Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment

  • Lygia Clark, Bichos, 1960.

  • Beyond Preconceptions, installation view, Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, 2001.

  • Beyond Preconceptions, installation view, Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, 2001.

  • Cildo Meireles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits, Zero Dollar, 1974-78.

  • Victor Grippo, Analogy IV, 1972.

  • Beyond Preconceptions, installation view, Paço Imperial, Rio de Janeiro, 2001.

Curated by Milena Kalinovska

The sixties was a decade of dramatic political and cultural change. Throughout the world, artists questioned the very notion of art as they searched for alternative theoretical models reflecting their own political and cultural realities. In particular, they reconsidered what it meant to make a work of art and whether it needed to be an object. As a result, many focused on the supremacy of conceptual ideas over an actual art object; others investigated in their work non-traditional qualities such as gravity, site, and integrity. Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment focuses on twenty-two major international artists. Their explicit acknowledgment of the importance of the physical aspect of a work places them squarely in the contested zone where the call to make an immaterial philosophical statement spars with the desire to create an actual work, using non-traditional, ordinary materials. While investigating these diverging positions, Beyond Preconceptions provides an unprecedented look at parallel art developments in Eastern and Western Europe and the Americas, and demonstrates how a select group of artists translated similar concepts into a variety of approaches based on each artist’s specific cultural, social an political situation.

The new models of art developed by these artists are shaping what a younger generation of artists is creating today. Their models significantly influenced institutional critique and the concept of authorship. They explored alienation in everyday life, and, in search of a collective dimension of art, provided new definitions of audience. As the artists questioned the very meaning of the art object, they referred to the conflicts between the market’s requirements and their own aspirations, coming up with new methods of art production. Some of the works in the exhibition were conceived as “living organisms,” “social sculpture,” “unknown language,” or “date paintings.” They were made from cheap, ordinary and often mass-produced materials, relics and recycled elements of daily life. Traditional painting and sculpture were abandoned in favor of new aesthetic categories such as books as art, photography as art, video installation, language as sculpture, or painting as document.

In Europe, the artists working in the sixties were still significantly shaped by the impact of World War II, which many of them had participated in directly. Joseph Beuys considered teaching his most essential activity and called his activities “social sculpture” in recognition of their civic nature. Mangelos, a philosopher, psychologist, art historian and artist, produced a body of work that he called “noart” as a way of enabling culture to begin afresh. Jirí Kolár, initially a poet, found words to be inadequate and transferred verbal poetry to his visual art.

During the 1960s, artists in South America witnessed and responded to various types of dictatorships. Victor Grippo suggested that the Americas must seek themselves in their own culture if they wish to develop in full, and created “potato works” making use if a native product. Hélio Oiticica called for the total participation of audiences, recycled elements from the street, and openly identified with people living on the margin of society. Lygia Clark developed what she called a “therapeutic” art practice for which she searched for the creative participation of many individuals. Cildo Meireles’ work has been characterized as “political conceptualism.” Artists in North America responded to the changing political and social climate and tried to connect with their public by implicating the viewer in the completion of their work. Eva Hesse stated that she wanted her work to be “non-work,” making objects that went beyond what they were “logically supposed to be.” Bruce Nauman made use of unusual materials, and turned the body into a performative tool. Sol LeWitt declared that the idea was the most important aspect of an artwork, though his work never became non-material. The art material for Lawrence Weiner is language. For once, the achievements of artists from Eastern Europe and South America who influenced and took part in the development of Conceptual art will be presented together with – and recognized as equal to – the work produced by their better-known American and Western European contemporaries.


Accompanying this exhibition is the catalogue Beyond Preconceptions: The Sixties Experiment, edited by Milena Kalinovska and published by Independent Curators International (ICI). Please visit our shop for more information.



Milena Kalinovska

Milena Kalinovska is Director of Public Programs at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. She was previously Director of The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston and Adjunct Curator at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. She has worked with artists such as Richard Deacon, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Nan Goldin, Antony Gormley, Isaac Julien, Cildo Meireles, Annette Messager, Mariko Mori, Richard Prince, Nancy Spero, Bill Viola, and Kara Walker. Kalinovska worked on the Gwangju Biennale 2004 in South Korea, has served on the national advisory committee of Art21 PBS programs, and has received a number of awards including a nomination for the Turner Prize.


touring schedule

Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, University of California
Berkeley, CA, United States
October 23, 2002 - December 29, 2002

Museu de Arte Moderna
Sao Paulo, Brazil
January 23, 2002 - March 3, 2002

Paço Imperial
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
September 6, 2001 - October 28, 2001

Museo de Arte Moderna
Buenos Aires, Argentina
May 31, 2001 - July 15, 2001

The Zachęta Gallery of Contemporary Art
Warsaw, Poland
February 12, 2001 - March 11, 2001

Veletržní palác, Collection of Modern and Contemporary Art, National Gallery in Prague
Prague, Czech Republic
November 2, 2000 - January 14, 2001

Freedman Gallery, Albright College Center for the Arts
Reading, PA, United States
January 23, 1998 - March 1, 1998

Samuel P. Harn Museum, University of South Florida
Gainesville, FL, United States
October 10, 1996 - December 1, 1996

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