Term that came into use in the late 1960s to describe a wide range of types of art that elevated the concept or the idea behind the work over traditional aesthetic and material concerns

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  • Piero Manzoni, 'Artist's Shit' 1961

    Piero Manzoni
    Artist's Shit 1961
    Tin can with paper wrapping with unidentified contents
    object: 48 x 65 x 65 mm, 0.1 kg
    Purchased 2000 DACS, 2002

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  • Joseph Kosuth, 'Clock (One and Five), English/Latin Version (Exhibition Version)' 1965, 1997

    Joseph Kosuth
    Clock (One and Five), English/Latin Version (Exhibition Version) 1965, 1997
    Clock, photographs and printed texts
    Transferred from the Irish Museum of Modern Art 1997 ARS, NY and DACS, London 2002

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  • Joseph Beuys, 'Felt Suit' 1970

    Joseph Beuys
    Felt Suit 1970
    Felt suit and wood hanger
    displayed: 1660 x 660 x 260 mm
    ARTIST ROOMS Acquired jointly with the National Galleries of Scotland through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008 DACS, 2009

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In 1973 a pioneering record of the early years of the movement appeared in the form of a book, Six Years, by the American critic Lucy Lippard. The ‘six years’ were 1966–72. The long subtitle of the book referred to ‘so-called conceptual or information or idea art’.

Conceptual artists do not set out to make a painting or a sculpture and then fit their ideas to that existing form. Instead they think beyond the limits of those traditional media, and then work out their concept or idea in whatever materials and whatever form is appropriate. They thus give the concept priority over the traditional media – hence conceptual art.

From this it follows that conceptual art can be almost anything, but from the late 1960s certain prominent trends appeared such as performance (or action) art, land art and the Italian movement arte povera (poor art). Poor here meant using low-value materials such as twigs, cloth, fat, and all kinds of found objects and scrap. Some conceptual art consisted simply of written statements or instructions. Many artists began to use photography, film and video. Conceptual art was initially a movement of the 1960s and 1970s but has been hugely influential since.

Artists include Art & Language, Joseph BeuysMarcel Broodthaers, Victor Burgin, Michael Craig-Martin, Gilbert & George, Yves Klein, Joseph Kosuth, John Latham, Richard Long and Piero Manzoni.