Christophe Cherix: Collecting Conceptual Art: How to Buy an Idea


The FORART Lecture 2012 was given by Christophe Cherix, The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. His topic concered Conceptual Art.

Conceptual Art is the name of a tendency rather than an art movement. It derives from the term “concept art” coined in 1961 by the musician and activist Henry Flynt, but finds antecedents both in the historical avant-gardes and in the American post-World War II period, with artists such as Marcel Duchamp and Robert Rauschenberg, respectively. It is associated with a departure from the physicality of the art object as such and frequent relies on language and documentation in order to guarantee its own existence.

Since 2007, the Museum of Modern Art has acquired a number of important collections of art from the 1960s and 1970s, including the Art & Project Collection, the Seth Siegelaub Collection, and theDaled Collection, all of which relate to the rise of Conceptual Art in the Western World. Nearing 500 works, they have transformed the collection of The Museum of Modern Art into a pre-eminent center of European and American Conceptual Art. The experimental gallery Art & Project was founded in Amsterdam in 1968 by Adriaan van Ravesteijn and Geert van Beijeren, who worked closely with the leading European and American galleries specializing in Conceptual Art and, through 1989, published the Art & Project Bulletin, a series of artist-produced publications distributed free of charge around the world. From 1968 to 1971, Seth Siegelaub, then based in New York, promoted the work of some of the most important figures of the time, such as Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, Joseph Kosuth, and Lawrence Weiner, organizing landmark exhibitions, both in traditional spaces and, most significantly, in the form of books, in which the exhibition catalogue itself served as the exhibition. In 1971, together with lawyer Robert Projanski, he published the Artist’s Right Reserved Sale Agreement, the first document of its kind to outline, in the form of a contract, an artist’s rights with regard to his or her work. In Brussels between 1966 and 1978, Herman and Nicole Daled assembled a collection focused on new strategies being developed by artists of their time, acquiring several canonical examples of Conceptual Art, including works by Marcel Broodthaers, Hanne Darboven, and Dan Graham.

In a time when Conceptual Art, which mostly existed on the fringes of the institutional art world, is being collected and studied as one of the key historical touchpoints of the twentieth century, the critical issues it brings forward in relation to authorship, display, and ownership of artworks, as well as the internationalization of the art world, the participation of the spectator, and the artists’ right to control their own work, need to be fully addressed both scholarly and curatorially. This presentation focuses on these three collections and their place in the Museum today.

Christophe Cherix is The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. He is a specialist on modern and contemporary art, with a particular focus on printed art of the 1960s and 1970s. He has done in-depth work on the productions of a large number of artists, including Carl Andre, Robert Morris, Barry Le Va, Allen Ruppersberg, and Mel Bochner, John M. Armleder, Maurizio Nannucci and Lucy McKenzie, and has curated exhibitions such as Print/Out, a survey of prints, books, and ephemera from the late 1980s to the present (2012), In & Out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art, 1960-1976 (2009); Projects 88: Lucy McKenzie (2008); and Book/Shelf (2008), an exploration of how artists have used the book as an object in contemporary art. He has been a chief curator at the Cabinet des estampes at the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva, and has written extensively for museum catalogues and art journals. At the Museum of Modern Art he has been responsible for the acquisition of a number of European and American collections of Conceptual Art as well as the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus collection, an in-depth documentation of the founding and development of the international Fluxus movement.

Forart Lecture 2012, press release