The term conceptual art came into use in the late 1960s to describe artworks in which the concept (or idea) behind the artwork is more important than traditional aesthetic and material concerns (what it looks like or how it is made)

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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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  • Richard Long, 'A Line Made by Walking' 1967

    Richard Long
    A Line Made by Walking 1967
    Photograph and pencil on board
    image: 375 x 324 mm
    Purchased 1976 Richard Long

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  • Yves Klein, 'IKB 79' 1959

    Yves Klein
    IKB 79 1959
    Paint on canvas on wood
    object: 1397 x 1197 x 32 mm
    Purchased 1972 ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

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  • Marcel Broodthaers, 'Casserole and Closed Mussels' 1964

    Marcel Broodthaers
    Casserole and Closed Mussels 1964
    Mussel shells, pigment and polyester resin in painted iron pot
    object: 305 x 279 x 248 mm
    Purchased 1975 DACS, 2002

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  • Michael Craig-Martin, 'An Oak Tree' 1973

    Michael Craig-Martin
    An Oak Tree 1973
    Glass, water, shelf and printed text
    Lent from a private collection 2000 Michael Craig-Martin

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  • Keith Arnatt, 'Trouser - Word Piece' 1972-1989

    Keith Arnatt
    Trouser - Word Piece 1972-1989
    Black and white photographs on paper
    support, each: 1005 x 1005 mm
    Purchased 2000 The estate of Keith Arnatt

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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.