About a week ago I was visiting The Art Institute of Chicago and was almost done looking through the museum when I arrived at “Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph 1964-1977”. I ended up staying another two hours and still felt like I needed more time. I gave myself a week to digest it all and then went back yesterday to have another look.
The exhibit is an impressive survey of photography’s place in conceptual art. Although it focuses on photography, it is not limited to that. Both installations and text play a big role in the presentation. The show is broken down into five sections including: Camera Work, Misunderstandings, Invisibility, Painting Photography Film and Material Properties. These sections are accompanied by text that groups the pieces together in very interesting ways. For me some of the highlights were the four different pieces by Bruce Nauman, “Human Dust” by Agnes Denes and “Misunderstandings” by Mel Bochner.
The exhibit, which includes over 140 pieces by 57 different artists, contains enough material for a whole college course. Actually, there are a couple things that make it feel like it was designed for a class. Since it is a survey on conceptual art and photography, many of the artists and ideas are presented without going into too much depth and grouped together in a way a textbook would. To further this, the last room is transformed into a sort of library, with tables to sit at and books you can flip through. While this is a weird feeling to get from an art exhibit, it is actually pretty fitting. Conceptual art is extremely academic in its nature so viewing it in an academic way comes quite naturally.
The location of this show in a museum also may seem a bit odd but ends up working perfectly. Despite the fact that many of these artists were anti- museum, the museum becomes the perfect setting for them. At The Art Institute, they can be viewed in the context of the works they quote, reference and react against.
I would encourage everyone to see “Light Years” especially if you are someone who is fascinated by the trajectory of art history. Just make sure you have enough time and energy to appreciate all of the pieces.