Graduate Seminar: Comparative Conceptualisms– LA/MENA [Latin America/Middle East/North Africa]
This seminar explores how conceptual art—that is, art devoted primarily to generating and manipulating ideas rather than visual appearance—has been made and used by artists in Latin America, the Middle East, and other territories of non- and anti-First World engagement with perceptual and material absences arising from political and economic change. It aims to proceed as a decentered inquiry. Whereas one history of Conceptualism might begin in the early 1960s amid shifts in language theory and white-cube museum politics in the North Atlantic art world, often seemingly resulting in esoteric and even elitist works, this course focuses on accounting for the many other impetuses to contemporary artists’ turns to conceptual redefinition, including populist and democratic activism, underground communication, radical institutional critiques, and affective work with desirous sensoria. Building on the instructors’ expertise in histories of such conceptualisms in Latin America and the Middle East, we will explore a transnational assembly of sites, networks, and artistic trajectories that produce and distribute conceptual art outside the presumed market “centers” of London and New York. Case studies include so-called postwar conceptualism in Beirut; insurgent work from Argentina and Brazil during times of dictatorship; Iranian “information arts;” institutional critique in the West Bank; and the Palestinian-Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar. Throughout, we pursue a strategy of critical comparative studies that pivots on a Global South/Global South axis.
We ask: What are the parameters for conceptual strategies to disrupt circuits of value and meaning in the art world at different scales, with “local” audiences or in capitalized spaces at-large? To what extent do the stakes of conceptual practices shift in different historical conjunctures? Can we tell a history of conceptualism without assuming the norms of political or market representation associated with certain anti-capitalist or antiwar struggles? What are the expanded (or, perhaps, contracted) possibilities for following changes in modern and contemporary art from the perspective of “concept”?
Class sessions will be conducted as a collective discussion of the assigned readings. Toward that end, we will inspect specific artworks together as well and designated discussion leaders will prepare and present slides of selected works.