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1969: The Black Box of Conceptual Art

Aug 25, 2013  ·  2 min read

By Sharne Wolff


In August 1969, only a year after the influential exhibition The Field opened the new site of the National Gallery of Victoria, an unassuming little show opened at Melbourne’s alternative Pinacotheca Gallery. Burn/Cutforth/Ramsden, was named after the three young artists whose work was exhibited – Ian Burn, Roger Cutforth and Mel Ramsden. All were resident in New York at the time during a period when conceptual art had begun to emerge from the dual legacies of modernism – the ‘readymade’ and geometric abstraction. The expatriates couldn’t afford the fare to Australia for the opening so posted their work to Melbourne in a small box, together with detailed instructions on how it should be installed. Ann Stephen, curator of 1969: The Black Box of Conceptual Art, reveals in her essay that Burn’s intention was for these new works to ‘stir and provoke’ back home.

1969: The Black Box faithfully recalls Burn/Cutforth/Ramsden by assembling the three spare conceptual works in that show – Burn’s Xerox Structures, Cutforth’s Noon Time-Piece (April) and Mel Ramsden’s Six Negatives. Each considered the aesthetic experience and the idea of art as material object. Additional video, journals, paintings and other works made at the time place the show in context with this dynamic period in Australian art history and highlight it’s continuing significance. It would be easy for this revival to glorify the original but Mel Ramsden’s catalogue interview appears to rule out such suggestion. According to Ramsden, We were pushing at the edges of modernism to see what happened. That’s what we thought it was
all about.”

Until October 25

University Art Gallery, University of Sydney, Camperdown

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