The Conceptualist, Surrounded by Words and Objects

Genichi Ikuma


This paper discusses human-object relationships in Moscow Conceptualism, a central circle of Soviet unofficial art in the 1970-80s. The ideal image of humans and objects in Conceptualist works has been studied. For example, the American art historian Matthew Jesse Jackson reads the New Man in terms of the relationship between human beings and objects in unofficial art. Meanwhile, Ekaterina Degot interprets the interrelation between humanity and objects in Conceptualism in terms of the interrelation between the self and others. Yet, previous studies did not particularly focus on objects and subjectivity in Conceptualism. There is a strong possibility that Soviet objects influenced the works of Conceptualists. These objects would be keywords in Moscow Conceptualism studies. Thus, I would like to make an assumption to understand the Conceptualist view: Did they try not to rule the outer environment but to analyze the objects surrounding them instead? In other words, this paper is concerned with demonstrating how Conceptualists updated the interface between themselves and surrounding objects. I will investigate the Conceptualist attitude towards objects, to offer a revised understanding of Conceptualists as artists reflecting on their subjectivity via objects. Trends of unofficial art began to change in the 70s as Conceptualism was formed: artists were interested in new forms such as “actions” and “installations.” Kabakov, an originator of Conceptualism, began his career in painting and illustrations for children’s books, while younger generations were engaged in genre-straddling activity from the beginning. Given such stylistic diversity, this study covered different types of artists to gain better insight into objects in Conceptualism. In addition, since this school was not a monolithic organization, looking at other artists of the same age is useful. Thus, this paper first discusses works by Vladimir Yankilevsky who was not exactly a conceptualist. His contemporary Ilya Kabakov’s works are also studied to understand objects in Conceptualism. Lastly, texts and performances by younger Conceptualists Pepperstein and Monastyrski are discussed in detail.


Moscow Conceptualism; Performance Art; Human Object Relationships

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