Post conceptual and Contemporary Art

After my research on conceptual art, as the ‘last art movement’ of modern art. I am going to look now at what makes contemporary art ‘con-temporary’. As the term describes, it is about being together in space and time. Whether this can be assigned only to past occasion or also to the now and here, has to be seen.

But first to look in-between and what was taken over as key ideas from the 1960s/1970s as conceptual art. And one could they here the ideas from conceptual art as genre:

  • Idea as focus
  • Questioning traditional role of art as object, either as commodity or as signifier for meaning
  • Questioning materiality
  • Dematerialization and creating time-based and ephemeral works.
  • Noticing the thread of dematerialization for exchange value
  • Affirmation that artist value doesn’t reside in the object (alone) and questioning value at large

Together with semiotics and process the notion of post-conceptual art occured since late 1970s/begin 1980s. The focus extended towards use and exchange value, as well as addressing value attribution through cultural validation (or institutional validation). Victor Burgin showed that the ‘context of art …could be only identified to the extent that the institutions framing allowed it to be’ (Craven).

New key aspects:

  • Process: The formative idea was considered now only as one aspect and full reception of the the work was ‘completed’ in society at large (e.g. Hans Haacke, or Daniel Buren)
  • Meaning was deferred beyond the artist’s intention. Craven described these works as ‘meta-conceptual’
  • Through detachment of the artist from meaning and critique, the emptiness and ‘uselessness’ of art signifiers became visible through juxtaposition
  • Creation and intellectual discourse were equally important.

In this context of art as institution worked artist as Sherrie Levine, Barbara Kruger, Jenny Holzer, Louise Lawler or Wilson. See my previous research in preparation of assignement four. Also the work by Michael Asher that eventually led to my assignment essay addresses similar post-conceptual questions. These artists were concerned with what is called ‘institutional critique‘ (see my previous research).

Contemporary as ‘Post-Conceptual’:

Peter Osborne (b. 1958)

Overall, that leaves to a deeper interrogation of ‘post-conceptual art’ as by the argumentation of Peter Osborne (2010). Quite in tradition of Kosuth, Osborne described his approach as a philosphical approach. He expressed his ‘philosophical and speculative proposition’ in a Hegelian dialectic sense and building on philosophical traditions and German romanticsm.

Osborne refers with an example to the project The Atlas Group, as an exploratory interrogation of the accessibility of an objective reality and fiction in contemporary Lebanon. The way how we can relate to the experience of the people there, and as an mediation of that experience through the artist, Walid Raad, himself. For Osborne, the term ‘con-temporary’ (in time together) is a fictitious and problematic term, an idea. Fictitious for the inability of sameness in presence, and ambiguous of its deferred nature, as Hegel stated with the term ‘unzeitgemäss’ (un-timely). Related to art, he argued with a shift from ‘a craft-based ontology of mediums to a new and ‘postconceptual, transcategorical ontology of materializations’  (Osborne, 2010:10) Basically, he looks into semiotics and how to derive meaning from there.

Post-conceptual art articulates a post-aesthetic poetics. – Peter Osborne

Osborne summarizes ‘post-conceptual’ art as the  ‘dialectical constellation of the aesthetic, conceptual and distributive aspects of art.’ For him the historical essence of conceptual art resides in an affirmation of both conceptual and aesthetic. ‘Post-conceptual’ art recognizes the historical experience and is characterises by six aspects.

Two necessary requirements for ‘art’ are concepts and instantiation in practice as well aesthetic presentation through materialization. These two conditions led to a conception of ‘anti-aestheticist use’ of materials and an infinity of material means (‘post-medium’). Osborned concluded from these four aspects a relational aspect across all instantiations and a ‘historical malleability’. Since the late 1980s works by Barbara Kruger or Julian Schnabel embraced the three Kantian faculties of reason, social and aesthetics alongside lingustic and iconographic elements and relating the work to social issues by acknowledging the aesthetic aspects.

Overall, one can say that post-conceptual art explored in a self-conscious way the instability between process and aesthetics, commodity and intention, as well as perception and decoding endless signifiers. What it has in common with conceptual art its the elimination of the artist’s subjectivity and transformation of pre-conceived idea through functional and intelectual designs as the example of Meg Mitchell shows. As Sol LeWitt stated:

“To Work with a plan that is preset is one way of avoiding subjectivity” – Sol LeWitt


Key ideas post-conceptual art:

  • Art as interconnectedness of aesthetic, conceptual and distributive aspects
  • Relational Aesthetics
  • Anti-aesthetic use of materials
  • Historical malleabilty


With that transition into plurality one can not discern any longer movements or genres or styles. All are mixed up in a partly conceptual, partly aesthetical and partly semiotical way. This leads than to the question what contemporay art is. Looking up ‘Contemporary Art’ brings more results: Tate, Guggenheim. Oxford Art Online or KhanAcademy.

Contemporary Art:

The information provided there brings not so much insight as it merely relates to artistic endevors of the ‘present day and of the relatively recent past’ (Tate). More insight brings Guggenheim by stating about contemporary art and narratives that the ‘narrative potential lies in everyday objects and materials, and their embedded cultural associations.’ Relating this to research, appropriations, and performances and in context of digital age and social media with a new way of ‘communication, dissemination, and interpretation’, i.e. meaning neither resides with the author, not with the viewer, but in the intersubjectivity and interconnectedness of a global society. Key elements applied in art are appropration and quotation.

Alberro (2013) looked at the periodization of contemporary art and highlighted four aspects that would be able to characterise contemporary sensibility since the end of the 1980s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, globalization, digital culture and neoliberalism with relating economy to the market:

  1. Counter-globalization opposing global politics and economy
  2. New technologies and shift from tangible objects to ephemeral images
  3. A re-conceptualization of the Avant-Garde with focus on social work and communities
  4. New philosophy of aesthetic experience alongside a re-construction of the spectator with a shift from interpretation and understanding to affect and experience


Key ideas contemporary art:

  • Conceptual work around aesthetic, conceptual/communicative and distributive aspects of art
  • Relational Aesthetics
  • Use of mixed medium, installation, performance, documentation etc.
  • Use of ephemeral work
  • A reconsidered spectatorship


In context of aesthetics it was Jacques Ranciere who approached again from a philosophical viewpoint the question of art and aesthetics as a paradox

Contemporary as politics of the Aesthetics 

Jacques Rancière (b.1940) considers aesthetics and art derived from Enlightenment and equality, alongside a dialectical paradox of art (Rancière, 2013). On the one hand as a ‘free play’ transgressing traditional boundaries in a Kantian sense of a separate faculty of aesthetics suppressing domination of reason. On the other hand,  as well as a separate form of human experience. He considers this paradox as the two forms of politicss, a politics of aesthetics. He argued that one can see both connected or disconnected. In the first sense as a community’s embodied form of existence overthrowing political dissensus in the tradition of the German Idealism, Bauhaus, the gothis dreams of Art and Crafts in England in the 19th century or the particpatory desire of Suprematist, Futurist and Constructivists. In the second sense as a preservation ot heterogeneity and the autonomy of aesthetic experience and an alienated community life.

From that dialectic paradox of two aesthetic form, Rancière sees the place of contemporary or critical art as a third way through juxtaposing heterogenoues elements, provoking a break in perception by disclosing hidden secrets, and evoking a dialectical  ‘clash’. He considers four areas appearing in contemporary art that address the dialectic dissensus through (pp.83-85):

  • Joke: pointing at a secret that is not any longer there
  • Collection: positive attempt to collect traces of a common world as an archive
  • Invitation: to prompt participatory ephemeral situations
  • Mystery: an analogy of weaving heterogenous elements in one fabric with a ‘fraternity of metaphor as linkage

He concludes his essay with recognizing a shift in art practice from ‘logic of dissensus’ towards a ‘logic of mystery’ and an artistic search for the real, i.e. to place marks in the real world and to   use fiction to challenge the ‘existing distribution of hte real and the fictional’ (p.86).

“Undoing and rearticulating the connections between sign and images, images and times, or signs and space that frame the existing sense of reality” – Jacques Rancière

Doing art means for him ‘displacing the borders of art’. In that sense he acknowledged that more and more artworks address territory and borders as subject matter.

Material and Medium:

With minimal art through dematerialization the focus of perception was deferred from inner to outer relationships. The evaporation of materiality could only result in idea and texts. But all physical objects are made of material, and a new image is constructed either through addition of material (e.g. painting)  or digitally. Why then has ‘medium ..absolutely no role to play in the appreciation of digital art’ as argued by Thompson-Jones (2015)?

A possible argument could be that in post-conceptual thought the materiality of the medium in digitial art (video, film) is going beyond the idea of ‘retinal representation’ through actualization of  new images in mind. Or, as Duchamp described his art as ‘the service of the mind’ as opposed to a purely “retinal” art, intended only to please the eye.’ (MoMA)
Another argument described in the coursematerial is the differention between discrete ‘differentials’ and ‘density’, density in tradition of Minimal Art as an unmediated experience.


Stefan513593 - part 5 - Contemporary Art in Difference

Stefan513593 – part 5 – Contemporary Art in Difference


  1. Conceptual versus post-conceptual art: Post-conceptual or contemporary art embraces the aesthetic aspect of art, combines it with the conceptual elements and looks beyond the closed space of a physicial environment towards historicality moments in an interconnected global world and addresses social issues.
  2. Contemporary art embraces globalization and new technoligies and related these to social issues and community work.
  3. Through a re-construction of spectatorship, the notion of interpretation gets deferred to affecte and experience at that ephemeral moment.

The following images can better express what one can not see alone without a dense reasoning.

Images related to Contemporary Art  – collected on my Pinterest board:

[powr-pinterest-feed id=5250bc5f_1510775566]




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