Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English

Conceptual Art

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


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)
A fictitious Brussels museum wing served to reexamine 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.

Joseph Kosuth

One and Three Chairs (1965)
A chair, a photograph of it, and a printed dictionary definition: a progression from the real to the ideal.

John Baldessari (1931- ) — In 1970 he burned all his previous works and joined the conceptual school.

I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art (1971)
The phrase is repeated on the surface like a school punishment.

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, and of warmth and energy. Beuys also considered the artist a kind of modern shaman, channeling energy from objects and giving them new meaning.

The Pack (1969)

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 again in energy: the lemon is the energy source for the attached yellow light bulb. The included instructions read, “Change battery every thousand hours.”

Piero Manzoni (1933-1963)

This Italian artist was signing people’s bodies in 1961. But he is best known forMerda 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.

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.