Keith Arnatt

© Keith Arnatt

 

Keith Arnatt (1930–2008) emerged in the 1960s into the tumult of the London art scene to become a key figure in the history of British conceptual art and photography. In a self-reflexive practice that questions with a deadpan wit the status of both the art object and the role of the artist, Arnatt carefully examined and critiqued an increasing reliance of product over process and object over idea. Visually, his work embraced many of the tropes of international conceptualism and minimalism, yet by imbuing his work with an absurdist humor, Arnatt was able to develop a unique artistic language.

 

Read more

Arnatt’s early work often emerged from his interest in the minimalist cube or box, a point of investigation for peers both in the UK and the US. This was supplemented by the use of mirrors in works such as Mirror Plug and Invisible Hole Revealed (both 1968). These artworks functioned as both objects and events, with photography used to document the artist’s actions and attach them to specific contexts or locations. Arnatt’s mirror-lined holes carved into the earth allude to both magic and the creation of a disorientating image of the external world, deploying similar tools to his contemporaries Larry Bell, Robert Smithson and Robert Morris. Their coffin-like shape gives them a resounding sense of the macabre, as does Arnatt’s concerted effort to locate the artwork in the pitted moorland landscape.

Arnatt’s ambiguity of tone, and his concern with pits, burials and shadows, is further evident in perhaps his most famous work, Self Burial (1969), in which across a series of nine photographs the artist appears to sink gradually into the earth. The serial depiction of a slow self-burial reflects his persistent questioning of the identity and role of the artist, culminating in a placard that read “I’m a real artist’, which he wore repeatedly throughout 1972. In 1989, Arnatt used the image of himself wearing the placard to make Trouser – Word Piece. Originally conceived as an intervention in a catalog, Arnatt placed a photograph of himself wearing the placard and printed it next to a meditation on the nature of the real by the British philosopher John Austin. Thus the artist’s project became an epistemological one, where he explored the differences between knowing, believing and seeing.

He later redefined his use of photography with humorous studies of the ordinary, becoming, in his own words, “a real photographer” concerned with both composition and art-historical reference. In his series Walking the Dog (1976–79), dogs and their owners are subject to an almost taxonomic gaze. Influenced by an interest in repetition and seriality that is typical of conceptual photography, he went on to make A.O.N.B. (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) (1982–84), which presented disillusioned views of historically significant “scenic routes” and Pictures from a Rubbish Tip (1988–89), where he focused on decomposing bits of food that he enlarged in vivid color. As Arnatt began to utilize the camera as a tool for producing art as well as just documenting it, the mundaneness of the everyday was exposed, questioning again how and what it means to be producing the work of a “real artist.”

 

The Photographs of Keith Arnatt – A Short Introduction by Justin Jones
© Still Life – Art and Photographic Image, 2016

Works
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Nine black-and-white photographs
39 × 39 cm each
15 3/8 × 15 3/8 inches each

More views
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Black-and-white vintage photograph
26.7 × 26.5 cm
10 1/2 × 10 3/8 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self, 1969–72

Keith Arnatt
Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self, 1969–72
Vintage colour photograph mounted on board
120.6 x 120.6 cm
47 1/2 x 47 1/2 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Earth Plug, 1967

Keith Arnatt
Earth Plug, 1967
Two vintage colour photographs
38.2 × 38.2 cm each
15 × 15 inches each

More views
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968

Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968
Mirror-glass, wood, wire, aggregate
Dimensions variable
Top piece: 56.8 × 27.5 × 28 cm
Sleeve: 60.9 × 31.7 × 28.3 cm
Dimensions variable
Top piece: 22 3/8 × 10 7/8 × 11 inches
Sleeve: 24 × 12 1/2 × 11 1/8 inches

More views
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
2188800 - 0000000, An Exhibition of the Duration of the Exhibition, 1969

Keith Arnatt
2188800 – 0000000, An Exhibition of the Duration of the Exhibition, 1969
Digital countdown system
10 × 29.4 × 6.1 cm
4 × 11 5/8 × 2 3/8 inches

More views
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971
Twelve black-and-white photographs
33.5 × 22.5 cm each
13 1/8 × 8 7/8 inches each

More views
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Trouser - Word Piece, 1972 (2014)

Keith Arnatt
Trouser – Word Piece, 1972 (2014)
Two black-and-white silver gelatin prints mounted on aluminium
76.7 × 76.7 cm each
30 1/8 × 30 1/8 inches each

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
A.O.N.B., 1982–85

Keith Arnatt
A.O.N.B., 1982–85
Black-and-white photograph
27.8 × 35.5 cm
11 × 14 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Walking the Dog, 1976–77

Keith Arnatt
Walking the Dog, 1976–77
Silver gelatin print
33.4 × 27.5 cm
13 1/8 × 10 7/8 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Gardeners, 1978–79

Keith Arnatt
Gardeners, 1978–79
Silver gelatin print
40.5 × 30.4 cm
16 × 12 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Pet Shops, 1990

Keith Arnatt
Pet Shops, 1990
C-print
25.4 × 20.3 cm
10 × 8 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
German Toys / Dog Toys, 1992

Keith Arnatt
German Toys / Dog Toys, 1992
C-print
25.4 × 20.3 cm
10 × 8 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, 1988–89/2004

Keith Arnatt
Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, 1988–89/2004
Colour lambda print
88 × 108 cm
34 5/8 × 42 1/2 inches

Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt
Notes from Jo, 1991–95/2013

Keith Arnatt
Notes from Jo, 1991–95/2013
C-Print
25.4 × 20.3 cm
10 × 8 inches

Details
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Nine black-and-white photographs
39 × 39 cm each
15 3/8 × 15 3/8 inches each

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Black-and-white vintage photograph
26.7 × 26.5 cm
10 1/2 × 10 3/8 inches

Keith Arnatt
Self-Burial, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self, 1969–72
Vintage colour photograph mounted on board
120.6 x 120.6 cm
47 1/2 x 47 1/2 inches

Keith Arnatt
Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self, 1969–72
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Earth Plug, 1967
Two vintage colour photographs
38.2 × 38.2 cm each
15 × 15 inches each

Keith Arnatt
Earth Plug, 1967
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Earth Plug, 1967

Keith Arnatt
Earth Plug, 1967
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968
Mirror-glass, wood, wire, aggregate
Dimensions variable
Top piece: 56.8 × 27.5 × 28 cm
Sleeve: 60.9 × 31.7 × 28.3 cm
Dimensions variable
Top piece: 22 3/8 × 10 7/8 × 11 inches
Sleeve: 24 × 12 1/2 × 11 1/8 inches

Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Mirror-plug, 1968
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
2188800 – 0000000, An Exhibition of the Duration of the Exhibition, 1969
Digital countdown system
10 × 29.4 × 6.1 cm
4 × 11 5/8 × 2 3/8 inches

Keith Arnatt
2188800 - 0000000, An Exhibition of the Duration of the Exhibition, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
2188800 – 0000000, An Exhibition of the Duration of the Exhibition, 1969 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
2188800 - 0000000, An Exhibition of the Duration of the Exhibition, 1969
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971
Twelve black-and-white photographs
33.5 × 22.5 cm each
13 1/8 × 8 7/8 inches each

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971/2015 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971/2015
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971/2015 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971/2015
Keith Arnatt Estate
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971/2015 (detail)

Keith Arnatt
Art as an Act of Retraction, 1971/2015
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Trouser – Word Piece, 1972 (2014)
Two black-and-white silver gelatin prints mounted on aluminium
76.7 × 76.7 cm each
30 1/8 × 30 1/8 inches each

Keith Arnatt
Trouser - Word Piece, 1972 (2014)
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
A.O.N.B., 1982–85
Black-and-white photograph
27.8 × 35.5 cm
11 × 14 inches

Keith Arnatt
A.O.N.B., 1982–85
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Walking the Dog, 1976–77
Silver gelatin print
33.4 × 27.5 cm
13 1/8 × 10 7/8 inches

Keith Arnatt
Walking the Dog, 1976–77
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Gardeners, 1978–79
Silver gelatin print
40.5 × 30.4 cm
16 × 12 inches

Keith Arnatt
Gardeners, 1978–79
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Pet Shops, 1990
C-print
25.4 × 20.3 cm
10 × 8 inches

Keith Arnatt
Pet Shops, 1990
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
German Toys / Dog Toys, 1992
C-print
25.4 × 20.3 cm
10 × 8 inches

Keith Arnatt
German Toys / Dog Toys, 1992
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, 1988–89/2004
Colour lambda print
88 × 108 cm
34 5/8 × 42 1/2 inches

Keith Arnatt
Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, 1988–89/2004
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Notes from Jo, 1991–95/2013
C-Print
25.4 × 20.3 cm
10 × 8 inches

Keith Arnatt
Notes from Jo, 1991–95/2013
Details
icon_fullscreen
1 of 15

 

Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Keith Arnatt Estate

Keith Arnatt
Absence of the Artist
September 1–September 26, 2015
London

Keith Arnatt has occupied a key position in the history of British conceptual art for almost 50 years. Since his death in 2008 he has become an important model for contemporary artists who work at the limits of art’s ‘dematerialisation’: site-specific interventions, time-based gestures, or works of art that are seemingly short-lived and inconspicuous. Absence of the Artist, Arnatt’s second exhibition with Sprüth Magers and his first in the London gallery, brings together a range of important work conceived between 1967–72.

Read more
Press

Review of Keith Arnatt, Absence of the Artist at Sprüth Magers, London
Aesthetica, review by Trevor H Smith, September 26, 2015

Keith Arnatt: the conceptual photographer who influenced a generation
British Journal of Photography, September 4, 2015

Keith Arnatt is proof that the art world doesn’t consider photography ‘real’ art
The Guardian, article by Sean O’Hagan, August 27, 2015

Der Freak von nebenan
Welt, article by Time Ackermann, November 25, 2012

Small things writ large
The Guardian, article by Martin Parr, May 19, 2007

 

Biography

Keith Arnatt (1930–2008). Selected solo exhibitions include Tate Britain, Sprüth Magers London (both 2013), Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (2009), The Photographers’ Gallery, London (1989, 2007), Centro de Arte y Comunicación, Buenos Aires (1992), Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (1986) and Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (1977). Selected group exhibitions include Tate Modern (2016), Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2012), Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, Royal Academy of Arts, London (both 2011), Tate Britain (2002, 2007), MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2009), Kunstmuseum Bern (2006), Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Dusseldorf (2004), Fundació Joan Miró, Centre d’Estudis d’Art Contemporani, Barcelona (2003), Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2001), XXI Bienal de São Paulo (1991), Barbican Art Gallery, London (1990), Museum of Modern Art, New York, Vancouver Art Gallery (both 1970), Hayward Gallery, London, Tate, London (both 1972), Seattle Art Museum and Camden Arts Centre, London (both 1969). 

Education
1956–58 Royal Academy Schools, London
1951–55 Oxford School of Art
Public Collections
Arts Council Collection
Bristol Museum & Art Gallery
British Council
British Museum, London
Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston
Leeds Art Gallery
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
National Museum of Wales, Cardiff
National Media Museum, Bradford
RKD - Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague
Tate, London
Victoria & Albert Museum, London