In 2000 the Whitechapel Gallery presented ‘Live in your Head’, a complete survey of British Conceptual Art from 1965 to 1975. Craig-Martin, Hemsworth, Hilliard and Stezaker all took part. The catalogue was conceived as an A-Z artists directory, like the seminal Bern exhibition referred in its title When Attitudes Become Form: Live in your Head, curated by Harald Szeemann in 1969, that was going to change the course of conceptual art worldwide. British artists had been an integral part of the emergence of conceptual art internationally, London being of the hubs for figureheads from abroad. Nevertheless, the Whitechapel retrospective three and a half decades later was exclusively focused on artists based in Britain.
However useful this may have been, much can be done today to reconsider the complex tendencies that went on under the one designation of conceptual art. This exhibition looks at four artists from this multiform ‘movement’, whose interests focus particularly on integrating image and concept, in what has been called elsewhere: “picturing”.
Anti-Form and dematerialisation of the object, focus on process, situations and participation were the common denominators for artists that would experiment with film, photography, installations, performances, land art, language, and politics. As Harald Szeemann put it, ‘they are ‘forms’ derived not from preformed pictorial opinions, but from the experience of the artistic process itself’. Such a common ground brought multiple approaches within the arena.
Craig-Martin, Hemsworth, Hilliard and Stezaker acknowledged that unsolicited images pop out in our daily environment and find their way into the subliminal. Their position was however very distinct from Pop Art, most notably in their opposition to the emphasis on consumerism. They took a radical view on demystifying as opposed to celebrating the image, even when prompted by the vitriolic wit of Warhol. Dematerialisation is not necessarily a matter of material substance. Found, captured, appropriated, or even obliterated, a picture can be any allusive crop applied on the real in its relation with an Idea.
Craig-Martin, Hemsworth, Hilliard and Stezaker played a pivotal role in the articulation of conceptual art in Britain and have all in the course of these last forty years developed highly successful international artistic, as well as academic careers. By bringing a combination of recent works and those from the 70’s, Picture This reflects retrospectively and brings forward the depth of their activities by linking them to their active present.
Michael Craig-Martin, born in 1941 in Dublin. Studied Fine Art at Yale University School of Art and Architecture. Moved to London in 1966. He initially used ready-mades, and later fused conceptualism with minimalist art and color field paintings. As well as having achieved an international career with numerous museum exhibitions, he was a leading teacher at Goldsmith College for the BA course and is widely acknowledged for his role in fomenting the YBA generation.
Gerard Hemsworth, born in London in 1945. Studied at St. Martin’s School of Art, London. His work plays with the inner contradictions of the image, Postminimalism and the subversiveness of representation. International solo exhibitions include The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, Ridgefield, CT 2009. Until recently, Professor of Fine Art at Goldsmiths University of London, where he was Director of the MFA Fine Art.
John Hilliard, born in Lancaster in 1945. Studied sculpture at St. Martin’s School of Art in London. His work addresses the issue of language and representation through a systematic exploration of the photographic medium itself. His active participation in many solo and group exhibitions (since 1969), including retrospective museum shows in Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland, is complemented by his authorship of numerous articles about art and photography. Teaching at the Slade School, University College London, he has been Emeritus Professor in Fine Art since 2010.
John Stezaker, born in Worcester in 1949. Studied at the Slade School of Art in London. From the start of his involvement with conceptual art he has been using the photographic image to conceptualise the representation of time and action, a position he has continuously developed, extracting from film stills to newspaper clips and archival material, the subliminal connections captured within the language of collage. His academic career includes teaching at St Martin’s and The Royal College of Art.