This Not That

Conceptual art intrigues me, it always has done — of all the art sub-genres, conceptual art is probably the most controversial, and comes in for the most criticism by far. No other art form inspires such incredulous public outrage, and the many newspaper headlines regarding the purchase of conceptual pieces by public bodies could make a very interesting collection of work in themselves.

Duchamp, the father of conceptual art, Broodthaers, Meireles, Michael Craig Martin and his seminal “An Oak Tree”, Richard Long, and the amazing Louise Bourgeois — between them have produced an incredible and enduring body of experimental and boundary-pushing works of art. The argument still rages, of course, regarding our definition of art and whether these pieces should fit within those pre-defined boundaries. To me there is no argument, and the intense feelings of fascination and intrigue, the urge to delve further and deeper, are paramount — when I stand before these works there is no question of their creative integrity.

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I was luck enough to be given “This Not That” for Christmas, a DVD of John Baldessari and his conceptual work since the 1960s. I visited his 2009 exhibition at the Tate Modern quite a few times, it kept just pulling me back. His earlier work, in particular the experimental work of the 60s and 70s, stands tall in the conceptual world. Every piece made me want to rush out with my camera and my brushes and play, just to try out a fraction of the ideas he pushes around canvas, film and paper.

The DVD is a fascinating portrait of the man, filmed in 2006, presented as a long interview with the artist and his friends — he takes us around National City to the places where he took the photos which formed the body of work of the same name. We see him in his studio  producing work, teaching his students, and supervising the installation of works. We even get to see archive footage of him destroying his older works in 1970. Relatively humble, Baldessari comes across as a normal everyday man, an artist for the people.

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The concept which appeals to me most, the overriding theme which carries his work beyond the crowd, is the elevation of the ordinary to the extraordinary. I identify with this theme on all levels, and it’s something I have developed in my creative, photographic and written work since the 1990s, and it’s what my work has always aspired to. I hope I can do the concept justice.