Conceptual Art In Britain 1964 – 1979 Tate Britain – 20 August 2016

Having read the Guardian article in preparation for the visit to Tate Britain I was not expecting that much from the visit.  ( One of the reasons I decided to attend this study visit was because my tutor suggested I go and see something which I would find challenging.

However despite my reservations I found many of the exhibits and accompanying materials fascinating and absorbing. In the New Frameworks section there was a discussion via the artworks about 2 paths:-

  • dissolution of sculptural form
  • introduction of textual language into painting

I thought the transitional art pieces – Six Sculptures by Bruce McLean ice, leaves, stones etc showing art being measured as a physical event thought provoking.   Since the 60s we have seen so much of this kind of work it was difficult but necessary to project backwards to a time when these concepts were first being achieved.

Six Sculptures 1967-8 by Bruce McLean born 1944
Six Sculptures 1967-8 Bruce McLean born 1944 Purchased 1973

Art & Language

It has been “suggested that the meaning in art might lie now with the material object itself, but with the theoretical argument underpinning it”. (post Clement Greenberg, Arts & Culture,  1961)

Pieces I Found Interesting

I was going to try to do a walk through review  mirroring the exhibition and pamphlet but have decided that I will list those works which I found interesting and engaging and what I got out of the experience.

The Casual Passer By – Branco Dimitrijevic – photograph taken of a random person and then posters put up on the bus route that passes the art school.

25 feet, 2 hours – Victor Burgin – 8 x 5 card index ordered A – Z and photographs. “The works meaning resides not in the object or the photography but in the questioning from the viewer of the passage between them”.

25 feet two hours 1969 by Victor Burgin born 1941
25 feet two hours 1969 Victor Burgin born 1941 Presented by Tate Members 2010

“I have decided to go to the Tate Gallery next Friday ” – Keith Arnatt – statement as artwork

The Lunch Triangle – Stephen Willoats 1974 – 3 scenes and response sheets filled in by visitors – the role of the viewer.

Dedicated to Unknown Artists – Susan Hiller 1972-6 – 300 postcards of waves crashing on British shore – the artist has “become the curator of an unknown category of miniature artworks”.

Dedicated to the Unknown Artists 1972-6 by Susan Hiller born 1940
Dedicated to the Unknown Artists 1972-6 Susan Hiller born 1940 Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund 2012

Stephen Willats, Living with Practical Realities  1978 –  Large complex photograph showing old person who has been re-housed into a tower block:-

  • Living with the confines of my new home
  • Living with the present day limitations of a small income
  • Living without the certainty that I will see someone tomorrow
Living with Practical Realities 1978 by Stephen Willats born 1943
Living with Practical Realities 1978 Stephen Willats born 1943 Purchased 1981

Post-Partum Document  – Mary Kelly 1975 – “my lived experience as a mother and my analysis of that experience”.


I am finding it difficult to summarise what I got out of this exhibition but the following springs to mind:-

  • Greater awareness of the layers of meaning and the devices for achieving that which were introduced through the work of artists during this particular period of time
  • Diversity of materials which were introduced to give voice to ideas
  • The role of the viewer in terms of the interpretation of the works
  • The importance of the theoretical underpinning that gave/gives rise to an artwork

I was truly blown away by the complexity of the pieces – particularly the ones that I have mentioned. Although they might have appeared to me in the past to be rather dull or not “arty” enough, i.e. not painting, sculpture I found myself very engaged by their content and drawn towards the cerebral qualities of the pieces.

In some ways I felt overwhelmed by some of them in that they encompassed so much in relatively simple execution. They are satisfying in ways that I had not until now appreciated.

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