was visible through a cutout in what seemed to be a brick wall, which itself was fronted by an old wooden door with two peepholes in it. Looking through the peepholes was—and still is—the only way to see the tableau.

Who Are the Most Influential Artists of the Last Century? 26 Industry Leaders Weigh In

Which artist defined the last 100 years—and continues to reverberate in the work of artists today?

In 2017, a century since Marcel Duchamp turned a readymade urinal into an artwork, we’ve wondered how to characterize the past 100 years in art, posing challenging questions to some of the industry’s brightest figures: What are this century’s most iconic works of art? Who were last century’s most trailblazing curators? Today, we finish our three-part series with perhaps the most daunting question: Who was the most influential artist in the last 100 years?

It’s not an easy question, and there is no perfect answer. But a group of leading curators, artists, critics, and dealers were equal to the challenge, weighing in with their choices for artists whose legacies have defined the last 100 years and continue to reverberate in the work of artists today. The resulting list (below) is nothing short of a survey of modern art history, ranging from conceptual art forefather Duchamp to the video pioneer Nam June Paik to modern masters of abstraction like Jackson Pollock and Agnes Martin—and, of course, Jeff Koons.

Does Monet Beat the Dow? How Artworks Perform as an Investment

Everyone loves a story about collectors who bought art for a song and sold it for a million. Once in a blue moon, that actually happens. In the case of Impressionist art, though, dappled landscapes and dreamy portraits by Monet, Renoir, and Degas were oftentimes considered investments before the paint on the canvas had dried.   For answers, we turned to two artworks that will hit the auction block at the annual mega-sales in New York next month, then plotted their historical sale prices against the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The Takeaway

If you’d bought in 1962, you’d be doing great. If you bought after the 1980s, your returns against the Dow would be disappointing.

All this, however, leaves out one crucial component: You can’t wake up every day to admire a stock index above your dining room table.

The Gray Market: Why Museums Can’t Compete With Private Collectors (and Other Insights)

FALSE EQUIVALENCE: Although I always advise caution about these reports, sales at this year’s freshly entombed Frieze and Frieze Masters were allegedly strong from the jump. Numerous exhibitors were eager to broadcast their results (or at least, pretend to) on VIP preview night. But rather than resurrect the issue of dubious honesty from self-interested actors in a consequence-free environment, I want to focus on a different dimension of the sales process this time: specifically, the growing imbalance between two types of buyers who used to be evenly matched.

The point? More and more, suggesting budget equivalence between an institution and a “serious collector” is like suggesting that building a campfire produces as much heat as torching a lumberyard.

The unsettling visions of Thomas Ruff

From gender-swap portraits to blown-up images of internet porn and 3D craters on Mars, his photographs are perfect for the age of image overload. As a major Whitechapel retrospective opens, we profile an artist always ahead of the game.

Photography is a base passion that has taken hold of every continent and every section of the population,” wrote the Austrian author Thomas Bernhard in 1988. “Everyone wants to be portrayed as good-looking and happy, when they are in fact ugly and unhappy.”

That same year, Thomas Ruff was revisiting a series of portraits he had made of his friends in the early 1980s, producing new colour prints that were vast in scale and meticulous in detail. Thirty years on, hung in a brightly lit room in the Whitechapel Gallery, they retain their power to unsettle, not least because of their uniformity, their almost forensic detachment. Everyone looks ordinary, neither flattered by Ruff’s camera nor aggrandised by the monumental prints. If anything, his subjects’ shared middle-class conformity is emphasised by the scale and detail.

There is nothing straightforward about Ruff’s engagement with the medium. Instead, his images are often oblique, referencing art history from modernism to the present, and increasingly engaging not so much with photography as with the image culture that it is now enmeshed in. Like Christopher William, also the subject of a recent Whitechapel retrospective, Ruff makes photography about photography. Both his early interiors – functional, neat, inordinately tidy – and the Portraits series nod to the formal typologies of his art school teachers, Bernd and Hilla Becher, founders of the so-called Düsseldorf School, which Ruff – like Thomas Struth and Candida Höfer – has been bracketed under.