Watching Conceptual Art: Bricks!

David Somers bio photo By David Somers Comment
Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII at The Tate in 1976

Conceptual Art: Bricks!, a documentary on BBC Four about and the reaction to the purchase in 1976 of Carl Andre’s Bricks by the Tate.

Yes, I am just about old enough to remember this when it hit, but too young enough at the time to really know what it was all about.

This was a fascinating documentary to watch, and, on a side note, the incidental music throughout was a great selection, bring back some memories of the time; music in that decade was not the best but the music editor managed to pick out some great gems from the dross.

At the time it caused a big stink in the press. People didn’t “get” conceptual art at that time and were highly suspicious of it.

From what I can remember, I probably first heard of it from John Craven.

And then the whole business of Peter Stowell-Phillips coming in and making a protest against the bricks by pouring food dye all over them. As a tax payer he objected to its purchase by Tate.

There were a couple of key comments from the talking heads about accessibility of art, and the informed spectator debate.

Matthew Collings [Writer and Artist]:

Even renaissance art isn’t accessible to anybody. Its a pretty difficult thing to know what all these symbols are.

Simon Wilson [Tate Education Officer, 1976]

Somehow people think that art is different from other complex areas of our culture. Art is like football: if you go to a football match, and you don’t know the rules, and you’re stuck up in the stands, there’s just a bunch of men running around the pitch — its meaningless. Art is like that. You need to know the rules. You need to understand the context. You need to know a bit about art, and you can’t get away from that.

I know there are people who vehemently disagree, but I’m with Wilson on this.

Richard Mophet's rebuttal in The Burlington Magazine
Richard Mophet's rebuttal in The Burlington Magazine

I looked up the rebuttal that Richard Mophet wrote to The Burlington. Great read!

Morphet, R. (1976) ‘Carl Andre’s Bricks’, The Burlington Magazine, 118(884), pp. 762–765–767.

The documentary finished by summarizing what all the protagonists were up to now. The bit that made me cringe was that Stowell-Phillips was still dismissive of the “bricks” and was now himself an amateur painter producing some rather uninspiring work.

comments powered by Disqus