Tate Britain exhibition focuses on challenge of conceptual art

Modern art is challenging, and there are few art groups more challenging than the conceptual artists, who are the subject of a new exhibition at the Tate Britain galleries in London.

The exhibition, which opened Tuesday, traces the course of this pivotal grouping from its origins in the mid-1960s through to the late 1970s, bringing together 70 works by 21 artists to demonstrate the radical, thought-provoking and politically-engaged nature of this defining period in art history.

Andrew Wilson, curator modern and contemporary British art and archives at Tate Britain, told Xinhua: "Conceptual art marks a hinge between an accepted way of making art which we can maybe describe as modern art, and the very hybrid heterogeneous approach to art we have today which very much flows from conceptual art."

"It was fundamentally asking questions about what is art and what it could be, and almost making that the content and the art itself," said Wilson.

He added: "Conceptual art marked a very clear change around the ways in which one approaches what art is, how you looked at it. What was proposed here was not an art of contemplation but an art that was a critical act, that was about reading and that brought in ideas of linguistics and philosophy -- and in terms of reading into images ideas of semiotics so that the ways in which images can be manipulated can be understood."

An example of such an approach is the artist Victor Burgin (1941-), said Wilson. Burgin used the language of advertizing and how advertizing mixed words and images.

His piece "Possession" was produced as a poster which was then flyposted around an industrial city. It's juxtaposition of a conventional image of a couple enjoying each others company and text that makes an economic and political point about who possesses what in the economy makes it a striking work, and one which is typical of the conceptual artists.

Wilson said: "When you see it you do a double take because it looks like an advertizement, but it's an advertizement that isn't selling anything; it's asking questions of the viewer and asking the viewer to ask questions."

The dates which frame the exhibition -- starting at 1964, and ending in 1979 -- are specially chosen to bring out the link between art and the society in which it is created. 1964 was a time of great social change, optimism, experimentation and technological change. 1979 was a less confident time, of strife and cutbacks in public spending under the new prime ministership of Margaret Thatcher.

Though the artists in the exhibition are British they were part of a wider international network of artists and ideas, and they engaged with their contemporaries around the world. For example, the artist Richard Long (1945-) was exhibited in 11 galleries around the world in the late 1960s before he had his first exhibition in the UK.

The exhibition runs at Tate Britain galleries in Millbank, London, until Aug. 29.

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