Cover image of the review
Detail of John Spiteri, Atelier Spiteri, 2022, oil and enamel on canvas, 200 x 282cm, Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney. Image courtesy Sarah Cottier Gallery

Atelier Spiteri

3 Sep 2022
Sarah Cottier Gallery 13 Aug - 10 Sep 2022

In 1903, author Samuel Butler declared that “every man’s work, whether it be literature, or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself”. Despite the modernist, patriarchal origins of this quote, it may still be said that, while artists’ works alter in form and content over the course of their lifetime, the same concerns or questions tend to inform each instance of their expression.

In the era of conceptualism, artists challenged the perceived constraints upon that which define “art” as a concept, questioning the authority of institutions such as the museum, the market or the academy. These institutions help us to see art by separating it from not-art, from that which exists in the world, outside the institution. As described by theorist Lucy Lippard, this challenge took place in conceptual art primarily via art’s dematerialisation, the consideration of art less as an object and more as an idea. By placing the concept “art” within contexts less recognisable as art, frequently by allowing it to disappear into the invisible or the everyday, artists aimed to negate the necessity of these institutions and the power they held over what art is, or could be. It may be said that “the artist” is another of art’s institutions: that something must be made by an artist if it is to be considered art at all. During and after the era of conceptualism, challenges to the institution of the artist have been made via collaborative approaches to art-making (exemplified by the rise of the artist group or collective) as well as the turn to art as social practice. The failure of the conceptual project to fully escape art’s institutions has meant that, among other things, the tendency to celebrate the artist as authority remains.

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