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Examples of Conceptual Art

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Take the example of the installation entitled "Ballet of the Woodpeckers" by Rebecca Horn in the Tate collection. This is described in the catalogue as: "a large-scale installation comprised of eight large mirrors and mechanical hammers that appear to strike the glass", which is a more accurate description than the title the artist gives it. The work also includes some other random features like containers of mercury which are placed on the floor and occasionally for some reason another hammer strikes at a sheaf of charcoal.

What are we to make of this collection of objects? We peer into the mirrors which face each other and see regressing images ....which tends to happen when you place mirrors opposite each other as they used to do at fairs and at the seaside. The hammers move and have but passing resemblance to woodpeckers or ballet.

Perhaps anticipating this quandary, the gallery has affixed a considerable text to the wall which purports to explain the work. In fact it explains nothing about woodpeckers or ballet and little else about the work beyond incidents from the artist's life and the primal qualities of mercury and charcoal. Even with the help of the text, the installation remains a collection of disparate objects displaying an almost complete lack of meaningful content. Of a stream of visitors,over a period of about 45 minutes, few stopped walking to observe and those who did remained baffled by the work and the text. Perhaps because, as another description of her work admitted:

"The academic nature of Horn's work is enhanced by at least a minimal understanding of the "point" of her works – and coming upon them "fresh", one is not necessarily aware of their implications. "

This seems to me to be very revealing. What this statement says essentially (and I put it into other words to elucidate it's meaning!) is that notwithstanding the gigantic size and complexity of this installation, occupying a major gallery space at the Tate Liverpool, it is virtually unable to say anything at all on it's own account to a viewer who chances upon it unprepared. Presumably, only the academic viewer, well primed with knowledge about Rebecca Horn and replete with explanatory texts can start to make anything of it. What a comment on the emptiness of the installation artwork and the emptiness of a gallery ethos which exhibits such work!

The clipping below speaks for itself:

"Sex, death and maggots - it must be the Turner Prize
Oct 29 2003
Karen Price, The Western Mail

THE Turner Prize - three little words which provoke shock, horror and much moral outrage.
And the latest exhibition, which opens to the public today and celebrates the 20th anniversary of the £20,000 contemporary art prize, is set to cause the biggest controversy yet.
Forget Tracey Emin's filthy bed and Damien Hirst's pickled sheep - this year's contribution from Jake and Dinos Chapman is so sexually explicit it carries a warning.
The brothers' first sculpture Death depicts a couple of blow-up dolls positioned as if they are engaged in oral sex. It is a bronze cast realistically painted.
They have also updated an earlier work Great Deeds Against the Dead, created nine years ago and depicting mutilated bodies hanging from a tree. For their new work Sex the decaying body parts are seen with thousands of maggots, snails, flies and rats running over them and picking off skin.
Running along the wall behind the sculptures is the Chapmans' series Insult To Injury in which they systematically painted clowns' heads on 80 original etchings of Francisco de Goya's Disasters of War.
Among the other artists in the running for the respected prize are Irish video artist Willie Doherty, Scottish sculptor Anya Gallaccio and transvestite ceramicist Grayson Perry, who also adds controversy by carrying images of child abuse on his elaborate vases.
Several of the pots include figures of young girls in doll-like dresses. Perry himself often wears such outfits when he dresses as his alter-ego, Claire. One of his elaborately embroidered garments, entitled Coming Out Dress, is on display.
Art critics attending yesterday's preview at the Tate Britain were clearly shocked by the Chapmans' exhibits but said it was only to be expected from the Turner Prize.

"The Turner Prize always aims to outrage and shock - the column inches are so important," said Richard Fitzwilliams, art critic and former editor of International Who's Who.
"I'm the last person to dismiss the Chapman brothers as powerful and provocative artists but I do feel the way in which their work has been mischievously entitled is to gain sensation.
"I got quite a shock myself walking into the gallery and looking at the horrors of Sex.
"I'm not in favour of censorship but it's very wise that the gallery warned that these are graphic and disturbing images.
"This year's exhibition is memorable and imaginative but it's done calculatingly so you think 'It's Turner time all over again'.
"I wish the Turner Prize would grow up a bit and that I could walk out of a preview and feel it was about the quality of the works and not the way in which they are perceived by the critics.''
Past displays have included Tracey Emin's unmade bed complete with dirty underwear and condoms.
And last year the government was drawn into a heated debate when the then Culture Minister Kim Howells described the exhibits as "cold, mechanical, conceptual bull."
But Tate Britain's curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas defended this year's show.
"The Turner Prize always shows artists at the forefront of their generation," she said.
"It often shows work dealing with difficult or controversial issues.
"But it does not deliberately set out to shock.
"The Chapman brothers' prime goal is to illicit some sort of emotional response - whether that's shock or amusement."
She added that their work was not "very shocking".
"Blow-up dolls can be comical items and people are not offended - they are finding the work funny more than anything. And they are also amazed it is made out of bronze."
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