Although works far earlier in the 20th century could be and are considered "conceptual," as a movement this is a late 1960s / early '70s phenomenon in which the idea or concept constitutes the real work. Installation, documentation, or action is just the vehicle for presenting the concept. Sometimes a verbal or written message conveys it and the artist foregoes any physical object. The Dadaism of Duchamp was a significant influence and inspiration, as was Yves Klein.
Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976)
Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, XIXth Century section (1968-1969)Joseph Kosuth
A fictitious Brussels museum wing serving as a reexamination of the nature of objects for display and of public display itself. Posters, packing crates, postcards, and inscriptions were included, along with Magritte-like labels such as "This is not a work of art."
Triumph of the Mussels / Casserole and Closed Mussels (1964-65)
The work is based on a pun: in Brussels, moule = mussels / mould. The green-tinted resin is reminiscent of sea. The work is a metaphor for Belgium and may be a satire on the Belgian bourgoisie.
One and Three Chairs (1965)John Baldessari (1931- ) -- In 1970 he burned all his previous works and joined the conceptual school.
A chair, a photograph of it, and a printed dictionary definition: a progression from the real to the ideal.
I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971)Joseph Beuys -- After being shot down over the Crimea during WWII, Beuys was saved by nomadic Tartars who wrapped his body in felt and fat. He subsequently used these materials as artistic symbols of healing and survival. Beuys also considered the artist a kind of modern shaman,channeling energy from objects and giving them new meaning.
The phrase is repeated on the surface like a school punishment.
The Pack (1969)Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)
Felt Suit (1970)
The stitched piece signifies human physical warmth, safety, and the shelter of life-protecting insulation. Common elements have healing powers.
Capri Battery (1985)
Invented on the island of Capri, this piece shows Beuys' interest in energy: the lemon is the energy source for the attached yellow light bulb. The included instructions read, "Change battery every thousand hours."
This Italian artist was signing people's bodies in 1961. But he is best known for Merda d'artista (1961). Manzoni canned, labelled, numbered, and signed 90 cans of his own excrement, selling it for the day's price in equivalent weight in gold.
Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.