QUEENS MUSEUM OF ART, NEW YORK
"Global Conceptualism" made two claims. It suggested that Conceptualism - the visual presentation of a linguistic idea - was an international phenomenon and that its emergence was inextricable from the leftist, postcolonial politics of the '60s and '70s. Both arguments implied a critique of previous formulations. First, the show pointed up the Western bias of such important earlier surveys as the Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris's "L'art conceptuel, une perspective" (1989) and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art's "Reconsidering the Object of Art, 1965-1975" (1995). Second, by promoting a notion of Conceptualism as political intervention, the exhibition weighed against a more reflexive, "formalist" post-Minimal activity, aka the "Conceptual art" proposed by Sol LeWitt and Joseph Kosuth in the late '60s.
Did it work? The standard story of Conceptualism, which leads from Johns, to LeWitt, to Kosuth, is ripe for revision, and the show offered ample evidence that the infusion of language into postwar art was not limited to North America and Europe. But if"Global Conceptualism" escaped such Western-centrism, its highlighting of the "margins" at the expense of the "centers" made for a tendentious show. The exhibition downplayed American efforts, and not only, one suspects, because the organizers assumed their familiarity. Where Japanese artists like Yoko Ono and Matsuzawa Yutaka and South Africans Willem Boshoff and Malcolm Payne showed several works, LeWitt was represented by a minor book, Lawrence Weiner by one statement. Important figures like Ed Ruscha, Mel Bochner, and Dan Graham were nowhere to be found. Squeezing the US and Canada into a single antechamber dubbed "North America" while according Japan and Korea entire installations suggested an overzealous attempt to rewrite history rather than a laudable effort to open up the Conceptual paradigm. The capacious salons devoted to Latin American work implied that Mexico City and Buenos Aires, more than New York and Los Angeles, were the dominant sources of Conceptualism in the Western Hemisphere. At its worst, "Global Conceptualism" was canon reformation of the crudest kind.
By simply replacing the canonical with the noncanonical, the "formal" with the engage, the show offered a revisionist account as slanted as the most centrist presentation. More ironic, perhaps, was how this repackaging of Conceptualism for the '90s never considered its own social location. Using terms like "globalization" and "linkages," the organizers (a team of eleven, headed by former Queens Museum director of exhibitions Jane Farver, artist Luis Camnitzer, and scholar Rachel Weiss) unwittingly rehearsed the buzzwords not just of the academy but of corporate culture as well. That is to say, the notion of Conceptualism proposed as a radical antidote to so-called formalist Conceptual art was articulated in the language of late-capitalist expansion, just as the show itself could be mounted only through the support of multinational corporations. …