The Blur of Conceptual Art
On the Wall / The term “conceptual art” may be hard to comprehend. Isn’t all art drawn from a concept?
By definition, conceptual art is appreciated for the idea behind it, rather than the material or skill it took to paint or otherwise present the idea visually.
For example: “Blurred”, by Kay Rosen. She had an idea. Put “BLU” on one wall in blue paint, “RED” on an adjacent wall in red paint, and a purple “R” in the middle. It’s on view at the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Spalding House right now, but she didn’t send anything to the museum except instructions for their installation crew (in this case, Marc Thomas) to read as he painted her word on the wall.
Aaron Padilla, curator of education for the Museum and one of the guys who put the exhibition together, says it worked something like this: Jay Jensen, the curator of contemporary art, chose the work for the show. Then he contacted Rosen, sending her the layout of the galleries and selecting the spot, adjusting its dimensions with her through phone calls and emails. She then wrote back with the specific directions, such as how high off the ground and how big the letters should be, or what exact shade of Sherwin Williams paint to use. And Thomas adhered to those instructions exactly.
Looking at the piece for a minute, Padilla pointed out, “Calling it ‘conceptual art’ sort of gets in the way. I think of it in terms of reproducing the art. It’s not unlike a poem or fiction, or the reproduction of a print.” There’s a different way of distributing the art, from Rosen’s mind to Thomas’s hands. “It’s kind of like the art then becomes bigger than the artist,” says Padilla. “When you start looking at all those things and asking whose hands were actually on it, it becomes very blurred.”