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Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment

October 26 through December 29, 2002

A major international exhibition of ground-breaking
Conceptual art from the 1960s at BAM/PFA

The University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is proud to present Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment, a major traveling exhibition organized by Independent Curators International (ICI), that investigates art created during an era of dramatic political and cultural change. Comprising more than eighty works by twenty-one artists, the exhibition takes an unprecedented look at parallel developments in art in Eastern and Western Europe and North and South America. Beyond Preconceptions explores the global reach of Conceptualism, a movement that reflects the turbulent social and political changes of the 1960s. It includes artists not well-known in the West alongside many who have attained worldwide fame, and presents an important selection of works including many that have rarely been exhibited together. Among the artists featured are Eva Hesse (United States), Joseph Beuys (Germany), Marcel Broodthaers (Belgium), Lygia Clark (Brazil), Hanne Darboven (Germany), Ilya Kabakov (Soviet Union/United States), Mangelos (Yugoslavia), Bruce Nauman (United States), and Hélio Oiticica (Brazil).

During the 1960s a synergy evolved among artists who were looking for alternatives to established modes of art making and exhibition. Beyond Preconceptions demonstrates how a select group of artists, working more or less concurrently in different parts of the globe, translated similar radical ideas into a range of artistic approaches that varied according to their specific cultural, social, and political influences. Artists questioned what art was, abandoning traditional painting and sculpture in favor of new materials for making art, and developing new aesthetic categories such as books as art, language as sculpture, and painting as document. These artists placed an emphasis upon idea over form, process over result, and a preference for the ephemeral over the permanent. Their work challenged not only the very definition of art, but also fundamental concepts such as the role of the audience, and the notion of authorship. Far from simply fashionable or trendy, these new models for art continue to be an important influence upon artists today.

Much of the artwork of the 1960s was made in response to global politics and events. In particular, World War II exerted a profound influence on many European artists, perhaps most notably the German Joseph Beuys, whose experience of the war led him to believe in the need for an entirely new model for civilization, including a new definition of and role for art. Beyond Preconceptions includes Beuys's Filzanzug (Felt Suit) of 1970, one of an edition of 100 life-sized men's suits made entirely of gray felt. The fabric, one of Beuys's primary mediums, relates to an episode during the war when the artist, injured after his fighter plane was shot down, was cared for by Tartars who covered him with layers of felt and fat to raise his body temperature. By creating art out of this readily available, industrial material, Beuys undermined the notion of art as a precious commodity intended only for the enjoyment of connoisseurs.

Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, who developed what she called a "therapeutic" art practice that called for the active participation of many individuals, also used clothing as artwork. Clark's Clothing – Body – Clothing of 1967 consists of two suits, one to be worn by a man, the other by a woman. The suits are linked by a rubber "umbilical cord" that each wearer is meant to discover in the pocket of the other's suit. While Beuys's suit is a metaphor for his body, and the felt a metaphor for warmth, insulation, and primitive covering, Clark's clothing takes as its subject touching and feeling between man and woman, and turns art into action. Indeed, bodily experience is integral to the work of many South American artists of this period, transforming the meaning of both art and audience.

Other works in the exhibition similarly push traditional definitions of art to new and unconventional levels. Hanne Darboven bases her work on numerical and linguistic systems; Lawrence Weiner, On Kawara, and Marcel Broodthaers base theirs on text, while artists including Jiri Kolar, Edward Krasinski, and Eva Hesse make wall hangings and objects from rope, latex, cotton, wire, and other materials not usually associated with art.

Thanks to the artists whose works are explored in Beyond Preconceptions, and to their Conceptualist colleagues around the world, the definition of art has been immeasurably broadened to embrace a wide scope of materials, forms, and meanings. Once thought to be an endgame—where do you go once the art object is diminished or eliminated?— Conceptualism has, on the contrary, proved to be enormously influential and adaptable, remaining a focus of contemporary exhibition and criticism. Visitors to the exhibition will learn about the origins of artistic practices that are taken for granted today, but which were nothing short of revolutionary some three decades ago. The open-minded and innovative attitudes of the first generation of Conceptualists, and their merging of art with the life around them, have now become fundamental to our understanding of contemporary art.

Catalogue
Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment is accompanied by a catalogue, published by Independent Curators International. It includes contributions by Paulo Herkenhoff, director of the 1998 São Paulo Bienal and adjunct curator at The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Milena Kalinovska; British philosopher Michael Newman; Lawrence Rinder, curator of contemporary art at the Whitney Museum of American Art; Czech writer and critic Jana Sevcíkova; and Jirí Sevcik, former director of the Museum of Modern Art, Prague, and a professor at the Prague Academy of Art. The catalogue includes sixty color illustrations and is available at the Museum Store, hardcover $29.95 (call 510-642-1475).

Public programs
What is Conceptual Art? Exploring the similarities and differences among experimental artistic practices of the 1960s in three distinct cultural and political contexts—the United States, Latin America, and Eastern and Central Europe—a critic and two artists offer perspectives from their individual experience and first-hand knowledge of Conceptualism in Sunday Gallery Talks.

Gallery Talk: Blake Stimson
Sunday, November 10, 3 p.m.,
Galleries 2 & 3
A U.S. critic takes on Conceptual Art in South America. Blake Stimson is an assistant professor in the Art History department at UC Davis and coeditor of Conceptual Art: A Critical Anthology.

Gallery Talk: Tony Labat
Sunday, November 17, 3 p.m.,
Galleries 2 & 3
A Cuban-born artist confronts Latin American Conceptual Art. Tony Labat is an instructor at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Lecture: Off the Top of My Head, Tom Marioni
Sunday, December 8, 3 p.m.,
Museum Theater
An American artist addresses Conceptual Art internationally. Tom Marioni, founder of the Museum of Conceptual Art (1970–1984), will focus on the art of Eastern Europe, where he traveled and lived in the early 1970s. Following the lecture, Constance Lewallen, Senior Curator for Exhibitions, will engage Marioni in a discussion of West Coast Conceptual Art.

Guided Tours
Tours of the exhibition are offered on selected Thursdays at 12:15 and 5:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. by Art History graduate students including Julia Bryan-Wilson, a 2002-2003 Townsend Center for the Humanities Fellow who recently taught a course at Berkeley titled "Contemporary American Art: Expanding the Museum."