When art is seen as an idea

In the broad range of practices and theories that are encompassed under the term conceptual art, the group of mainly British artists known as «Art & Language» have made one of the most influential and distinctive contributions. The four original founding members voiced a rigorous theoretical position about art via their journal Art-Language, first published in 1969. Like many conceptual artists, the Art & Language members emphasized artistic intention, examining the context of art and the intellectual, rather than just visual, properties of art. They also traced the relationship between art and language, especially an linguistic analysis of concepts of art. As Terry Atkinson wrote in the editorial of the the first issue of Art and Language, «The content of the artist’s idea is expressed through the semantic qualities of the written language.» Along with David Bainbridge, Michael Baldwin and Harold Hurrell, Atkinson was one of the group’s founders. Soon Joseph Kosuth, whose influential «Art after Philosophy» was published in 1969, joined as the journal’s American editor. Atkinson left the group in the mid-1970s, by which time the group’s membership had grown in numbers. But as initial concerns about conceptual art came to a relative impasse – thus opening the way for a second generation of conceptual artists – members started to drop out, leaving only Baldwin remaining of the original members. Although the work of Atkinson followed a slightly different course after his departure, his approach to art was a continuation rather than a break with his Art & Language days. This continuation is the subject of a retrospective on the artist currently being held at the Hellenic American Union. In a rare opportunity for the Greek public to become acquainted with the work of one of conceptual art’s most radical and intellectual advocates, the exhibition includes works from the late 1960s to the present, with a focus somewhat more concentrated on the artist’s post-Art & Language artistic output. Works with political context are typical of this period. «World War I,» one of his most important works of the time, and his famous «Stonetouchers» series of a few years later (the work was awarded the Tate Gallery’s Turner Prize and is included in the exhibition) are both representative of Atkinson’s political concerns, which include issues such as the Cold War and Anglo-Irish relations. The critique of art As Atkinson himself writes in a small leaflet that accompanies the exhibition, his art in the ’70s and ’80s was primarily driven by political issues. This changed in 1986 when, just as in his early work, philosophical concerns (primarily a concern with the philosophy of mind) re-entered his artistic quest. But throughout his career, the underlying concept behind Atkinson’s work has remained uninterrupted. As Atkinson notes in the exhibition’s pamphlet: «If the work I have made over the past 40 years (say 1960-2002) has a characteristic concern running through it, it is a concern with making a critique of art rather than a celebration of it. Put simply, my argument for this is something like this – that a critique is a better instrument than a celebration for developing art practice.» The retrospective on Terry Atkinson is on at the Hellenic American Union (22 Massalias, tel 210.368.0000) until December 14.

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