I like these beginnings.
Not in the “Sentences on Conceptual Art” but somewhere else Sol Lewitt writes something like, the great thing with conceptual art is that you can always cheat a little in the end to make it beautiful.
Sweet words but perhaps not that easy to decipher. It would be a bit too cynical to interpret the sentence as market benevolent or simply sloppy.
It’s intriguing that Lewitt stresses the end. Why in the end and not in the middle or half way, beginning. It seems like his work is carried by an instance of insight and when he know, or have been able to navigate the insight, it’s not so important to state it. At that time, in the end, let it be beautiful.
Too often I wonder if that sentence or conceptual in art hasn’t been reversed into roughly, the great thing with art is that you can always cheat in the end by adding a conceptual edge – or even worse, adding some conceptual -, thus fencing the work from all kinds of attacks or viruses. You can always say it’s conceptual and that’s “Oh yes, I understand…”
Conceptual in art is like diplomatic immunity in politics. When conceptual is added in the end, like some icing, it might just be called smart ass, and it definitely inscribes itself in dominant, if not down right male discourse. Conceptual in the end is like a father who responds to the teenage child “Because I say so.”
Conceptual in the beginning, as departure – like Sol had it – instead unveil a desire for transparency or a kind of exposure, if not dissolving of subjectivity. Not in the sense of Duchamp or minimalism where the point was to erase the artist’s subject, the trace of the artist – a gesture that often has been read as humble and a kind of glorious stepping down from a romantic male heroic image of the artist, but in fact functions the opposite way around. When Andy Warhol proposes the he wants to be a machine, it’s not cool it’s quite romantic and comes out as a desire to manifest the artist as superhuman or to reveal the human/heroic/genius be denying it.
Sol Lewitt’s conceptual is not a matter of denying or obscuring the artist’s subject but instead of remaining and faithful to something that has been set in motion, a process that might iterate a completely different subjectivity. To something that stays open – which means that it cannot be closed through a solution – but requires the coming into being of something or an experience that has yet to be given or acquire a name, an ambivalence to gain stability.
With a bit of a stretch one could even ponder the possibility that – contrary to the conceptual guys obsessing with semiotics – Sol Lewitt’s work is queer. Queer not in the end, i.e. representation, but as or through a process that asks for nothing except devotion and that in the end is beautiful.