Voices Off: Reflections on Conceptual: Art & Language

Art & Language. Hot–Cold (Letterpress artist's book), 1967–1968.

Art & Language. Hot–Cold (Letterpress artist's book), 1967–1968.

The name Art & Language was first adopted in 1968 to refer to a collaborative practice that had developed over the previous two years between Michael Baldwin and Terry Atkinson, in association with David Bainbridge and Harold Hurrell. Over the next several years it stood for a collaborative practice with a growing and changing membership associated with the journal Art-Language, first published in May 1969, and subsequently with a second journal, The Fox, which was published in New York in 1975–76. Joseph Kosuth was invited to act as American editor of Art-Language in 1969. In the following year Michael Ramsden and Ian Burn merged their separate collaboration with Art & Language. Charles Harrison became editor of Art-Language in 1971. By the mid-1970s some twenty people were associated with the name, divided between England and New York. From 1976 on, however, the genealogical thread of Art & Language’s artistic work was taken solely into the hands of Baldwin and Ramsden, with whom Harrison continues to collaborate on projects such as the present essay.

We write as the representatives of an artistic practice that has been counted a major contributor to the conceptual art movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s and that has persisted in continuous though varied operation to the present day. Our purpose in writing is to argue for an independent view of the stuff and character of that movement and of its legacy. This requires that we critically consider what has come to be accepted as the authoritative account of the art of our generation and of the crisis of modernism from which it is supposed to have emerged.


In the world of academic art history and art criticism, considerable industry has been devoted in recent years to establishing the terms of the postmodern settlement. In all competing accounts, the conceptual art movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s plays a crucial part, though there are considerable differences in the ways in which that movement is defined and the roles it is accorded in the succession from modernism. In its widest popular usage the term conceptual art serves well beyond the historical confines of the movement in question to designate a continuing current of art that is generic, in the sense of owing little or nothing to the material traditions of painting or sculpture. In its slightly more restricted art-world sense and, indeed, in the world of artists, conceptual art has been waved as a banner proclaiming various rappels a` l’ordre and purifications and as a headline for various career moves. In academic narratives, however, conceptual art tends to be defined by reference to the crisis of modernism in the 1960s and in terms of specific relations of difference with high modernist abstract art. Driven by an overdeveloped sense of the necessity of the succession, the account of this crisis and of the relations in question has been widely conventionalized. It has also acquired a marked teleological aspect.

Among the assumptions characteristic of this account is the notion that the dematerialization of art is of some descriptive and explanatory relevance;[1] that minimalism was not a kind of modernism; that, relative to conceptual art, a greater virtue resides in an art of institutional critique; and that the post-Duchampian object represents a rich resource of semiological possibilities. When these assumptions are taken in sequence, the conclusion to which they conduce is that the significance of conceptual art’s critique of modernism is to a large extent exhausted by its reinauguration of some relatively overt political content and by its reinvestment in the Duchampian generic. This critique is understood as addressed to modernist notions of autonomy—its sundering of art from history and truth and of avant-garde practice from social practice—and to the sexist, elitist, and imperialistic interests served by the untenable claims to disinterest that are made in modernist theory and criticism.

There was substance to the charge that the modernist institutions had become socially and politically hegemonic and dissuasive. It does not follow, however, that the modernist project was bereft of virtue, that all modernist aesthetic judgements were wrong or malign, or that all modernist art was complicit in sexism, elitism, and imperialism. While there were many modernist artists who were by no means immune to such negative charges, many of them sustained political commitments more radical than those vaunted routinely by the liberals of the soi-disant postmodern academy. That these artists did not embody the possibility of social change in their work—at least not without difficulty and without somewhat allusive argument—does not make them guilty of all the sins of the epoch. It is nevertheless widely assumed of the modernist project as a whole that it was an institution necessarily overthrown in the course of the succession.

A dominant academic account of conceptual art is now associated with the American journal October, an account given considerable weight by its representation in the recent art-historical study Art since 1900, by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. A seemingly unmessy orthodoxy narrates a succession, from the crisis of modernism through minimalism, that entails a split into two modes of conceptual art: an institutional critique that is approved and a kind of apostate modernism that is not. In its aspect as institutional critique, conceptual art could have no relation but a stark negativity toward that which it succeeded and in particular toward modernism’s institutional and political imbrication; on the other hand what remains of conceptual art is characterized as lacking that critical negativity, as effectively complicit in the sins of modernism, and as devoid of virtue. Buchloh, for instance, describes Art & Language’s “self-criticality” as “late-modernist” and remarks that “Clement Greenberg’s American-type formalism had kept English artists (up to and including members of the Art & Language group) in its spell for an astonishingly long time.”[2] In Buchloh’s terms this is to put Art & Language beyond the pale.

We accept the bifurcation up to a point. While we agree that there is a form of conceptual art that procures its meaning and identity largely from the fact that it enjoys quasi-canonical status as institutional critique, we argue that there is another form that is capable of producing institutional critique inter alia but whose relation with modernism and with minimalism is more complex, less mechanical, less literal, and less sentimental. This latter form is not culturally exhausted by the claim that it produces institutional critique. It is necessary to express our acceptance in this oddly conditional form because, as we shall see, the expression “institutional critique” goes to very few useful differentiae.

We shall deal with the account of the succession in terms that question its teleological critique of modernism. Our approach will be to try to characterize conceptual art’s development from the detail of our own experience as artists (and so on) and through discussion of the typical valuations of the prevailing academic account, particularly those that concern the art of institutional critique. It is by looking, at the outset, through the lens of this account that we hope to see better into the other spheres in which conceptual art resonates.


The voice that carries any challenge to the truth of the assertion that institutional critique was the most substantial practice to emanate from the minimalist and conceptual critique of modernism is now a voice off. Indeed, it is a voice off that is likely to be talked over by the actors at the center stage of institutional critique. The center stage performance, however, depends on some strange arguments and ruses. Appearing slightly downstage from the main academic performers is a group of representative artists: Marcel Duchamp, Dan Graham, Marcel Broodthaers, Hans Haacke, Daniel Buren, and Michael Asher.

In Foster’s account, the particular significance of the Duchampian ready-made is that it “allowed him to leap past old aesthetic questions of craft, medium, and taste (‘is it good or bad painting or sculpture?’) to new questions that were potentially ontological (‘what is art?’), epistemological (‘how do we know it?’), and institutional (‘who determines it?’).”[3] Subsequently, according to Krauss, Duchamp’s E ́tant donn ́es, installed in Philadelphia, “by lodging itself at the heart of the museum . . . was able to pour its logic along the very fault lines of the aesthetic system, making its framing conditions appear in startling clarity only to make them ‘strange.’ . . . The ‘institutional critique’ that will now focus on the museum as its site will range from Marcel Broodthaers’s work in Belgium to Daniel Buren’s in Paris to Michael Asher’s and Hans Haacke’s in the United States.”[4] Foucault’s historical critique of knowledge presides as a philosophical guiding spirit: “Foucault’s strategic acknowledgment of the unacknowledged frame of the university, his unmasking of its political imbrication, was soon adopted by artists who wished to unmask the interests at work in the institutional frames of the art world. Called ‘institutional critique,’ this revelatory strategy informed the work of Daniel Buren, Marcel Broodthaers, Hans Haacke, and many others.”[5]

Of Broodthaers, Buchloh writes, “His intention was to expose as empty Conceptualism’s claim to having established a truly democratic, egalitarian art form that had transcended the object, its forms of distribution, and its institutional frame, instead denouncing all such claims as typical avant-garde myth and self-mystification, and opposing them by making persistent reference back to the continuing (if not increased) validity of all those methods Conceptualism claimed to have left behind.”[6] What we have here is an apparent antithesis between the “realistic” art of institutional critique and an idealistic, self-mythologizing conceptual art. In Buchloh’s account there is—as one might expect—a kind of conceptual art that is virtuous insofar as it is inflected by institutional critique. For example, Graham’s Homes for America (1967) is celebrated as “one of the key moments of Conceptual art . . . [when] modernism’s (and Conceptualism’s) supposedly radical quest for empirical and critical self-reflexivity is turned in on itself and onto the frames of presentation and distribution. . . . The artist’s model of self-reflexivity dialectically shifts from tautology to discursive and institutional critique.”[7]

Similarly, “Haacke’s work shifts attention from the critical analysis of the work’s immanent structures of meaning to the external frames of institutions. Thus Haacke repositions Conceptual art in a new critical relation to the socioeconomic conditions determining access and availability of aesthetic experience, a practice later identified as ‘institutional critique’” (“SHA,” p. 29). The correct lineage is established through Duchamp and Fluxus. According to Buchloh, the latter “initiated many key aspects of Conceptual art, such as the insistence on viewer participation, the turn towards the linguistic performative, and the beginnings of institutional critique.”[8]

This is the conceptual art that bathes in the light. The conceptual art consigned to the dark by the October writers inherited modernism’s tendency to self-reflexivity and “tautology,” and yet, as “exposed” by Broodthaers, “assumed that it had itself been able to transcend the frames within which modernism is institutionalized” (“B,” p. 551).


We make two contentions in respect to this recital. Our primary argument is that the characterization of conceptual art that is in the dark is in some important instances false. That is to say, the conceptual art in question is not in fact monolithic, and the criticisms do not apply across the board, irrespective of whether or not institutional critique is a supportable genre. Our second contention is that the arguments in favor of institutional critique that we cited are badly made, inconsistent, and dependent upon the would-be redemptive and in fact largely sentimental insertion of social content into certain kinds of (post)minimal art. Supplementary to these contentions, we argue that the price the Octobrists pay for the bifurcation they make is that it blinds them to the real conditions that vitiate the work that they see as virtuous and leaves them with an anachronistic nostalgia for a battle long over in a conflict that nevertheless continues. As a consequence they are also made unaware of the potential for institutional critique that resides less self-importantly in the practice of the conceptual art they reject.

It may be noted from the above representative quotations that the claims made by the October authors on behalf of institutional critique have a consistent rhetorical form: the generation of putative antitheses. Artists they favor have usually gone beyond, transcended, or outdone others from whom favor is withheld. This latter group has committed sins, or heresies, or registered other failures that are usually modernistic but are rarely otherwise described in any substantial particulars. They are transcendental sins, attributed so that the favored may be seen as virtuous.

In the case of Graham, for instance, the virtue of his work resides in its shifting of conceptual art’s agenda from “tautology” to institutional critique. (The association of conceptual art with tautology picks out a slogan of Joseph Kosuth, though he is not named. In fact it often seems as though October’s sense of conceptual art-in-the-dark is almost exclusively predicated on Kosuth’s “Art after Philosophy,”[9] though the consequences of this predication are felt by others, ourselves included. While we do not pretend that we were never associated with Kosuth, it would be a serious misrepresentation to suggest that we and he ever spoke with one voice.) In the case of Broodthaers, it is through his exposure of the “false egalitarianism” of conceptual art and his inhabiting “those structures that would have to be called supplements—the page of the catalogue, the site of the poster, the framing device of the institution—that [he] denies the continuing validity of an aesthetic of centrality, of substantiality and by so doing also denies the commodity status of the work of art, for the supplement can never itself acquire value” (“B,” p. 553). These are the means by which he performed “the kind of challenge to institutional frames that poststructuralists such as Foucault were then theorizing.”[10]

We address these two examples as typical of the form and substance of the October authors’ arguments. It may be noted that Graham’s Homes for America was not an entirely unprecedented work. It is not at all unlike Robert Smithson’s essay “Quasi-infinities and the Waning of Space” (1966) or Mel Bochner’s and Smithson’s “Domain of the Great Bear” (1966), at least in terms of it being a series of variously captioned photographs. The subtitle of Graham’s architectural-cum-social critique is “The Early Twentieth-Century Possessable House to the Quasi-Discrete Cell of ‘66.” Smithson describes it with a curious simile: “Like some of the other artists, Graham can ‘read’ the language of buildings. . . . The ‘block houses’ of the post-war suburbs communicate their ‘dead land areas’ or ‘sites’ in the manner of a linguistic permutation.”[11] In fact, compared with Smithson’s “collage essays,” Graham’s Homes for America was, in its first incarnation, a relatively straightforward photo-essay and factual critique of California-style tract housing, published in a magazine and distributed accordingly.[12]

This is what Buchloh means, perhaps, by his claim that it “integrates the dimension of distribution into the conception of the work itself ?” (“SHA,” p. 28). The work was always intended to be in a magazine and not on an art gallery wall. However, Buchloh’s claim that “self-reflexivity is turned in on itself ” is barely intelligible. He is not too concerned here with the essay-and-picture content of Graham’s work but with the circumstances of its distribution. And it is within these that the dialectical shift is to be found.

Homes for America is a strange work to load with the making of the shift, if a shift it is. Graham had been or was a poet. Throughout the 1960s, poetry magazines and other artsy and literary journals had published all manner of poem-and-graphics combinations, prints, and embellished pages that readers were invited to consider as first-order works of art. Insofar as these were not reproductions but works, the dimension of distribution was integrated into the “conception of the work itself.” Furthermore, insofar as they were producing texts, most conceptual artists were obliged to consider the “frame” of their distribution in the very ordinary sense that their words and graphic stuff might naturally belong in a publication. There were indeed many who saw the supposedly antielitist possibilities in this, pretenders to a subversive refusal to be co-opted by the gallery. So far, so sort of good: Graham qua conceptual artist made early use of magazines to exhibit and distribute some of his work. It is nevertheless hard to understand how this turns “modernism’s (and Conceptualism’s) supposedly radical quest for empirical and critical self-reflexivity” in on itself.

We might say that Graham’s subject matter was somehow current in the liberal culture of New York. For Buchloh, however, the power of institutional critique is not invested in the (rather mild) architectural critique but rather in the reflexive doubling of conceptual art’s dialectical model that is associated with the work’s presence in a magazine. Are we to assume that this turning-in on itself is more than a mere doubling of the supposedly radical quest? Or are we to understand this dialectical shift as a sort of double negative? The self-reflective artwork—art that is about art—is now art that is about art-that-is-about-art. And it is so by virtue of its being distributed in a form that implicitly criticizes or disimbricates the gallery and support structures of modernism.

It is hard to see how the double aboutness that seems to be ascribed to the work distinguishes it from the kinds of minor modernist artwork that are bound into magazines or, for that matter, from those that are issued as multiples. Smithson had previously produced magazine collage essays without necessarily dignifying them as art. (It should also be pointed out that the photographs from Homes for America have over the years undergone various technical improvements, resulting in a newfound critical appreciation. They are now fine photography and subject to an altogether different dialectical regime.) What we have seen is a false antithesis. Conceptual art is transformed in having its “quest” for “self-reflexivity turned in on itself.” In fact, a doubling of aboutness characterizes most conceptual art. The false antithesis goes, of course, to a false dialectic. The capacity for institutional critique is ascribed to Homes for America and denied to other forms of conceptual art. It seems that institutional critique is not here a property that distinguishes one work from another but an axiological term that signals approval. The mechanism by which the approval is gained appears to be a practical one, such as might one day be subject to Foucauldian study.

In order to come to Buchloh’s conclusion we are obliged to begin with a set of premises that are posited a priori. The chief among them is that Graham’s is a radical institution-critical practice; the second is that modernism’s and conceptual art’s quest for self-reflexivity was often a misguided concern with the ordering of form or with something worse called tautology. If we accept the first premise, we are also accepting a dimension of distribution over which Buchloh and Graham themselves preside. That Graham’s career profile has for one reason or another been identified as radical is good enough for the dialectic to follow. If we accept the second premise we are traducing modernism to some extent and definitely traducing almost all conceptual art. If we reject the premises then the claim is empty.

Regarding Broodthaers’s supposedly Foucauldian institutional critique, the orthodox account is not without difficulty. Foucault shows the singularity and contingency and thus the evitability of aspects of modern social being that are often presented as universal, necessary, or inescapable. His notion that philosophy can be (or should be) critical history involves analysis of the conditions of the possibility of particular thought systems. He is not, however, concerned with their epistemic status, nor does he accept a priori conditions of knowledge. He argues, rather, that certain statements function as knowledge at certain times and within certain conditions. His historical studies are supposed to assist the criticism of systems of thought and the practices that are informed by them. But in order to render this assistance, he seeks to reveal certain historical conjunctures that supply the a priori conditions, as it were, for certain systems of thought to be treated as knowledge.

What Broodthaers supplies—in the form of a late surrealist assemblage—is a “what if ?” as an alternative to the institutional norm. But only through some attenuated analogy in the mind of a particularly suggestible curator could this be thought to embody an aspect of Foucauldian interrogative. And that is on a very good day. Krauss supplements the fraudulent drama of Broodthaers’s Foucauldianism with a remark that has him surpass the critical power of Duchamp: “If Duchamp had wanted to expose the museum as conventional, Broodthaers is now displaying it as simulacral.”[13] It is indeed the case that Duchamp “exposes” the museum as “conventional” in the sense that the significance of his work is told against a background of aesthetic normativity; that is to say, a real or imagined normativity is required by Duchamp’s gesture and a fortiori required for it to be successful. In Broodthaers’s case, however, Krauss’s conditional is shown to be vacuous. While we see in Broodthaers’s work a wacky simulacrum of a museum exhibit, the gestural content relative to the museum is irreducibly Duchampian. The relation of “surpassing” and the antithesis that that implies are the mere illusions of a pushy rhetoric.

Buchloh endorses Broodthaers’s “intention” to expose the emptiness of conceptualism’s emancipatory claims. In the course of a few years in the 1960s many claims of this nature had indeed been made, most of them by journalists and conceptual art entrepreneurs whose distributional fantasies had gone to their heads without any help from Walter Benjamin. These claims were largely refuted in practice or in words by the artists—by any artists worth bothering with, at least. While the cheaply made booklet and other allographical forms burgeoned, so far as Art & Language was concerned these were either ways to change the normative relations between artist and artist and artist and critic or were forms that might be phenomenologically investigated. Insofar as Broodthaers actually did denounce any avant-garde myths, he was denouncing a fabrication on the part of conceptual art hangers-on or, more likely, a necessary fiction of his own devising.

The vagueness and imprecision of Buchloh’s encomium creates problems for his account of Broodthaers’s challenge to the institution and to conceptual art. He places great weight, for example, on the artist’s “denial” both of an aesthetic of centrality and substantiality and of the commodity status of the work of art. Was this denial something Buchloh extracted from Broodthaers’s professional self-description—from his perhaps professionally melancholic personality—or is it somehow compelled by his work? In pursuit of an answer to this question we might cast an eye on a sample of that work and on the circumstances of its installation. Some Art & Language work was included in Documenta 10 in 1997. An extensive component of Broodthaers’s much celebrated Museum of Eagles—the Section Publicit ́e of 1972—was installed at the same Kunstmesse, where it had originally been seen twenty-five years earlier. Space is restricted at this kind of event, and the sight of one work may tend to overlap the anxious territory of another. Broodthaers’s work was originally installed close to some work by the Archigram group from their Instant City project of 1969. The directors may have thought that there would be an interesting resonance. In the event Archigram’s work tended to show the Broodthaers to a certain disadvantage. The artist’s widow and daughter were soon in tearful action. A sort of standoff ensued until a solution was brokered by the Marian Goodman Gallery—which was offering the work for sale at approximately one million dollars. It seems that this work had achieved a high degree of centrality, substantiality, and commodity status. Indeed, Broodthaers’s picturesque, consumable, and often posthumous work had already achieved blue-chip status by the time of Documenta 7 in 1982.

In addressing the arguments made on behalf of an art of institutional critique we have been less immediately concerned with the work of the artists involved than with the terms of their canonization, depending as these do on a politically naive understanding of the succession to modernism and on the characterization of conceptual art through a number of false antitheses. We now return to the moment of conceptual art’s emergence during the late 1960s and early 1970s and to consideration of the high modernist and minimalist art that immediately preceded it.


The in flagrante case for the exhaustion of modernism concerns the loss of critical potential in the modernist painted surface. The problem with the surfaces in question was that they imposed no descriptive task upon the viewer that was not already rehearsed in a litany. That a litany was indeed what was involved seemed to be confirmed by the physical circumstances—the galleries—under which the representative works were normally encountered, designed as these appeared to be both to emphasize and to protect those surfaces in all their rarefaction and vulnerability. In 1963 Greenberg wrote of the paintings of Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski that their color and formal properties “are there, first and foremost, for the sake of feeling, and as vehicles of feeling.”[14] To the skeptical viewer, however, what the paintings appeared to express was no more and no less than the prescriptive power of the critical claim. It was as though the precepts that had schooled the construction of the surface functioned also to school the experience of the viewer.

Greenberg concluded, “If these paintings fail as vehicles and expressions of feeling, they fail entirely.”[15] It was a theoretical condition of probity in modernist criticism that there could be no merit in aesthetic success where no risk of failure was run. But the failure at issue was always conceived of as risked by the individual artist and work, never as a possibility within the system as a whole. It is now conventional wisdom, however, that by the early 1960s the entire Greenbergian dialectic had run into Frank Stella and the blank canvas.[16] The dialectic was fast running out of negative energy and the discourse was confined to a set of protocols and minor disagreements within a narrow field that was policed by the cognoscenti. Increasingly, the dialectical drama within the discourse of high modernism had to be staged and became in this sense increasingly inauthentic. Those who consumed the best stuff did so in a way that did not preclude them from celebrating the worst of work that also obeyed the rules. The litany remained capable of explaining why good was good, but it did not admit of explanation as to why its terms of approbation could be applied to bad painting with the same success. Not only had it become a prisoner of corporatist agencies, the Weltanschauung of these agencies had infected the operation of modernism’s internal dialectic.

While there is an exceptional fraction of high modernist work that preeminently rewards attention—that is to say, is possessed both of a considerable aesthetic power to which its virtuality is necessary and of a largely lucid and relevant critical discourse—the social life of both the art and the discourse had become decadent. We might then say that, even when the litany of virtue seemed to be worth going through because the painting or sculpture amounted to something more than a dry rehearsal, the kitsch of the attendant social milieu acted as a repellent. In Greenberg’s terms, however, to suggest that there was a social price to be paid for assenting to aesthetic success was to commit a vulgar foul. The possibility of critical discourse was thus confined; either one repeated the formula or one was driven outside into a second-order discourse.

As the occasion of a kind of methodological failure, the moment of exhaustion of high modernism has been widely observed and theorized. It has been less often considered as a kind of social degeneration; minimalism provided an important resource in this respect. While its typical objects did not pay off experientially in the way that a painting by Louis or Noland did, at one and the same moment they constituted an asymptote of modernist formality and yet remained at a sufficient distance from modernist orthodoxy to invite conversation about just what kind of objects they were. They showed the case they were making, as it were. In particular, what minimalism made explicit were the circumstantial considerations that modernism had ignored or attempted to hide, those factors that constituted the physical, institutional, and social framing of the art object and its accompanying litany. Minimalism thus saw itself as a constructive opposition, its own deliberations being critically addressed to high modernism on terms that were soundly rebuffed by Greenberg and Michael Fried but that high modernism itself had cause to entertain. Minimalism also made clear its connections to such “unprivileged” aspects of the culture as vernacular architecture and beltway industry, manifesting a certain pride in particular kinds of technical know-how and a critical class consciousness vis-a`-vis antic European sensibility for the precious, the handmade, and the relational.

It should be acknowledged that to speak of minimalism in general is more or less to misrepresent it. There are relevant distinctions to be made between the respective works of Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, and Smithson that depend on significant technical and material details. What we can say is that in talking about minimalism we do not mean exclusively to invoke a sense of primary structures but rather to refer to a congeries of practices united by a sense of need to raise questions that modernism had dismissed as irrelevant or illicit. Smithson was distinctive among those who asked why so small a part of human contrivance was to be quantified and interpreted as art. “It’s not the gallery that matters but the art,” says the modernist. “What if the art is a bit of the gallery removed?” asks the minimalist. The very situatedness of minimal art-its rendering explicit of its dependence on physical context—compellingly inaugurated some form of institutional critique. It didn’t actually require Homes for America to turn the trick.

It would be false, however, to suggest that the technical aesthetics of minimalism were exhausted by its role in creating the conditions of institutional critique. Such soi-disant radicalism would have been of little concern to Flavin, for example. The generic character of the industrial lighting products from which he fashioned his work makes their technical description or specification in some sense equivalent to an allographic work—a score or stage direction relative to which the actual lights were a form of exemplification, as might be the case with a specific performance or a particular action by an actor. The production of the work entails no technical complexity beyond its putative description or specification. In 1967, LeWitt wrote that “when an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.”[17] The types of minimal object that such statements invoke are the partial archetypes of certain forms of conceptual art, among them Lawrence Weiner’s Statements (1968), some of Robert Barry’s work, and Art & Language’s Air Show (1967), at least so far as concerns the latter’s unreflective first moves.[18]

In this respect, a certain minimalist route to conceptual art seems secure, obvious even. What emerges as relatively insecure—and perhaps less obvious—is the pathway to conceptual art from high modernism. There were many—ourselves included—who were at the time genuinely bemused by the refusal of the modernist critics to assimilate any of the discourse of minimalism. That the essays of Morris and the general chat of minimalism were dogmatically dumped outside the bastion erected by Greenberg and Fried suggested that some other way had to be found to colonize the walls.

The thought that gave rise to this last realization had a relatively complex and ambiguous structure. The position of the modernists seemed to be simultaneously well founded and absurd. Notwithstanding the dogmatism of their defense of painting—and consequent defense of a certain bounded virtuality that occupied the vertical surface of the wall—it did seem more or less successful, at least as a defense of the nonliteral. For instance, it was clear that Fried’s “Art and Objecthood” was a quite robust defense of the gallery wall against the literal objects, including a special class of such literal objects that were a bit like or a lot like paintings.[19] On the other hand, minimalism did seem to propose a genuinely critical and constructive challenge to modernist orthodoxy. For example, “How do you make ‘a Noland’ that is not spatial—in Judd’s sense—but literally flat?” is a question that might be thought of as logically motivated by modernism’s own reductivism and that therefore serves to render that reductivism practically explicit. However, while the dialectical power of minimalism’s critique thus seemed undeniable, that critique nevertheless depended on an ignorance or misapprehension of those substantial arguments according to which literal flatness runs into difficulty as a tendency continuous with early modernist painting.

It did seem possible, therefore, that a countervailing critique might be essayed, one that recognized the mechanical plausibility of modernism’s historical reductivism—to which minimalism and dematerialization were still largely in thrall—but that nevertheless still sought to preserve some sort of wall-bound virtuality (if only in terms of equivalence). The observation that prompted this critique was that the fault in modernist theory lay in the incommensurability of its commitment to virtuality with a reductivism that inexorably invited literalism. Its pursuit was justified in part by a concern that the intellectual and imaginative space that virtuality had kept open would be closed down by a logically collapsing argument for literalism before that space had been thoroughly explored.


It is a relevant consideration that, although minimalism may indeed have seemed to represent a return to something like a robust reality in the face of a modernist surface shrouded in cheap mystery, the technical operations of certain minimalist artists tended to generate potential textual substitutes for the supposedly literal objects. From these there developed more or less immediately a pair of conceptual art genres. The first of these was the text-as-readymade. This was a kind of postminimalist literal object that, taken directly from the pages of books and dictionaries, was possessed of the properties of a displaced literal object and, reproduced or blown up as a photostat, was instilled with a certain pictoriality and thus with a certain distance from minimalism. Such works sustain a kind of ambiguity. They are composed of textual materials, are of a more or less semantic and syntactical form, as it were, while at the same time recontextualized in the art gallery or museum. Text works of this order vary from the Duchampian exercises of Bernar Venet to the more complex quasi paintings that are Kosuth’s Definitions. The point here is that the artist’s voice is not present in the text in question, which tended to be selected simply for the task of generating an atmosphere of intellectually high birth and purpose.

The typical exemplar of the second postminimal genre was a text whose logical form remained closer to that of the minimalist working out of physical particulars and that was thus, to some extent, authored. The artwork of this second type seemed to offer a critique of the literal object in a different sense, invoking what John Hyman has called “the insipid thought” that a picture is a bit like a description.[20] The page, as well as the wall-mounted text, is structured to produce effects (meanings) that are categorically distinct from the mere means of its physical realization. It can only be a literal object when construed as a surface that has been inscribed or as mere text. And the very fact of a text’s relatively weak or mobile sense of medium specificity (whether page, wall, or other) drove away for a moment the fear that minimalism was going to reduce the art object to a decorative subarchitectural genre of literal objects.

There are, of course, degrees to which an attempt to construe the internal structuredness of the language of a text will thoroughly detach it from a world of literal objects. There are texts—ones that might or might not be singled out as works of art in themselves—that are the equivalent of speech acts or ostensive behavior and that seem to single out and more or less appropriate ordinary objects or parts of the world as works of art (or something like them.) One example might be Barry’s Something Very Near in Place and Time but Not yet Known to Me (1969), where it is not the printed text but the “something” in question that is the intended “art object.”[21] We need to distinguish texts of this second type from those works of art whose physical form consists in the literal presence of such objects, as well as from those texts of the first (readymade) type that are a marginal subset of the class of literal objects.

The problem with the postminimal readymades of the first type was that they tended to inherit the unnecessarily crude and sterile ontology that was minimalism’s answer to wall-bound virtuality, the proposition that the literal is a secure category. For all their apparent radicality in the face of high modernism, such enterprises joined a long roster of exotic appropriations to which late-late surrealists, avant-garde poets, members of Fluxus, and Robert Rauschenberg had been adding since at least the early 1950s, albeit in a spirit of insouciance with regard to the authority of Greenbergian theory that the postminimalists could never match.[22]

In contrast, what is distinctive about those works of the second type that have the character of quasi speech acts is that they oscillate as installed texts between, on the one hand, the occupation of the gallery wall (as quasi paintings) and, on the other, the objects these texts designate or lay claim to; this claim is made in the relatively simple form of a phrase or declarative sentence or injunction (explicit or implied) that effectively says, “The art object under consideration is this hitherto non-art object.”

It may have seemed at the time that it would be possible simply to continue nominating in this way ad infinitum. A nonliteral subspecies of the generic art object would thus be formed. In being nonliteral it would supply a negative (minimalist?) value and in a figurative sense a dematerialization because of the absence of the object referred to or nominated. In doing this it would occupy a constructive niche in modernism’s negative dialectic (a niche that the work of Lawrence Weiner, for example, might be thought to have securely occupied). However, whether as wallpaper or as publication, such acts of nomination require a very particular act of charity on the part of their readers or viewers, unlike work that represents the larger genus of post-Duchampian objects. The artist makes, in general, the assumption that his gnomic appropriation is somehow transparent to his interlocutors and that the actual opacity of it can be waved away by the radicality of his gesture. Certain intellectually and socially restrictive consequences follow: the artist is likely to be limited to a range of publicly ostensible middle-sized dry goods; successive gestures are likely to increase in banality; and what follows is a tendency to abandon the critical virtues of the oscillating textual form in favor of ever more Wagnerian graphic displays. This outcome drops the artist firmly into the hands of institutional management, which obliterates the work’s already faded dialectical history as it reduces that work to a decoratively subarchitectural genre: installed in neon, on illuminated hoardings, or as painted lettering across the facades of public buildings. In furnishing material for spectacle, the nondiscursive appropriating gesture thus completes a vicious circle. As thus conceived and practiced, conceptual art risked a rapidly increasing banality in gestural content and a consequent vulgarization of technical means.

As far as Art & Language was concerned, the excitement of the post-minimal artwork-as-text was exhausted by 1968. On the one hand, in those works in which the text itself came ready-made there seemed not to be enough work to keep the producer intellectually awake. In the case of those texts that were presented as quasi speech acts, on the other hand, there could be little real progress made in the conversation that ensued from the nominating or appropriating gesture. Rather, what gave the artwork in linguistic form some projective potential was the realization that as soon as the appropriative text was written (or rather typed), some debate necessarily ensued as to the appropriate or natural condition in which it might be encountered: the page or the wall. If the work colonized the wall it seemed possible that the text could provide some sort of equivalence to or be a substitute for modernistic virtuality and flatness, while still satisfying the critique of modernism’s unsustainable claim to technical (and historical) continuity by reduction. What was of interest was not the tension between the wall-mounted textual artwork and the notional object it picked out. The potential for development was contained in the very oscillation. In other words, the wall-mounted text seemed to preserve a baby of virtuality that minimalist literalism had been about to throw out with the bathwater.


It transpired, then, that the dangers of increasing banality and vulgarization might be avoided by recourse to a textual form that began life as an artistically insecure object. This was a text that might indeed begin with some kind of appropriative gesture towards a quasi readymade. But the gesture in question was quickly subject to interrogation: What are we or you talking about here and how are we or you doing it? As a consequence, the gesture lost its appropriative character and itself took on the aspect of an inquiry. There were other risks to be encountered, however; among them was the risk that the putative art object at which the text seemed to want to point would be lost in discursive opacity and erasure (or failure). But these were risks that it seemed the artwork had to take if it were to recover an agency that had been removed by the culture of the post-Duchampian object, an agency that refused to hang around passively while the art world and its instrumental operations decided what to say in ratification.

The vicious circle that returns to spectacle was avoided through the recognition of the potential opacity of the appropriative language and the social life it implies, in seeing that the nominated object is not given transparently in the artists’ speech or writings and that the latter are plugged into a realm of differences that are made by the speech and writing of others. The postminimalist object that had been figuratively dematerialized in the virtuality of text was thus brought back to the dialectical reality of social life and was in this sense subject to a rematerialization. In the process “my work” tended either to be negated by or subsumed into “the work.”

It would be wrong to assume that the appropriative gesture (or declaration) was immediately and explicitly subject to such social and conversational correction and complication. One started off with a fairly conventional sense of the artist’s individuality and agency. The text was initially conceived as a means to produce something like a way of seeing at the artist’s behest; it was not the work but the medium of presentation. There was the ostension and the thing being ostended: in Art & Language’s case, for instance, a description of a column of air and the column of air itself;[23] in Weiner’s a statement such as “A river spanned”[24] and a river somehow spanned in actuality or in imagination. But it is true that the time of such things was necessarily brief. The more extended and discursive the text, the more inescapably it generated uncertainty concerning the transparency of the ostensive gesture (or declaration) itself and thus, inter alia, concerning the independence of the object in question, and the more distance it created from those stereotypes of artistic agency—endemic to modernist practice and ideology—in which the artist’s gesture is necessarily decisive, whether that gesture results in a readymade or in an eight-foot-high abstract painting. Insofar as it made a public show of this uncertainty, what might be correctly characterized as a merely reflexive—and in this sense putatively modernistic—dialectic in fact served to expose what was normally hidden. To that extent it embodied a decisive element of social critique.

While Buchloh is almost right to suggest that Art & Language (and Kosuth) understood the readymade in a manner that “foregrounded intentional declaration over contextualisation,”[25] he is thoroughly wrong, first, to assume that what he calls declaration forms a contrasting pair with contextualization and, second, to imply that declaration necessarily involves transparency. Transparent or not, a perlocutionary act, or declaration, implies a social context. If the transparency of the act is put in doubt, then inquiry into the nature of that social context is unavoidably entailed. The social context entails readers who may also be writers. In Art & Language’s case, the lengthy text acts acquired readers. To read these works was to put them to practical use. They were not literary texts but porous, open, and discursive things constituting a new genre, a form that invited the reader-as-writer’s intervention.

Text and hors-texte were thus rendered unstable forms in a genre that was constantly menaced with disappearance or absurdity. The distributional mode of these texts was largely toward an erotesis that demanded a reply. Insofar as it presumed a kind of conversational exchange, the genre was critical of the distributional mode that sought to place an artistic fait accompli before a large public at low cost: art through the mail, art on billboards, and so on. In saying this, however, it should be noted that these were texts (works), printed and circulated in various ways (through our own journal, Art-Language, for instance), that were frequently unable to make up their minds regarding the constructive agency of their interlocutors. They were also forms that emerged amidst a host of other more or less discursive try ons, try outs, and emergency conditionals.[26]

Some examples of these transitional forms are found in the Art & Language books Hot-Cold (1967) and 22 Sentences: The French Army (1967). These are books whose logic is partly formed by the order in which pages are turned. Hot-Cold raises a set of questions concerning relational concepts of quality and quantity exemplified by the terms hot, cold, warm, and cool. 22 Sentences: The French Army examines the possible differentiae and identity conditions of a complex aggregate like the French army. (It would be, incidentally, a French-speaking army that would contain an avant-garde.) What is noticeable about these two books is that a dwindling vestige of the declaration-to-unassisted-readymade remains. But, as we have said, the ostended readymade stands in danger of incremental banality as declaration succeeds declaration. Hot-Cold and 22 Sentences: The French Army do indeed seem to ostend or to appropriate certain objects at their margins, but these are objects whose ontologies are complex and fugitive. While Weiner’s One Standard Dye Marker Thrown into the Sea may well be conceivable as a concrete though not at all unassisted readymade, the thermodynamic properties—or the qualities—of things (hot, cold, and so on) are virtually impossible to gather into the fold of the readymade.[27] The French army is similarly an outlandish candidate for membership in that quasi-Duchampian category. Neither object was capable of being appropriated as middle-sized dry good or as a lump of physical geography. No empirically ostensible object remained. Instead, there were processes and conditions in which certain objects might be brought under description.

Of course, declaration and many other overtly ostensive forms had by this time all but disappeared, being replaced by interrogatives, or by ordinary declarative sentences that announced an intention to examine or to consider a certain possibility. What had begun at the edges of the readymade had by now passed through various transformations. The first of these occurred as the declaration or ostending text began to supplant a literal object that was now only to be imagined or entertained as a conjecture. One such conjecture was raised in the editorial introduction to the first issue of Art-Language : “Suppose the following hypothesis is advanced: that this editorial, in itself an attempt to evince some outlines as to what ‘conceptual art’ is, is held out as a ‘conceptual art’ work.”[28] At moments such as this, the text began to enter the margins of institutional theory itself, the cultural discourse of some sort of art world. To begin with it remained as a mere deposit or gesture.

The second transformation occurred as the text acquired a recursive or discursive property. This property was acquired by virtue of certain often undifferentiated and simultaneous tendencies: instrumentalism (different operations define different concepts), essentialism (how you do your singling out determines what you single out), or a certain diffidence regarding the possibility of an hors-texte (there is no object that escapes the discursive text; the text will have to suffice). In other words, as more and more complex or hard-to-describe objects fell within the “intended” quantificatory range of artistic discourse, so these objects were captured within the forms of that discourse itself.

As the discursivity of the text increased, so the remaining sense of it as readymade-by-description-or-ostension weakened still further. Similarly, as the text ceased to function as a form that usurped the place of painting on the gallery wall, in the manner of one of Kosuth’s definitions, so the legacy of the containing frame also diminished. As both effects weakened, so did the power of those formal constraints on the length of the text that characterized the supposedly definitive postminimal genres of conceptual art as they were established in New York between 1967 and 1969. It was our experience at this point that the lack of formal constraint on the extent of the text allowed the mechanisms internal to its discursive production to take over. What drove the discourse in practice was no longer the need to produce the brief illusions of transparency but those recursive and dialogical processes by which the discourse itself was pursued and continued. This was a crucial moment in the establishment of what might be described as a new genre. Though we do not propose a label for this genre, its existence is suggested by a question not normally provoked by any literary genre: could one extend a text beyond the length of a characteristically postminimalist label or a poster and, if so, then how far?

A work from 1969 called Sunnybank will serve to illustrate the point. The gist is as follows: Consider the possibility of a work of art that is itself only a possibility, a wall that might be built between one backyard and another. There are no plans for such a wall, it is not necessarily envisaged. What then is the nature of such an object? Its nature is to subsist in our manner of speaking. Thus driven largely from within, there is no a priori natural limit to the extent of the text, which is now subject to social modes of augmentation, growth, and change. The work of art, such as it is—or, rather, insofar as the question of its status as art arises—now approaches an ontological condition closer to performance than to any pretextual literal object. This is not to say, of course, that it is literally performance. It is rather to say that the work of art would be impossible to characterize without a sense of the social conditions that are not merely its external determinants but its internally constructive principles as well.

This is what we made out of the definitive genres of conceptual art. It would be true to say, then, that for the purist this is also when we ceased to produce conceptual art and that we had already begun a conversational genre. To the historically orthodox, we have to say that the purist is correct. For us, if conceptual art was to have a future, then it was not as conceptual art and just as importantly not as the form of institutional critique that has been named as conceptual art’s virtuous and exceptional exemplar.


The narrative that has just been given supplies no positive account of distributive “democracy,” of dematerialization, or of any of the other over-wrought fantasies of the conceptual art entrepreneur. It offers an account that is not so much ignored by Buchloh, Krauss, and others as it is beyond their empirical, historical, and analytical means. It is an account of the production of an unstable object that eventually inaugurates a sense of a new genre, but a genre that embraces a degree of hybridity and that can finally neither lay claim to material and medium specificity nor decisively rule it out.

If the concept of institutional critique is not to remain pickled in sentiment it will need to be retheorized in terms of works that have sufficient intellectual agility and internality to put up a critical resistance to the institution as it mutates and develops. It is in this resistance that we may find some vestige of the autonomy that was lost in the transfiguration of high modernism into expensively framed money, lost again in the trajectory from minimalist literalism to institutional critique, and lost once more in the postmodern development of conceptual art into architectural adjunct. The apparent tokenization of the work of art is an institutional effect, not a prohibition against staying awake; nor, for that matter, is it a coercive cultural condition, however powerful it may be.

Consider then, the idea of the work of art as an essay that gives form and voice—often a ventriloquist’s voice—to a project. Consider further that this form is a fragment lopped off from a conversation—a performance of sorts that is always under the pain of erasure, conceived as both form and social reality. Finally, consider the possibility that “This is the work”/“I don’t think so” is the work.

This is a genre that is readily spattered with material forms. An interrogative and the discussion to which it gives rise may naturally invoke an essay or a heuristic in the form of a picture. Insofar as the outcome is exhibited it may be in the guise of a painting. But this is a painting that is in fact a form cut off from a usually larger whole—in the manner perhaps of a swatch or sample. And the picture may be of more than a thousand words or of none.[29] It will, if we are lucky or judicious, possess an internality or autonomy that it owes to its discursive origin, even as it loses that autonomy to the institution that frames it. It will be, as we have suggested, a performance of sorts. It will indeed be “a strange quirk in the fate of Conceptual art,” but then the form of conceptual art whence it came was itself strange.[30] We might say even that the mode in which such things as paintings answer to the discourse is one that approaches performance, as much perhaps as the mode of answering that is made by the not quite rock ’n’ roll lyric. (We have produced three LPs with The Red Crayola as well as a libretto for an opera.) In painting, we act the part, up to the limit of imposture. There are many possible positions to be occupied—one suspects a Xenoian infinity—between the painter and the actors of the Jackson Pollock Bar, working to a script by Art & Language, who have pretended to be Art & Language engaged in painting—and who, in doing so, have produced a painting of their own. These are positions as capable of embodying a near absence of cultural guile as an iterative and recursive knowingness. Once the genre is bound to its social use as discourse, there is little or no artistic identity to be lost—only the displaced tokens and impostures from which contemporary art fashions the episodes that keep capital interested.

Two putative artists and a putative art historian sat in a studio writing this.


1   Lucy Lippard and John Chandle ropen their 1968 essay on the dematerialization of art with an account of current trends in minimal and postminimal art: “As more and more work is designed in the studio but executed elsewhere by professional craftsmen, as the object becomes merely the end product, a number of artists are losing interest in the physical evolution of the work of art. The studio is again becoming a study. Such a trend appears to be provoking a profound dematerialization of art, especially of art as object, and if it continues to prevail, it may result in the object’s becoming wholly obsolete” (Lucy Lippard and John Chandler, “The Dematerialization of Art,” Art International 12 [Feb. 1968]: 31).

Hal Foster writes of the urgency of the question: “Is there a limit to the materiality of the art work, a zero degree of its visuality?” (Hal Foster, “Postminimalism and Process,” Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism, ed. Foster et al. [London, 2004], p. 534). The concept of dematerialization was of some marginal theoretical and speculative interest. As a kind of literalization of Greenbergian modernist reduction finally ending in thought forms and telepathy, it was, however, vacuous. As a countercultural idea about art that was of political and economic implication by virtue of its lack of commodity status, it was simply laughable.

2   Benjamin H.D. Buchloh,“ Photo conceptualism,” Art since 1900, p. 590.

3   Foster, “Tatlin’s Constructions and Duchamp’s Readymades, ”Art since 1900, p.128.

4   Rosalind Krauss, “Duchamp’s Étant Donnés,” Art since 1900, p. 499.

5   Krauss,“Foucault,”Art since 1900, p.548. There is some inconsistency in the various accounts of the initiation of institutional critique that are given in Art since 1900. While Krauss represents Foucault’s influential “revelatory strategy” as prompted by the events of 1968, Buchloh associates a shift from conceptual art to institutional critique with Dan Graham’s Homes for America in 1966.

6   Buchloh, “Broodthaers,” Art since 1900, p.552; hereafter abbreviated “B.”

7   Buchloh,“The Social History of Art: Models and Concepts, ”Art since 1900, p.28; hereafter abbreviated “SHA.”

8   Buchloh, “Fluxus, ”Art since 1900, p.456.

9   “Works of art are analytic propositions. That is,if viewed within their context—as art—they provide no information whatsoever about any matter of fact. A work of art is a tautology in that it is a presentation of the artist’s intention, that is, he is saying that that particular work of art is art, which means, is a definition of art. Thus, that it is art is true a priori” (Joseph Kosuth, “Art after Philosophy,” Studio International 178 [Oct. 1969]: 136). The apparent aim of Kosuth’s essay was to argue for a fully autonomous post-Duchampian art condition and to serve as a manifesto for the avant-garde idea of art as idea. Though parts 2 and 3 were published in subsequent issues of Studio International, the theoretical aspect of the essay is restricted to its first part, which has been much reprinted and also much criticized for its philosophical presumptions and arguments.

10   Krauss,“Post structuralism and Deconstruction, ”Art since 1900,p.42.

11   Quoted in Claude Gintz, L’Art conceptuel: Uneperspective, trans. Judith Aminoff (Paris, 1989), p. 155. The original slides that were meant to serve as the illustrations for Graham’s publication were shown in Robert Smithson and Nancy Holt’s loft in New York, probably in 1967.

12   Given the problematic etiology and ontology of Homes for America, it is not easy to be sure precisely what it is that Buchloh’s claims for its radicality should be tested against. The work began its public life under the title Project Transparencies as a sequence of some twenty photographic slides for the exhibition “Projected Art” at Finch College Museum of Art, New York, in December 1966. Graham referred to these in its instantiation as a photo-text article, “Homes for America: Early Twentieth-Century Possessable House to the Quasi-Discrete Cell of ‘66,” Arts Magazine 41 (Dec. 1966-Jan. 1967): 21–22. In fact his own photos were cut from the published form of the article, leaving as black-and-white illustration only an image taken from a real-estate brochure and a photograph of a wooden house by Walker Evans. A revised double-page layout by Graham, illustrated with his own photographs, was printed in various versions from 1970 onwards and was thereafter widely used as exhibition material. (A monochrome print of one of these photographs is reproduced in Art since 1900 and is referred to there by Buchloh as “Graham’s publication of one of his earliest works in the layout and presentational format of an article in the pages of a rather prominent American art magazine” [“SHA,” p. 28].) The artwork for Graham’s “original” layout as he subsequently envisaged it with photographs in full color is now in the Daled Collection, Brussels.

13   Krauss, “Magritte Joins the Surrealists,”Art since 1900, p.215.

14   Clement Greenberg,“Introduction to an Exhibition of Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, and Jules Olitski,” The Collected Essays and Criticism, ed. John O’Brian, 4 vols. (Chicago, 1993), 4:153.

15   Ibid.,4:153.

16   See, for instance, the account given by Thierry deDuve,“The Monochrome and the Blank Canvas,” Kant after Duchamp (Cambridge, Mass., 1998), pp. 199–279.

17   Sol LeWitt, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,”Artforum 5 (Summer 1967):79.

18   The textual materials that comprised Air Show were written by Terry Atkinson and Michael Baldwin in 1966–67 and were incorporated in a letterpress booklet; see Atkinson and Baldwin, Frameworks (Coventry, 1968).

19   See Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,”Artforum 5 (Summer 1967):12–23.

20   John Hyman, “Language and Pictorial Art,” in A Companion to Aesthetics, ed. David Cooper (Oxford, 1992), p. 264.

21   This was Barry’s contribution to the exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form” at the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, 28 Aug.–27 Sept. 1969. The “installation” of the work was effected by means of a printed notice on the wall. At that time Barry was represented by the avant- garde dealer Seth Siegelaub, whose views on the presentation of contemporary art were expressed in an interview with Harrison: “Whether the artist chooses to present the work as a book or magazine or through an interview or with sticker labels or on billboards, it is not to be mistaken for the ‘art’ (‘subject matter?’). . . . If it is made clear that the presentation of the work is not to be confused with the work itself, then there can be no misreadings of it” (Seth Siegelaub, “On Exhibitions and the World at Large,” Studio International 178 [Dec. 1969]: 202-3).

22   Rauschenberg’s contribution to an exhibition of portraits at the Galerie Iris Clert in Paris in 1951 was the telegraphed text: “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.”

23   This conjecture comprised the Air Show section of Frameworks.

24   This was Weiner’s contribution to “When Attitudes Become Form. ”It was indicated by a label on the wall, but no river was actually spanned.

25   Buchloh,“From the Aesthetics of Administration to Institutional Critique (Some Aspects of Conceptual Art 1962–1969),” in L’Art conceptuel, p. 47.

26   “This sense of permanent transition and instability brought us to what we called an emergency conditional. The work was theory (or something) just in case it was art, and it was art just in case it was theory. Could we say then, that in its strangeness it resonated with both?” (Art & Language, “Emergency Conditionals,” paper given at Kings College, University of London, June 2004, at a conference entitled “Philosophy and Conceptual Art”).

27   See Lawrence Weiner, Statements (New York, 1968).

28   Art & Language, “Introduction,” Art-Language 1 (May1969):1.

29   “A picture is not worth a thousand words, or any other number. Words are the wrong currency to exchange for a picture” (Donald Davidson, “What Metaphors Mean,” in On Metaphor, ed. Sheldon Sacks [Chicago, 1979], p. 45). But what if the picture is a thousand words?

30   See Krauss, “Art & Language Turns to Painting: A Strange Quirk in the Fate of Conceptual Art,” Art Press hors s ́erie no. 16 (1995). Our response was published in abbreviated form as “Rosalind Krauss: Un petard mouille ́,” Art Press hors s ́erie no. 17 (1996), and in full as “Northanger Abbey,” Art-Language, n. s. no. 2 (June 1997).