Conceptual art is a unique art style that emerged in the mid-1960s and remains a staple of the contemporary art world in 2021.

The term ‘conceptual art’ can be a little bit confusing because doesn’t every artwork have to start with a concept?

The concept of conceptual art (pun intended) is tricky to understand, but we’re here to unpack it all for you. 

Let’s flesh it out!

What is Conceptual Art?

Awfully Beautiful by Kseniya Scher
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Conceptual art is artwork for which the idea (or concept) behind the piece is more important than the finished art object itself.

When an artist sets out to use the conceptual form of art, it means that their planning and decisions are all made before even setting out to produce the work, and that the execution of those decisions are carried out without reflection.

Unlike other styles of art that set stringent rules, conceptual artworks can be almost anything. They can also symbolize or represent anything, from feeling to emotions to absolutely nothing at all.

Conceptual art takes the focus off of technique and material. Artists who work through a conceptual lens focus on using whatever materials and forms are most appropriate for putting their idea across — placing far less importance on a structured approach to art production.

Origins of Conceptual Art

So why did the conceptual art movement take place in the mid-1960s, anyway?

Artists of the era were frustrated with the commercialization of the art world. They believed that far too much stress and emphasis was placed on through processes and methods of production rather than the inherent value of the artwork itself.

This resulted in a pushback against academic styles of art that conceptualists believed restrained creative expression.

With this mindset at the forefront, conceptual artists often intentionally did not produce a “finished” object in sculptures and paintings. This was so that their work could not be easily bought, sold, and viewed in a formal gallery situation.

Largely born out of dissatisfaction with socio-political dimensions of the art world, conceptual art, in many cases, set out to question society and governmental policies that they viewed as oppressive. It was all about challenging those in power and giving autonomy back to creatives, who believed that ideas were what moved the world.

Important Conceptual Artists

Le Cadeau by Paol Serret
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The mothers and fathers of conceptual art set the standard for the movement in the 1960s and even conceptual art as we recognize it today. Here are some that you need to know:

  • Marcel Duchamp: Largely acknowledged as the forefather to conceptual art, Duchamp is best known for his ready-made sculptures such as Fountain — the famous urinal that was designed as art in 1917. This is seen as the first conceptual artwork ever created in art history.
  • Robert Montgomery: An internationally-renowned conceptual artist from London, Robert Montgomery was known for his standout public intervention pieces that introduced poetry into urban landscapes through captivating light installations. Deeply inspired by Marxism, Montgomery was able to bring the gap between academia and street art to challenge traditional understandings of what art can be.
  • Katrin Fridriks: Widely recognized for her paintings which fuse natural energies of her Icelandic homeland with explosive expressionism, Fridriks abstractions are filled with swirls of vibrant color. Her work is mainly focused around issues such as genetic research, cloning, overconsumption, and exhaustion of environmental resources. 

Contemporary Conceptualism

In contemporary practice, conceptual art is commonly referred to as contemporary conceptualism.

These artworks often employ critiques aimed at:

  • Traditional art institutions
  • Political systems
  • Socioeconomic structures and hierarchies

This isn’t to say that all conceptual art of the modern age seeks to make a political statement, but it is certainly a predominant theme.

In many cases, contemporary conceptualism serves as a cynical mirror held up at the art world and the world as a whole. Modern conceptualists are still deeply tied to the original art movement that took place in the 1960s — calling upon their ideals as inspiration to create a more inclusive space for artists to express themselves.

The rise of digital art has also permitted visual artists to introduce different media and supports to enhance conceptualist pieces, repurposing previously separate techniques to create unity that revolutionizes the way we view artworks.

Where to Find Contemporary Conceptual Art

The Sunflower by Pablo Salvans
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Are you interested in exploring the wide, rebellious world of conceptual art?

You’ve found yourself in the perfect place!

Here at Gallerima, we’re all about sourcing the best original artworks from artists across the globe. We believe that ideas can move the world — which is why we’re so proud of our collection of conceptual artworks!

We think you’ll love them as well.

To explore our gallery of contemporary conceptualist art, click here.

And more than anything, we hope that this article was helpful for you in conceptualizing conceptualist art! Check out the Gallerima Magazine for more informative content about all things related to the art world!

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