Global Conceptualism Reconsidered

In the fifteen years since the exhibition Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s was on view at the Queens Museum, the term global has become ever more thoroughly entrenched in the lexicon of contemporary art. Although one might therefore draw a direct line between the 1999 exhibition and the ever-present “global contemporary” of the art world, texts by two of the exhibition’s curators—Jane Farver and Rachel Weiss—which are published here, underscore an understanding of the global that has little in common with the market-driven associations the term has today.

In presenting a pre-1990s regionally defined globalism, Global Conceptualism did not attempt to blur the geographical boundaries despite the fact that a nascent transnationalism was evident in networked art, even in the 1950s. In the last fifteen years, much has changed in the ways that globality is thought about in museums, not least because of rapid changes in communication. As contemporary art traces similar paths to those of transnational financial flows, the emphasis on the global is rendered suspicious because of its deep entanglement with capital. Although neoliberal forces are certainly at play, the impetus for researching art from outside the traditional purview of US institutions must be understood as much more complex, in that it is also an attempt to understand the history of art scenes and movements that are growing ever more connected. Not only an impetus then, but also an imperative.

The term conceptualism has also been contested in recent years. If using the label makes available widely disparate works that respond to very different contexts, it is also guilty of flattening out the unique nature of propositions made by artists around the world. What can be learned today from an exhibition such as Global Conceptualism? How can the incommensurability of artworks created in different places be considered productively? Is the “global” exhibition defunct or do new curatorial practices that cast aside curatorial values such as coherence or chronological linearity (as Weiss suggests in her text) need to be developed? What alternatives might be sought to this model of exhibition?

This Theme, Global Conceptualism Reconsidered, offers an opportunity to think about these questions. It also offers the chance to reposition some of the materials published by post over the last few years. In addition to the two texts by Jane Farver and Rachel Weiss and an interview with Luis Camnitzer, the project directors, we asked the curators of different sections to reflect on their involvement in the exhibition, and republished here some of the reviews and installation shots of the exhibition.

Modern Art in the Arab World: Primary Documents – Art and Arab Life, a Questionnaire

Anneka Lenssen, Sarah Lookofsky, Sarah Rogers and Nada Shabout

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