Tate Explores Conceptual Art in 1960s and 1970s Britain

Conceptual Art in Britain

Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 -1979 will show how artists working in Britain transformed the nature of art. This exhibition will trace the course of this pivotal movement from its origins in the mid-1960s through to the late 1970s, bringing together 70 works by 21 artists. Opening in April at Tate Britain, it will demonstrate the radical, thought-provoking and politically-engaged nature of this defining period in art history.

Conceptual artists made ideas the essence of their art. This exhibition will position conceptual art not as a style but rather a game-changing shift in the way we think about art, how it is made and what it is for. Conceptual art emerged during a time of political and social change. Surveying a period which spanned Harold Wilson’s first Labour government to the election of Margaret Thatcher, it will show how conceptual art drew its material and content from the real world. The exhibition will showcase how conceptual artists took art beyond its traditional boundaries and questioned how it was defined. Seminal works will include Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree 1973 – a glass of water on a glass shelf, alongside a text suggesting possible meanings of the work – and Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) 1967 – a pile of fruit from which visitors are invited to take a piece. 

Conceptual artists often employed theory and philosophy to produce work that invited analysis and enquiry rather than purely contemplation. Influential figures such as Art & Language, Keith Arnatt, Richard Long, Bruce McLean and Stephen Willats prioritised ideas, concepts and artistic process over material form. The exhibition will examine how artists questioned the nature of art and addressed issues of society, politics and identity, including Victor Burgin’s critique of modern consumerism, Possession 1976, Mary Kelly’s examination of the mother-child relationship in her Post-Partum Document 1974-8, and Conrad Atkinson’s Northern Ireland 1968 – May Day 19751975-6, which uses photography and text to represent different points of view in the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The exhibition will feature the work of such artists as Sue Arrowsmith, Braco Dimitrijević, Barry Flanagan, Hamish Fulton, Margaret Harrison, Ed Herring, Susan Hiller, John Hilliard, John Latham, Bob Law and David Tremlett. It will also provide a unique chance to see over 250 archival objects rarely on public display. The exhibition will frame a multiplicity of voices and positions, revealing the key role played by British art schools such as Saint Martin’s School of Art, the Royal College of Art and Coventry School of Art in the formation of a ground-breaking generation of artists. Seminal exhibitions at the Tate Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and ICA will also be explored. Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 –1979 will trace the course of conceptual art to demonstrate its intrinsic engagement with the spirit of its time, and reveal its implications for the art of today.

The exhibition is curated by Andrew Wilson, Curator Modern and Contemporary British Art and Archives, with Carmen Juliá, Assistant Curator Contemporary British Art. It is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue by 

Conceptual Art in Britain 1964 –1979 12 April – 29 August 2016 (Press view 11 April 2016) Tate Britain, Level 2 Galleries Open daily from 10.00 – 18.00