Conceptual art is a bunk... It’s a felt, it’s feeling, it’s felt

(Robert Smithson)

Symposium: Conceptual art is a bunk...It’s a felt, it’s feeling, it’s felt

December 12, 2013, 5–8 p.m. (English)


The symposium takes up themes and motifs in Gertrud Sandqvist’s exhibition Against Method—the curator chose the title as a reference to Paul Feyerabend’s widely read book Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge (1975), in which he turns against the rationalist methodology of a theory of science aiming for universal validity and casts doubt on the scientific ambition to attain knowledge through the application of exact and systematic methods. He instead proposes “irrational means” as the basis for experimental research. Scientists, he argues, should adapt approaches from the arts. Feyerabend’s critique came during the heyday of Conceptual art, when artists, for their part, sought to integrate structuralism and scientific methodology into their work. The various contributions to the symposium address the interrelations between structuralism and Conceptual art and elaborate on the question: to which extent did the appropriation of structuralist theories bring Conceptual art to the limits of its attempts at rationalization?

Eve Meltzer’s lecture investigates the reintegration of the human subject into conceptual works and examines how affect and system condition and complement each other. The artist Joachim Koester, meanwhile, explores the analysis of the non-rational in Sol LeWitt’s writings and minimalist objects. Elisabeth von Samsonow and the artist Ida-Marie Corell collaborate to stage a lecture-performance, a critical dialogue on the question of method and the production of knowledge.


5:15 p.m.

Eve Meltzer

Systems We Have Loved


Systems would seem unworthy of our affection, being, by nature, impersonal and dehumanized. This presentation, drawn from the author’s book of the same title, explores the peculiarity of a love affair that characterizes the affective dimensions of numerous works of Conceptual art from the 1960s and 70s, as well as the structuralist theory that rose to prominence around the same time. Through close examination of the work of artists and art historians such as Robert Smithson, Mary Kelly, and Rosalind Krauss, Systems We Have Loved reconsiders the dominant late-twentieth-century view of the human subject as that figure was foretold, secured, and contested in major works of art, philosophy, and literary criticism of the time.


Eve Meltzer is an associate professor of visual studies at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study and an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Art History. Her first book, Systems We Have Loved: Conceptual Art, Affect, and the Antihumanist Turn

(University of Chicago Press, 2013), situates the Conceptual-art movement in relation to the field of structuralist thought and offers a new framing for two of the most transformative movements of the twentieth century and their common dream of the world as a total sign system. Her second book, tentatively titled Group Photo: The Psycho-Photographic Process and the Making of Group Identity, will explore the proposition that group identity—at least since the invention of photography, if not before—has at its foundation something we might call a psycho-photographic consistency.


6 p.m.

Joachim Koester

Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists


Connecting Sol Lewitt’s Minimal art structures to a notion of the nonrational that LeWitt stated in his “Sentences on Conceptual Art” becomes a point in itself. “He falls outside the parameters of what is usually expected,” as Lynne Cooke writes. Maybe the “new experiences” produced by LeWitt’s “art-making machines” should be understood, aside from being something tangible, as an invitation to find new routes in the “landscape” that makes his work and its critical reception. This is how LeWitt’s first three sentences perform: they outline a game in which we try to settle something that, more than likely, will remain unsettled. (Joachim Koester)


Joachim Koester is an artist born in 1962 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Currently he is professor for visual arts at the Malmö Art Academy of Lund University. His work has been shown at Documenta X, Kassel; the Johannesburg Biennale, Johannesburg; the Venice Biennale; Manifesta, Trento; the Tate Triennial, London; as well as in solo shows at CASM, Center d’Art Santa Mònica, Barcelona; the Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; Kestnergesellschaft, Hanover; the IAC, Villeurbanne; MIT, Cambridge, MA; and SMAK, Ghent, Belgium.


6:45 p.m.

Elisabeth von Samsonow

Hybrid Knowledge

Lecture-performance (English)

Guest: Ida-Marie Corell, Artist

Affirming the fact highlighted by Paul Feyerabend that the progress of knowledge is based on an abundant variety of operations, this lecture offers a transgender debate manifested as a dialogue between a philosopher and a tree. Elisabeth von Samsonow will critically come back to the issue of method, while Ida-Marie Corell will make a huge willow tree “sing.” Language is seen as ecstatic expression, and the sound of the willow as an expression of its will, noema, and desire. The lecture stresses the relation of thought and feeling, of syntax and chaos. The willow tree represents a moment of nostalgia that inevitably occurs when one starts to reconstruct or retell the story of female knowledge.

Sculpture by Elisabeth von Samsonow, 2013 (willow, acrylic color, strings)


Elisabeth von Samsonow is a philosopher and artist. After studying philosophy (with Paul Feyerabend, among others), Catholic theology, and German philology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich, she taught Renaissance philosophy. Her early research was dedicated to Renaissance philosophy, in particular its occult, neo-Platonic, non-Aristotelian forms like astronomy, cosmology, medicine, and magic. In 1996, she became professor of sacred arts at the Academy of Visual Arts in Vienna. Today she works there as professor of philosophical and historical anthropology. Her teaching and research focus on philosophy and the history of religions, the theory of collective memory, the relationship between art and religion past and present, and the theory and history of the perception of women, as well as female identity, sacral androgyny, and the modern dissolution of the self. Besides numerous articles in international publications, the following books have been published, among others: Die Erzeugung des Sichtbaren. Die philosophische Begründung naturwissenschaftlicher Wahrheit bei Johannes Kepler (1986), Fenster im Papier. Die imaginäre Kollision der Architektur mit der Schrift oder die Gedächtnisrevolution der Renaissance (2001), Anti-Elektra. Totemismus und Schizogamie (2007), and Myth and Fashion (2009); more recently, Egon Schiele: Ich bin die Vielen (2010), Deleuze and Contemporary Art (2010), and Egon Schiele: Sanctus Franciscus Hystericus (2012).


7:30 p.m.

Round-table discussion with all panelists

Moderator: Gertrud Sandqvist, Curator


Gertrud Sandqvist is a professor of the theory and history of ideas of the visual arts at the Malmö Art Academy, Lund University, Sweden. From 1995 to 2007, she was dean of the academy, a post to which she returned in 2011. Between 1992 and 1994, she was director of Galleri F 15 in Norway. In 1989, Sandqvist founded Siksi—the Nordic Art Magazine, which she edited until 1990. She is a founding member of the European Art Research Network and was a member of the jury of the German Academic Exchange Service’s Artists-in-Berlin program from 1998 to 2002. She has published widely, primarily on Nordic and European contemporary art.