Aktion: Conceptual Art And Photography (1960 - 1980) review
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Forget how many words a picture is worth; what about how many ideas it’s worth? This neat little show is filled with art where ideas are captured in images. The thing you see isn’t necessarily the work, but a representation of the concept… which is the work. You follow? It’s conceptual art through photography, essentially.
It’s slippery and complicated, sure. But take Dennis Oppenheim’s ‘Reading Position for Second Degree Burn’. The top half of the image features the artist lying on a beach, a book splayed open on his chest. The bottom half is him five hours later, burnt to porcine pink perfection, save for a square of pure white skin where the book had been. It’s not really a photo, it’s an idea.
The same goes for lots of the work here. Like Eleanor Antin’s series of images of black boots in different parts of the USA. The galoshes represent displaced people, a powerful political statement. But what makes this piece work isn’t the images, but the way they were distributed – shared as postcards, becoming a piece of mail art in the process. Again, it’s the idea that wins.
There are clever works here by Marcel Broodthaers and Hans-Peter Feldmann as well. But too much here strays from conceptual art and its relationship to photography into documentation of performance art. It may seem like not much of a distinction, but it makes a difference. One captures an idea, a concept, the other is documentation of something that happened once. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that, but it is a lot less interesting.