Exhibitions: Materializing 'Six Years': Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art

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    Materializing 'Six Years': Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art

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    • April 1, 2012: Materializing “Six Years”: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, the first exhibition to explore the impact of the feminist writer, curator, and activist Lucy R. Lippard on the Conceptual art movement, will be on view at the Brooklyn Museum September 14, 2012, through February 3, 2013. Using Lippard’s influential 1973 book Six Years, which catalogued and described the emergence of Conceptual art in the late sixties and early seventies, as a critical and chronological framework, the exhibition illustrates the dynamics of Lippard’s key role in redefining how exhibitions were created, viewed, and critiqued during that era of transition.

      The full title of Lippard’s now-classic book, which drew on her personal relationships with artists, is seventy-nine words long: Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972: a cross-reference book of information on some esthetic boundaries; consisting of a bibliography into which are inserted a fragmented text, art works, documents, interviews, and symposia, arranged chronologically and focused on so-called conceptual or information or idea art with mentions of such vaguely designated areas as minimal, anti-form, systems, earth, or process art, occurring now in the Americas, Europe, England, Australia and Asia (with occasional political overtones). Through what appeared to be an objective chronology of events, exhibitions, writings, and ideas, Six Years presented a remarkable catalogue of groundbreaking work by young artists challenging the status quo of the art world.

      The exhibition, which will include some 173 works, will be arranged chronologically, with sections focusing on each of the years covered in Lippard’s landmark book, along with a concluding section exploring the relationship between Conceptual and feminist art.

      This section highlights works from Lippard’s landmark exhibition Eccentric Abstraction, including sculptures by Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, and Alice Adams, alongside original gallery announcements and installation photographs. It traces the evolution of some artists toward transient, performance projects and the increasing importance of the printed word. It also documents key works such as Robert Morris’s outdoor intervention Steam Cloud (1966), Bruce Nauman’s rarely seen film Fishing for Asian Carp (1966) and John Latham’s Art and Culture (1966–69).
      1967. The section reflects the growing internationalism of Conceptual art with work by artists including the Canadians Michael Snow and Christine Kozlov and European collectives such as Art & Language and Buren, Mosset, Parmentier, and Torino (BMPT). Also explored here is the growing importance of the periodical as a means of distribution and an alternate site of display as well as investigations into the production of meaning through works such as the collective Art & Language’s The Air Conditioning Show, featuring an empty gallery with temperature-controlled air as its content.
      1968. This section shows how American artists’ challenge to institutions and definitions of art became more closely aligned with issues surrounding opposition to the Vietnam War. Works include Hans Haacke’s Live Random Airborne System (1965-68), along with works by the Latin American artists Graciela Carneval and the Rosario Group that made political art in covert ways, for their own safety, while working under a dictatorship.
      1969. This section traces how the organizing of exhibitions underwent major changes as the emphasis on text and the documentation of ephemeral occurrences became primary means of art-making. Lippard launched a multi-year curatorial project known as the “numbers” shows, the titles of which were taken from the population figure of the city where each appeared. The exhibitions featured works primarily produced from instructions that participating artists provided to Lippard on index cards, which became the exhibition catalogues. Examples will be included along with reconstructions of some projects; for example, a plywood work by Richard Serra along with his instruction card and photographic documentation of its second installation, in Vancouver.
      1970. This section highlights Lippard’s involvement with the Art Workers’ Coalition and also continues to focus on her portable exhibitions-as-instructions, 955,000 in Vancouver and 2,972,543 in Buenos Aires, with documentary photographs, catalogue cards, and selected works from each exhibition. Catalogues from other experimental exhibitions throughout the world will also be included.
      1971. This section explores the forward trajectory of Conceptual art, as idealism gave way to pessimism in the 1970s, with some artists continuing activist politics through their work, as exemplified by the Guerrilla Art Action Group, while others, like William Wegman, focused on performance, as in videos such as his Spit Sandwich. Women Conceptualists became more prevalent and Lippard became more committed to recognizing the work of women and anticipating feminist art as the next major movement—one in which she would become a defining voice.

      The exhibition has been organized by Catherine Morris, curator of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum, and Vincent Bonin, a Montreal-based independent curator and writer. It will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, with a preface by Lucy R. Lippard and essays by the co-curators as well as Julia Bryan-Wilson, associate professor of art history at UC Berkeley. One of the first publications to explore the influence of Lippard’s thinking on the Conceptual art movement, it is being co-published by the Brooklyn Museum and the M.I.T. Press.

      Lucy R. Lippard is the author of twenty-one books on contemporary art, politics, place, and culture, most recently Down Country: The Tano of the Galisteo Basin 1250–1782 (2010); On the Beaten Track: Tourism, Art and Place (1999); and The Lure of the Local: Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society (1997). She has curated more than fifty exhibitions and has participated in the founding of many alternative spaces and visual art and political collectives. Her achievements have been recognized with numerous awards and grants and eight honorary degrees. She lives in Galisteo, New Mexico.

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